Why Nonprofits Should Engage with Veterans

Iowa-based nonprofit Thunder Rode conducts a therapeutic horseback riding program for veterans. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)
Iowa-based nonprofit Thunder Rode conducts a therapeutic horseback riding program for veterans. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)

By their nature, nonprofit organizations are mission driven and they focus their vision on serving, advocating or advancing a cause, community, conversation or initiative. We know that veterans are trained to be loyal to a mission as part of their military training and character development. This should make it easy for nonprofits to find and engage with veterans as volunteers and employees, right? It’s not that simple.

For many service members separating from military duty, the career attraction to the nonprofit sector is not always clear and compelling. Military transition programs typically highlight opportunities within the private sector, government, and in entrepreneurship, and focus less on those nonprofit organizations who need volunteer help and employees.

What are the opportunities for veterans within nonprofits?

In the U.S., more than one in ten people in the workforce are employed by a nonprofit organization. As reported by the Urban Institute’s 2016 Nonprofit Almanac, nonprofit employment grew every year during the past 15 years – even during the recession. In the last decade, while government employment increased by 5% and business employment by only 1%, nonprofit employment increased by 23%.

According to Christa Beall Diefenbach, CNP, Vice President of Marketing and Development for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, the types of jobs and scope of work is as varied as the many missions represented by the more than 1.5 million organizations that make up the U.S. nonprofit sector.

Why should nonprofits seek to engage with veterans?

The military veteran is an individual with strong skills and character traits. In their military training, they learned how to:

  • Problem solve complex situations. For a veteran, problem solving is a critical skill to ensure the mission is successfully completed often under high-stress, high-risk conditions. Many nonprofits crave creativity, innovation, tenacity (sticking with the problem until it’s solved), and resilience in meeting the demands of their constituents today, and ensuring the viability of the organization into the future. A veteran would be a tremendous asset to a nonprofit, either as a volunteer or as a part- or full-time employee.
  • Work in a team. The nonprofit work environment is traditionally highly collaborative. Many organizations find themselves doing more with less, where each team member is asked to serve in many different roles. Veterans are accustomed to this. In their military roles, they often multi-tasked, and worked alongside colleagues they may have just met moments ago, often under high-risk and adverse conditions. The veteran knows how to raise morale, build a team, and lead when asked.
  • Lead. There is no question that veterans are taught leadership early in their career. From the time they leave boot camp, they assume responsibility for impressionable people, expensive equipment and complex strategies. If asked to lead an initiative, project, or objective, the veteran will see that as his or her duty.
  • Serve. In their time in uniform, service members learn the value of honor, integrity, loyalty and service. The desire and need to serve does not leave when they leave the military. For many veterans gainfully employed in civilian careers after their military career, they long to still serve their community. Nonprofits can tap into this desire and recruit veterans into volunteer roles, benefitting from the experience, talent and skills of the veteran.

How to find and connect with veterans?

There are many organizations that specifically seek to connect nonprofit organizations with volunteers and employees, including:

  • The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. Their mission to strengthen the social sector with a talented, prepare workforce, by helping nonprofit organizations find the right candidates for their positions.
  • Nonprofits have also found success using Idealist.org and its sister site, IdealistCareers.org.
  • Many states have nonprofit state associations that offer job boards for nonprofit employment.
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) credits their members with over contributing 8.6 million volunteer hours annually, and offers access to many nonprofits seeking to engage with the veteran community.
  • There are also organizations that assist veterans in obtaining practical experience in the nonprofit sector, such as The Mission Continues.

For nonprofit organizations seeking to build or enhance its reach, contribution or impact, the value of hiring and engaging with veteran talent cannot be overlooked.

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