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Please Consider This Before You Donate To Another Veteran Nonprofit

There are some things in life which, by default, sound good based on the name only. For example, ghost Jedi. That sounds amazing and the military power of ghost Jedi alone should have been enough to stop the empire from rising. The only problem is that ghost Jedi are absolutely useless. Stay with me here, because it will bring me back to my point about veteran nonprofits. Ghost Obi-Wan could have told Luke that Leia was his sister before they had their incestuous kiss, but no. Ghost Jedi showed up after the Ewok battle and all the work is done to just smile like they did something, when they should have been ghosting around the battlefield and distracting the Empire so that more Ewoks could survive. If nothing else, Ghost Yoda should have been waking up storm troopers in the middle of the night screaming in their faces so that they couldn’t get so much as a single good nights sleep. Ghost Jedi sounds like a good idea, but its not. My friends, another veteran nonprofit sounds like a good idea, but there is a better than good chance its not. Their proliferation since the start of GWOT has been a problem and I’m just going to be the jerk to come out and say it. If I can borrow a few minutes of your time, I’d like to explain why.

I Know A Thing Or Two Because I’ve Seen A Thing Or Two

Now, lest you think I am bagging on all veteran nonprofits, let’s set the record straight. There are many, a few, some, really good nonprofits making an impact in the veteran space. I’m going to choose not to name them for sake of the jimmies that will be rustled for all who don’t get named. However, all veteran nonprofits are not equal. Personally, I have spent over 20 years in the nonprofit sector and serve as the Executive Director for a local non-veteran oriented nonprofit. I also teach classes at a local university on leading sustainable nonprofit organizations. I am not the authoritative world renowned expert, but I’m not ignorant about the matter either. I’m not telling you to stop giving to veteran nonprofits. I’m telling you to give to the right ones.

My biggest problem with the rapid proliferation of veteran oriented nonprofits is that very few are committed to proving their efficacy and social impact. They are simply raising money off the namesake of veterans. That’s you, me, and everyone else who ever wore the uniform. They assume that you should give without so much as asking a single question as to how good they are at what they say they do. As someone who is burdened with the gift of knowledge in this space, it really grinds my gears. Kind of like my thing against Ghost Jedi. Little Baby Yoda Grogu was getting probed and experimented on in the post-empire reality and I’m like, where was Ghost Yoda that whole time? Absentee ghost piece of trash, we know he’s the father. Kid looks just like him. Moving on.

Veteran Nonprofits Have Reached Latent Racket Stage

American social philosopher Eric Hoffer famously put forward the following notion. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Some 20 years after GWOT began, I’m afraid we’ve reached latent racket stage when it comes to many veteran nonprofits. That’s because the pursuit of funding has far outpaced the desire to prove effectiveness. As such, sizeable and meaningful amounts of money given to pursue a social good are squandered among the thousands of pop up veteran nonprofits.

Truth be told, you could likely shutter 80% of these nonprofits and just focus on an organization that has proven effective at redefining veterans relationship with alcohol, and you’d change the world. There, I said it. I know we are supposed to love whiskey and I do indeed enjoy whiskey, but redefining veterans relationship with alcohol would do more to solve veteran homelessness than all the tiny houses you could build for them. Prove me wrong if you can.

If you want to avoid participating in this racket, you can do by asking one simple question that I teach to all of my college students. Namely, ask the nonprofit if they have any proof that they are actually good at what they do. That’s it. If they don’t, then you walk and take your checkbook with you. Its my approach to my entire charitable giving strategy. When some kid out side of a grocery store asks me to donate to his baseball team, I’m tempted to reply with, “Well I don’t know, are you any good at baseball. Show me some stats kid, cause I don’t want to subsidize a loser.” I don’t do that, but I think you get my point. Please give to veteran nonprofits, but do the work to make sure you are not supporting the racket.

Spend Your Money On Causes And Organizations That Work

Again, I’m actually not going to name names here, but if you take away anything from this article, I hope that it is the need for your to examine efficacy before you give. For example, if I’m trying to save the world from evil, I’m likely going to pick the ghost army from Lord of the Rings over any amount of ghost Jedi. One was effective, the other not so much. There is about $2.5 billion donated to any number of 40,000 military themed charities in America. If split evenly, that’s about $62,000 per charity. Sounds like a lot, but that means each charity can hire like one or maybe two people, pay salary and not spend a single dime on the actual mission. Cut that number of charities to 10,000 and now they each can have $250,000 each. Do you see the point? Do you see how adding another veteran nonprofit may very well be distracting and harmful to evidenced based organizations doing good work?

Please for the love of Chesty Pullers ghost, don’t start another veteran nonprofit unless you are going to be serious about efficacy. I know it sounds like a good idea, but it’s really not. Start a veteran oriented business and use that money for social entrepreneurship. Volunteer for a reputable veteran nonprofit. Do something, anything, other than add vet charity 40,001 to the roster.

Finally, if you operate a veteran nonprofit, feel free to push back. When you do though, I’m going to ask you that one basic questions. Prove to me that you are any good at what you do. If you are a veteran nonprofit committed to efficacy, then kudos to you and keep fighting the good fight. If you are a veteran who is always complaining when successful vet business owners don’t “do enough” for veteran charity, this is part of the reason why. You can slap the word veteran or hero on a nonprofit name all you want, but that doesn’t change the world. Any vet business owner with an online presence gets hit up all the time and I’m here to tell you that “no” is an appropriate answer in most of these cases.

There, I did it. I’m the veteran who just told you to stop giving money to other veteran nonprofits. Not all of them, just most of them. Handy tip, you can also pull the IRS 990 form online to see what they do with the money. However, even that can be confusing. My best advice is to focus on the evidence of outcomes. Find their mission statement and turn it into a question. “How well do you …. insert mission statement…. and do you have any proof? When you find a cause that is committed to data and proof, then add as many zeros to that check as you want. Also, if you are a ghost Jedi who has a problem with my words, bug off. What are you going to do about it, you useless blue tinted Caspar wannabe.

Jeff Edwards

5 Comments

  1. Absolutely spot on assessment, Jeff. No one likes to hear that their baby is ugly, but the veteran community has been and continues to be flooded with good intentions but poor execution, this baby is now ugly. I hope the greater public listen a to what you have written here.

  2. Well said. The “Big Three” have been around for over 100 years each and have a proven track record. There are many good newer and smaller ones out there too.

    BUT I choose to donate my time and money where I can see the work being done and actually participate in doing that work as a volunteer.

  3. Well said! This is something that has been in my mind for a while. Here’s a good place to start when trying to evaluate how “good” a charity does it’s job.

    https://www.charitynavigator.org/

    It would be nice if the charities that do the same kind of work would band together under one umbrella instead of being parallel players and watering down the overall effort.

  4. The point of the story is valid. The author may not be ignorant with non-profits, but the author is very ignorant to Star Wars lore and understanding why only certain Jedi can only appear in apparition form to certain Jedi.

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