In Expanding Field, Veterans Groups Compete for Limited Funds

While philanthropic support for veterans and military families has grown significantly since 2001, it has failed to keep up with the needs of new veterans, the New York Times reports.

Foundation Center research suggests that giving to military and veterans groups has nearly tripled since 2001, while, according to the Urban Institute, more than seventy-eight hundred nonprofits providing services for troops, veterans, and their families have registered with the IRS in the last decade. But advocates and nonprofit leaders told the Times that donations to these groups have not kept pace with growing needs, and that giving for veterans causes may decline as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

Compounding the problem is the fact that many potential donors think the Department of Veterans Affairs has everything covered, not realizing that many VA programs are badly stretched and/or inadequate. And with less than 1 percent of the population actually having been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, yet another obstacle to fundraising is the small percentage of Americans with a personal stake in those wars. "Our nation has not been asked to appreciate or contribute to the volunteer military," said Nancy Berglass, director of the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund. "The lack of engagement from the public is now bearing bad fruit."

The large number of new entrants in an already overcrowded field merely adds to the confusion for would-be donors. Indeed, only a handful of organizations, including Blue Star Families, Homes for Our Troops, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront, the Semper Fi Fund, and the Wounded Warrior Project, have managed to become national organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets. "We expect 2013 and 2014 to be tough years in fundraising," said Amy Palmer, chief programs and field operations officer for Operation Homefront. "If we were asked to start Operation Homefront today, I wouldn't do it. There are too many people in this space."

With that in mind, Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America recently created the Veterans Support Fund — a joint venture with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the National Military Family Association, Operation Homefront, and Operation Mend — to raise $30 million and distribute it evenly among the groups. "This," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of IAVA, "centralizes things for the Johnny Rich guy who says, 'I don't know where to start.'"

James Dao. "In Veterans' Aid, Growth Pains." New York Times 11/08/2012.