The patriot in me was awakened nearly 10 years ago, and I traded the pursuit of a corporate career for crystal clear purpose: To serve military families well and change their lives for the better and for the long-term.
If you serve the military community, you know the statistics; there are more than 46,000 of us — veteran service organizations (VSO) that is — who provide everything from emergency financial assistance, to scholarships, to medical care, hunting and fishing outings and community creating and community building opportunities. According to GuideStar, in Texas alone — Boot Campaign’s home state — there are more than 2300 military and veteran-serving organizations. Texas comes in third behind California and New York with the most VSOs in the U.S.
These organizations care for and provide hand ups to those who courageously signed their name on the dotted line to serve and protect the United States of America. What’s more, we are a nation at war and for the foreseeable future, that war will continue. That means there will be more and more veterans, more soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, National Guardsmen and Reservists who need our help.
But, because the number of participants in the sea of goodwill across the U.S. has steadily increased, we are at a crossroads. Over the last 15 years there has been a national decline in nonprofit giving and because of new tax laws changes and philanthropists are changing their donation strategy. The VSO space is cluttered and those who want to give back to military community are left confused with where to put their money, time and how to determine which nonprofits will use it wisely.
I know the struggles first-hand as the CEO of one of these charities; VSO leaders are all fighting for the same dollars, the same resources and the same opportunities to serve military families well and to have our mission and message heard to rally support from patriots nationwide. What we are missing is true collaboration — honest commitment to work together and connect one another to potential funders, pursue opportunities in tandem for the greater good to widen our circles of influence and impact.
We all have the same mission in mind: To put the military community first and safeguard their transition from service to civilian life, despite our various means of getting there. So why not link arms and lace up together? At Boot Campaign the bulk of our programmatic spending is focused on healing hidden wounds of war with sustained real-life outcomes. But, veterans who are overcoming brain injury and PTSD also have other challenges, such as gaining employment opportunities or financial education. That’s why we’ve partnered with Stop Soldier Suicide and Hope for the Warriors who provide programs that can help with those needs.
Open minds, opens dialogues and opens doors: It’s a small world and our circles of influence can be leveraged for one another’s organizations sometimes better than our own. For example, when I was approached by the Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration about partnership on preserving the stories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, I knew that Carry The Load, another Dallas-based non-profit, was a more fitting partner for such a mission. But only because of my discussions with them and understanding of their objective, did I decide to connect the two.
“True collaboration requires trust and time. This is not going to be a quick fix, but if we all come to the table under the same pretenses, progress can be achieved and our purpose can be served.”
My ultimate goal is to make sure that military families have access to appropriate services with sustained life-improving results when and where they are needed. Through collaborative partnerships, we are prominently poised to achieve more – faster, with a nexus of leaders from nonprofit organizations, corporations and fellow Americans to put the military family and its needs up front and center focus.
As Jessica Honegger wrote in her recent book Imperfect Courage, “When a group of people come together to truly share the load, division doesn’t divide; instead it unifies…[so that] anyone’s joy is everyone’s joy.”
Changing this trajectory of competition to collaboration begins with each of us in the VSO space. So let’s let down our guard; leave our egos at the door and come to the table truly committed to collaboration to nobly serve those who served us first. I’d be honored if you’d join me. Together we can do more.