I Was a Fan of This Nonprofit. Then I Wasn't. What I Discovered When I Checked Up On Them

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"On Dec. 12, about 900,000 sponsored wreaths were placed on the graves of veterans by a nonprofit called Wreaths Across America. Every wreath was purchased from the for-profit wreath company that created both the nonprofit and the annual event."

Source: MoneyTalkNews

A few years go I wrote glowingly about Wreaths Across America (WAA) and their mission to lay wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers. This is important and powerful work and WAA became a big part of the speeches I delivered that year. I couldn't say enough good things about them.

Then, in 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an article that unnerved me. Here's an excerpt:

The charity buys its wreaths exclusively from a company owned by the same Maine family, the Worcesters, that started the nonprofit. Worcester family members and former company employees run the charity and have seats on its board.

The relationship has been vital to Worcester Wreath Co. Its sales to Wreaths Across America helped revive the Harrington, Maine, supplier, with $25 million in total orders... Sales to the charity now make up 75% to 80% of Worcester Wreath’s revenue, according to Rob Worcester, co-owner of the operation’s parent company.

This didn't seem right. And even if it was legal, it didn't pass my "smell test." So I stopped talking about WAA.

Then, earlier this week, I ran across a post on the Walmart Blog on the retailer's work with WAA to help transport 100,000 wreaths to national cemeteries across the country. I decided to check up on WAA to see if they had addressed their critics.

I dropped an email to the WAA's public relations team and they pointed me to this page.

  • WAA has taken steps to institute a Whistleblower's Policy to protect employees who may report illegal or dishonest business practices.
  • The WAA board formed an RFP Committee and began the process for the 2017-2019 contract to ensure that Worcester's pricing of wreaths is competitive.
  • WAA has a conflict of interest policy, with any Worcester-related board members recusing themselves from decisions related to the wreath procurement contract. 
  • The wreath company provided the WAA Board of Directors with a certified letter from its financial audit, explaining that since 2007, Worcester has grown to meet the demands of WAA but has operated at an overall loss. In short, they are not making money selling wreaths to WAA.
  • WAA's payroll is less than $400,000. Neither the Executive Director (a Worcester family member) nor the Chairman of the Board receive a salary for their efforts, despite full time work and deep commitment to the mission.

I can't look into the hearts of the Worcester family, but it appears their commitment to this cause is sincere. Remember, before WAA the Worcester family was adorning thousands of graves with wreaths at their own expense. WAA wasn't created as a money-making scheme but as a way to expand the mission and honor more vets.

The Worcester family admits that WAA has been good for business, but that's what cause marketing does for a company! 

"It has certainly helped our brand and awareness of our commercial business," said a Worcester family member. The company eked out a small profit in 2013 and 2014, although they donated 50% of that profit back to WAA.

I'm not a lawyer or an accountant, but reading about WAA's improved practices and disclosures reenergized my support for the charity. Maybe this information was always there. If so, shame on me for not looking sooner. But I'm back on the fan wagon. I look forward to writing and talking about WAA again in 2018!  

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