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2017 Was Tough For Veterans Nonprofits. Here's How To Weather 2018
According to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, demand for services by veterans peaks about four decades after a conflict ends. The year 1978 was relatively quiet for active American military personnel, besides a brief Air Force involvement in South Zaire. Yet today, in 2018, the demand for veteran services is as high as many observers can remember it ever being.
Statistically speaking, veteran service organizations (VSOs) should be in a period of regeneration, as they prepare for the growing needs of military families and veterans. The millions of veterans involved in the myriad conflicts that came after 1978 — including the wars and conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and of course Afghanistan and Iraq — will continue to need support today and into the future.
Yet, on the whole, these military-serving organizations aren’t growing; quite the opposite, Despite 16 straight years of war and no end in sight, giving to VSOs was down last year for the 15th year in a row — from .18% of all philanthropic giving to .13%. Similarly, the number of nonprofit organizations focused on veterans and military families continued to decline in 2017, to around 41,000 from a high of 48,000 less than a decade ago.
Additionally, there were noteworthy turnovers in leadership in the VSO community that will have significant impacts on service consistency and organizational sustainment. For example, the executive director at San Diego based non-profit zero8hundred left after three years, and the leadership at a leading women-focused veteran nonprofit has turned over for the third year in a row. One NAVSO member and partner, R4 Alliance, had to close its doors despite years of hard work to build a sustainable model. Other organizations that have served broader populations for decades defunded their programs focused on veteran reintegration.
Why the shift? Money. Years of hard work failed to develop enough sustainable revenue to keep the organizations or veteran-focused programs alive. Many fundraising campaigns that organizations relied upon experienced significant year-over-year decline, with annual corporate sponsor campaigns yielding only a fraction of the donations and many individual donors moving on to other cause areas.
Given NAVSO’s work with such a large number and wide variety of veteran-focused nonprofits, government agencies, and funders, we have a unique bird’s eye view of trends. This broad, holistic view of the marketplace is why I don’t despair. There was, and is good news. While the 2017 statistics and trends for VSOs may seem bleak, I believe there are larger forces at work.
‘Right-sizing’ veterans’ services
One of those forces may be a natural right-sizing of the veterans’ services marketplace. Many nonprofit organizations, once founded on a passion for helping our military families, simply failed to offer practical and necessary services, were duplicative, or just plain didn’t understand how to sustain a tax-advantaged business. And yes, there should be an emphasis on the word “business.” While they are nonprofits and do receive a tax advantage, a solid business-minded strategy and team must be in place along with excellent fiscal discipline in order to keep the doors open.
Passion gives energy and a sense of purpose, but it is not a strategy. As the deployments have slowed, the visibility and sense of urgency in local communities have waned. While failure is disappointing for the organizations’ founders, I submit that it is likely better for the veterans and their families to have, in some cases, fewer higher-quality options.
Working with and through the VA
Political change has put a different lens on veterans and military families, with a renewed focus on improving the VA from the inside out. Only time will tell how these policy changes impact the veteran community, but in the short term, they are a direct reflection on how Americans, not directly affiliated with military service, feel about our community and decide to invest their charitable dollars in veteran causes.
In the last congressional session and early on in this new one, Congress introduced legislation aimed at helping veterans and military families get the care and support they need. However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the VA can’t go it alone. Veterans, their families, and the nonprofits that support them rely heavily on their communities to help. No discussion of 2017 would be complete without acknowledging the funders who helped bridge the gap or even doubled down on their efforts last year, to support veterans and military families.
Succeeding under tough conditions
I believe that the community writ large is still engaged and moving in the right direction. NAVSO, like many other organizations, had their best year yet. Resources earned, veterans served, outcomes measured: Many were solidly up. Our exclusive grant prospecting tool, Grant Map, helped members find new sources of diverse and sustainable revenue and our relationships with funders hoping to get a better return on their grants helped several NAVSO members garner an additional $325,000 in Q4 of 2017 alone. For VSO sustainability and ultimately impact, the bottom line is about the bottom line.
Implementing ‘lessons learned’
One more piece of encouraging news: There is now a playbook. The Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University and NAVSO member, directed by Dr. Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, and the Center for Deployment Psychology, directed by Dr. David Riggs, just published a groundbreaking book, A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families. In this book, leaders from a wide variety of sectors and organizations reflect on the lessons they learned as they worked successfully to support military and veteran families since 2001.
This research will help current and future leaders examine their organizations and put mechanisms in place before they are needed. Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth and her colleagues posit that with better “battle planning,” there can be faster responses, better coordination, fewer missteps, and — most important — more effective support for families. Being able to measure an organization’s impact will increase funding, as evidence, metrics, and measurement always trump passion.
I remain not just hopeful but optimistic about the future of veteran service organizations. Still, as much as I hate to say it, I agree with the experts that we haven’t fought our last war. If Dr. Shulkin is right, we can expect a dramatic uptick in demand for veterans’ services in a few years, and that demand will continue for the foreseeable future. If you’re part of a nonprofit that serves veterans and their families, your resources are probably already stretched thin. You may be wondering how in the world you’ll cope when demand increases again.
The time to strategize is now. By learning from those who are surviving and thriving under difficult conditions — and from those who have failed, and leveraging modern tools and technology, I am confident that an organization can continue to meet today’s needs — and build a strong foundation that will allow well-meaning VSOs and funders to meet the needs of tomorrow’s veterans and their families.
The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.
Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).
In the aftermath of the ISIS suicide bombing at a wedding reception on in Afghanistan that left 63 people dead on Saturday night, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani marked the nation's 100th independence celebration with a solemn vow to "eliminate" the terror group's strongholds across the country.
"We will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood," Ghani declared. "Our struggle will continue against (ISIS), we will take revenge and will root them out."
That might prove difficult. Six month after President Donald Trump declared victory over the ISIS "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, the terror group continues to mount a bloody comeback across the Middle East — and Afghanistan is no exception.
A career Fort Worth defense contractor who spent time in prison for lying to the government is in trouble again for similar conduct, which investigators say could have compromised troop safety and led to the disclosure of U.S. technology secrets to foreign governments.
Ross Hyde, 63, has been charged in federal court with making false claims about the type of aluminum he provided under a contract for aircraft landing gear, court records show. He faces up to five years in prison, if convicted.
Hyde, a machinist, has said in court documents that he's worked in the industry all his life. His latest company, Vista Machining Co., has supplied the Pentagon with parts for tanks, aircraft and other military equipment — mostly hardware and machined metals — since 2008. But inspectors said many of his products were cheap replacements, some illegally obtained from China, which he tried to hide from the government.
It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.
What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.
U.S. media outlets have reported that a nuclear-powered cruise missile named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall likely exploded during testing. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm as much when he tweeted on Aug. 12 that the United States had gleaned useful information from "the failed missile explosion in Russia."
Sesame Street is launching a new initiative geared toward military caregivers that's designed to help children understand, cope with, and ask questions about their parent's military service.