CAP Members Critical of Wreaths Across America

By Stacy Johnson | Money Talks News

[Editor’s Note: Many of your fellow CAP members are suspicious of Wreaths Across America. Within the past few days, we received several article contributions on CAP Col Dan LeClair who is both the WAA Director and the CAP Northeast Region Commander. Laying wreaths on the headstones of veterans is obviously a noble pursuit. Our veterans, living and dead, have earned our respect and recognition. The reader is left to determine if WAA is a worthy cause.]

For several years now, Fox News, along with many other news outlets, has been providing coverage to a charity called Wreaths Across America. The non-profit explains its mission this way:

Our mission, Remember, Honor, Teach, is carried out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies on a specified Saturday in December at Arlington, as well as veterans cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond.

In short, Wreaths Across America places wreaths on the graves of veterans. According to a 2013 press release, 540,000 wreaths were placed that year. In 2014, 700,000 were placed, and according to the spokesperson I interviewed, this year the goal is 900,000.  Much of the transportation of these wreaths is donated and nearly all the wreath placement is done by unpaid volunteers. Their media exposure is free: According to one media monitoring service, Wreaths Across America was mentioned more than 1,500 times on radio, TV and online just from Dec 3 to Dec 10.

But the wreaths that Wreaths Across America uses aren’t free and they’re not donated. They’re paid for with donated money. Individuals pay $15 to sponsor one wreath, $30 to sponsor two, and so on. The organization’s online form explains its most popular donation is $75 to sponsor five wreaths.

And therein lies a potential problem with the way this non-profit operates.

Wreaths Across America was Started by a For-Profit Company that Makes and Sells Wreaths

According to its website, Wreaths Across America was founded in 2007 by the Worcester family. The patriarch, Morrill Worcester, is president of Worcester Wreaths, a for-profit wreath-making company. His wife, Karen Worcester, is the executive director of the non-profit Wreaths Across America.

Every wreath used by Wreaths Across America is purchased with donated money from the for-profit company that started it, Worcester Wreath.

The relationship between the company and non-profit isn’t hidden. It’s easy to find on both the Worcester Wreath site and the Wreaths Across America site. But this relationship should raise the eyebrows of anyone donating to this charity. When donations to a nonprofit are used to purchase goods from the for-profit company that founded it, it raises the potential for problems. Is the non-profit overpaying for its wreaths? Is the for-profit enriching itself at the expense of donors?

How much does Wreaths Across America pay Worcester Wreath?

One way to understand what’s going on with any non-profit is to take a look at its tax returns. All 501(c)(3) charities, such as Wreaths Across America, are required to make the returns available to the public.

Here’s the latest tax return for Wreaths Across America, which I found with a simple Web search. Transactions between interested parties (e.g., Worcester Wreath and Wreaths Across America) are required to be disclosed, so we can see how much Wreaths Across America paid the for-profit Worcester Wreath. The amount for the tax year ending June 30, 2014, was $4,865,805. (You can find it Schedule L, Part 4, line 1.) That’s more than 70 percent of the $6.6 million the nonprofit took in.

Wreaths Across America, Civil Air Patrol

Dan LeClair has been the WAA Director since 2010. From 2011 to present, CAP’s participation has helped increase the WAA revenue substantially from $249,980 to over $6 million.

There’s nothing illegal about this. The related transactions were disclosed and, as I’ve explained, both the for-profit and nonprofit are upfront about their relationship. But anytime a non-profit is raising millions from donations, then transferring a large chunk of it to a related for-profit, it’s time to start asking questions.

When a non-profit is created by a for-profit and buys all its products from that for-profit, that’s a potential conflict of interest. That conflict should be a major concern for anyone considering donating to the non-profit, yet it isn’t addressed anywhere on either the Wreaths Across America or Worcester Wreath websites, or at least nowhere that I could find.

Questions I asked Wreaths Across America

I interviewed Wreaths Across America representative Tobin Slaven by phone, then followed up with some questions via email. Here are three of those emailed questions, along with his responses. I’m leaving his entire responses intact so you can see how much unrelated information I received in response to my direct questions.

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Why am I the only one asking these questions?

As I’ve explained, the potential conflict of interest that exists between these two organizations is obvious and easy to find. Yet people in the business of asking questions, namely major news outlets like Fox, apparently didn’t bother investigating this relationship before promoting this charity multiple times to millions of Americans. My emailed questions for Wreaths Across America also asked about this.

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What does a Watchdog Think?

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I sent my questions and their responses to Sandra Miniutti, the CFO of charity watchdog, Charity Navigator. Here’s part of her response:

• The Form 990 clearly shows that out of total expenses of roughly $6.6 million nearly $4.9 million dollars went to the Worcester Wreath Company and that two employees of the company are on the board of the nonprofit. In other words, 74 percent of every dollar the charity spent went to the for-profit firm.

• We find the practice of a charity paying such a substantial amount of money to a business owned by several of that charity’s board members atypical as compared to how other charities operate.

