Written by: Jim McDonough
1. Become more competent in military culture to better understand the unique needs presented by veteran families.
Take active steps to train staff on the unique needs presented by veterans and military families. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for help; they have wonderful instruction in the application of trauma-informed care and are willing to provide it free-of-charge to community-based providers. Host monthly brown bag discussions with veterans and military family members and invite them in to your organizations to help teach your staff. Survey their needs and interaction with your staff to ensure your organization offers programming and resources to addresstheir concerns.
2. Better connect with area colleges and universities to target your resources to the post-9/11 returning veteran (and family member) student population.
Colleges and universities represent your best bet to come in contact with service members and family members of the post-9/11 generation. Visit your campus-based Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter, if supported by your local college. Introduce your nonprofit organization’s service delivery model to chapter members and their families by hosting after-class information sessions. Involve student veterans and their family members in your programming. Solicit their spirit of volunteerism to support your organization’s activities and events. Think of co-sponsoring community-wide discussion forums that focus on veterans’ issues; you’ll benefit from the engagement created around the discussions themselves.
3. Recruit veteran family member volunteers to lend their insights into military service and help educate/train your staff.
Volunteerism within nonprofit organizations is one of the most undervalued enterprises in the nonprofit sector in America. When it comes to serving veterans and their families, volunteerism also represents one of the most profoundly impactful opportunities for veterans and their family members to become involved with local nonprofit organizations. Place veterans and their family members in key volunteer capacities – event planning, welcome center operations, as organizational trainers and fundraising supporters – to better position your nonprofit organization within the community. Above all else, provide them with meaningful experiences and recognize their contributions along the way. You’ll be amazed by their involvement in things big and small supporting your organization’s mission – if you ask.
4. Work hard to reduce the fragmentation of veterans’ services in your community; create opportunities for others to serve alongside your organization.
Perhaps more important than any other aspect of nonprofit organization operations, the proliferation of organizations claiming to serve veterans and their families has exploded in the last twelve years. Inefficiency, redundancy and duplicative efforts have become more observable the deeper we look into our communities. New found efforts aimed at reducing the fragmentation of services and resources being offered by well-intentioned nonprofit organizations are gaining ground and respect – we ask that you do your part by working more closely with your supporting Continuum of Care, area community foundations and affiliations to bring greater alignment of service delivery systems supporting veterans’ needs.
5. And above all else, become more inclusive to serve all veteran families, regardless of their affiliated generation and associated characterization of service.
Resident within the nonprofit capacity serving veterans and their families today is a sense of exclusiveness around targeted subpopulations of veterans and their families. A majority of newer nonprofits claiming to serve veterans and their families are almost exclusively serving returning post-9/11 veterans and their families. Often overlooked are our Vietnam veterans and their families, the prevailing veteran population in America today. The best nonprofit organizations serving veteran families are those that try to cast the widest net to be inclusive of all generations of veterans and their families. In addition, we find nonprofits that open their doors to VA-ineligibles are among the best in the country when it comes to targeting resources to demonstrated needs. Think about your model in terms of its inclusiveness or exclusiveness along these lines and try to design and deliver programming that serves multiple generations of veterans and their families, as well as those who are ineligible to be served by the VA.
Colonel (Retired) Jim McDonough, is the Senior Director for Community Engagement and Innovation at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.