5 Philanthropic Lessons from The Bush Institute’s Military Summit
It’s not too often that a conference successfully delivers a message that resonates with you long after the final speaker exits the stage. Last week’s Military Service Initiative Summit at The Bush Institute did just that. The Summit, kicked off by President George W. Bush, provided insights applicable not only to its targeted military service audience, but also to the broader philanthropic community. The event addressed the various opportunities and challenges related to our nation’s service of post-9/11 veterans and their families. Speakers from across the country gathered from a variety of nonprofit, corporate, philanthropic, government, and military organizations to share their viewpoints on the topic. Organizations represented included Hire Heroes USA, Walmart Foundation, Veterans Benefit Administration, Bank of America, Council on Foundations, and GuideStar, among others.
To hear Marine Corps veteran David Smith tell the story of how he overcame the challenge of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) following his service in Iraq – and how his best friend took his own life after succumbing to his own battle with PTS – personified the struggles facing so many military veterans upon their return to civilian life. These stories highlighted the necessity for intervention and assistance during each step of veterans’ journey to reintegration.
To help address this need, the Summit sought to facilitate conversation around how nonprofits could be more effective in their missions to serve veterans and their families, and how corporations and foundations could maximize their role in aiding this cause.
There were five takeaways from this discussion that we saw as extremely important – for those serving veterans and their families, certainly, but even more broadly, for foundations and nonprofits that want to work together more effectively and achieve greater impact. These key points were:
1) Create a no-wrong door environment. Nonprofits and foundations exist to meet the needs of the groups served through their missions (veterans, low-income families, etc.). Sometimes, this requires us to refer a potential client, or nonprofit, or funder, to a different resource – or to collaborate with another partner to achieve the best end result. In order to make that possibility a reality, we need to take a look at #2.
2) Have a collective purpose to make a collective impact. As noted by GuideStar President & CEO Jacob Harold, in order to maximize our impact, we first need to align our purpose. If our joint purpose is to serve those communities outlined in our missions, that would drive us to make referrals to the right agencies – and additionally, to educate ourselves on that community of referrals so we are knowledgeable on available resources.
3) Focus. Focusing resources on the best, most impactful outcomes and organizations is the way to provide the most benefit to the communities we serve. This means we need to help each other channel expertise, resources, time, and yes, money, to those organizations that deserve it most. Which leads us to #4….
4) Tell your story through data. Measuring and assessing results is the only way funders can choose their grantees wisely. Identifying and tracking the right data is the vehicle for enabling sustainable and impactful nonprofit programming. Leaders on the nonprofit and funder sides need to encourage and enable measuring outcomes wherever possible.
5) Tailor efforts at the community level. No matter how expansive your vision, local communities should drive priorities and strategy. Walmart Foundation President Kathleen McLaughlin spoke about her foundation’s focus on the community of Charlotte, NC in 2015, and how it will bring all of Walmart’s resources to bear in addressing the community’s need. An integrated and collaborative approach at the community level can be just as powerful as a singular issue focus on a national or global platform.
So to those nonprofits and foundations, like us, who are seeking to benefit from lessons learned from leaders across the industry, hopefully these takeaways help to start the conversation of how we can be more effective, collaborative, and focused.
Thanks to all of the participants and speakers at the Bush Institute Military Service Initiative Summit for giving us real insights into how we can better our grantmaking and our outcomes.