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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.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.