• Another big concern is that the charity doesn’t have a whistleblower policy or a conflict of interest policy in place to help ensure it is behaving ethically.

• Donors should lead with their heart, but stop and use their head before they donate.

The Bottom Line: Don’t Confuse Medium and Message

Laying wreaths on the headstones of veterans is obviously a noble pursuit. Our veterans, living and dead, have earned both our respect and recognition. But is Wreaths Across America the best way to accomplish that goal? Is it enriching a for-profit company? Could it pay less for wreaths from a different provider? Could it lay more wreaths for the same money?

Based on the information provided by this non-profit, these questions are impossible to answer. Personally, that alone would prevent me from donating to it. Whether you feel the same way is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. But the lesson here is that before donating to any charity, it’s critical to look beyond what the charity does and check out how they’re doing it.

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Related Stories:
CAP Wreaths Across America Pamphlet
CAP Wreaths Across America Report
Parents Express Concern Over CAP Senior Member Behavior
Charity Reviews
The Wreaths Across America Scam
Wreaths Across America Convoy gets Under Way Sunday
Wreaths Across America Tax Returns

11 Comments on "CAP Members Critical of Wreaths Across America"

  1. For the record, “Yep”, that was my post on Cap Talk. I stand by my personal opinion, which doesn’t necessarily reflect those of the GA Wing Commander or CAP. I do respect the intent, and the sincere efforts, of all the cadets and officers out there working hard to honor the deceased. I think we just might disagree on the means of doing so via being incentivized to volunteer.

    R/s,
    Spam

  2. Spam Outloud | December 1, 2017 at 22:15 | Reply

    It looks like Civil Air Patrol’s Lt Col Jeff O’Hara, Georgia Wing Vice Commander underneath Andrea Van Buren is reading AuxBeacon to conclude in a most public way on CAPTalk that Wreaths Across America is not good for the ethics and public image of Civil Air Patrol. He just recently posted this –

    Wreaths Across America / Worcester Wreaths Inc.?

    No thanks. Notwithstanding the sincerity of many of our members that they’re doing an honorable thing (for profit), I feel as if we’ve been duped into being the DoDs version of street corner Moonies. I don’t like what it is doing to us ethically, either.

    V/r
    Spam
    November 27, 2017, 03:46:38 PM

  3. Are many of the WAA paid staff also members or commanders in Civil Air Patrol?

  4. I don’t think average Joe understands the game in play. Put two and two together on this WAA program with the purpose of Wing Banker in keeping units under thumb.

  5. @JoeCAP, you don’t seem to understand all the proven fraud and abuses in this program. Read the evidence submitted by all the others in the news and in contributions to this site over the past few years. You need to pull YOUR HEAD out and APOLOGIZE.

  6. My son was a cadet in 2011 when this became a big push. He started asking questions and they told him that he was ‘being uncooperative’. He eventually left CAP, but still went on to serve our US Air Force. My son has a really good nose for things to avoid.

  7. Whether written by Aux Beacon or regurgitated from somewhere else, it is still your lame attempt to cast a fine program and a good commander in a ill light. Stop trying to pretend you are a beacon of truth and the protector of “friends” who are doing nothing but exposing their ignorance.

  8. Nicely done on the high road and truthfully sourced. I see a few are incensed that you exposed CAP Col Dan LeClair’s role to the greater public and to the US Air Force. From PCR to the heroes on the first coast, we thank you.

  9. @Joe Cap, You need to read more carefully. This article is not Aux Beacon’s, but was written a year ago and published in MoneyTalks. We submitted this information after threats were made to our friends for exposing abuses at the top in Northeast Region.

  10. Pull your heads out and stop trying to make something out of nothing. First of all, where do you think WAA gets the wreaths that are purchased from? Did you think they just appear out of thin air? No, they need to be purchased from somewhere and that somewhere is Worcester Wreaths.

    As for the $5 per wreath coming back to CAP, I know first hand that the unit that enrolled in the program receives a check from WAA once the program has completed in December as I have personally seen this check and saw that it was properly deposited in the units bank account. This program is a great way for squadrons to raise funds and I am aware of many that rely on these funds throughout the year. NHQ endorses this program but I have never felt forced to participate.

    The comments you post are either from members who know nothing about how this program is run or are planted comments to promote your anti-CAP agenda. It will be interesting to see if you allow this comment to be posted. If not, the reality that this site is completely biased again CAP and their only real agenda is to smear the organization. Do you have the courage to post a comment that doesn’t support your obvious agenda?

  11. According to the CAP WAA pamphlet, the CAP gets $5 for every wreath sold. As a member and a stakeholder in the CAP corporation, I would like to know where the funds end up since the CAP makes anywhere between 5 to 7 figures off of this?

    If the CAP wants to be noted as a noble cause for helping with the WAA, they should donate 100% of their WAA funds to helping living veterans. Many veterans are homeless or they are just getting by. The funds would be better served with them.

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