A dozen nonprofit organizations connected to veterans and military causes have received upward of $100 million from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who helped start Amazon with her ex-husband Jeff Bezos.
The donations were among $3.9 billion given to 465 organizations Scott announced Wednesday as part of her pledge to give away at least half of her personal fortune of tens of billions of dollars.
Several of the groups described their "gift," in Scott's words, as the largest single donation they've ever received and believe the money will be "transformational." In some cases, the donations were more than the organizations typically receive in an entire year.
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The not-for-profit groups plan to use the funding to expand programs to improve veterans' mental health care, provide more educational opportunities and give veterans more chances to continue serving their communities, among other things.
"This was meant to uplift a generation of veterans organizations," Mary Beth Bruggeman, president of The Mission Continues, told Military.com about the list of Scott's recipients. Bruggeman's organization got $10 million.
Scott did not disclose how much she gave each individual group, and a database of her donations she promised to set up in December is not yet live. But at least 10 of the military and veterans groups announced their hauls themselves, totaling $107 million.
The donations are unrestricted, meaning the organizations can use the money any way they want and in any timeframe. Because of that, Bruggeman said organizations should not have trouble absorbing the funding.
"I've been dreaming about this for a long time and, honestly, I thought it was a moonshot," Team Rubicon CEO Art delaCruz said in an interview with Military.com. Team Rubicon received $7 million.
"The pressure is to do good with this gift," he added. "Thirty thousand-plus other nonprofits, veteran nonprofits across the country, to be amongst the few that have this gift, I don't take that privilege and responsibility lightly."
Here are all the veteran and military groups that received donations and what they plan to do with them:
- Blue Star Families, which helps military spouses and families with the unique challenges of military life and had $7.8 million in revenue in 2020, received $10 million. The organization said it views the donation as a "challenge grant," meaning it will now try to raise an equal amount or more this year with the goal of using the funding to expand to all 50 states and support "hundreds of thousands more" military families.
- The Bob Woodruff Foundation, which helps veterans with issues ranging from mental health to food insecurity to service-connected fertility issues and had $9.8 million in total revenue in 2020, received $15 million. The organization said it plans to use Scott's donation, as well as another recent $2.9 million grant it received from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, to "advance the foundation's strategic efforts to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the military and veteran community; ensure local communities have the resources and ability to help veterans thrive after their time in uniform; and shape and improve the military and veteran service sector."
- The Headstrong Project did not respond to Military.com's requests for comment or put a news release about its donation online. The organization, which focuses on veterans' and service members' mental health, had a net revenue of $10.8 million last year.
- Hire Heroes USA, which provides free job search help for service members, veterans and their families and had $9.6 million in revenue in 2020, received $11 million. CEO Andrew Sandoe said in an emailed statement to Military.com that the funding will allow his group to increase its focus on specific populations such as female veterans. "Having experienced steadily increasing demand for services over the past few years, Hire Heroes USA is now able to expand capabilities and capacity through investment in organizational infrastructure and added team members while positioning the organization for long-term sustainability and growth," Sandoe said.
- Operation Homefront, which helps military families find financial stability and had $39.2 million in revenue in 2020, received $20 million. Retired Brig. Gen. John Pray Jr., the group's president and CEO, told Military.com in an emailed statement that Scott's "timely investment in our important work will allow us to greatly expand our capacity to help military families overcome their financial hardships and give this very special and deserving group of our fellow citizens the opportunities they deserve to thrive in the communities -- our communities -- they have worked so hard to protect."
- Student Veterans of America, which aims to empower student veterans and had $4.9 million in revenue in 2020, received $8 million. The organization said in a news release the money will allow it to expand programs, including its National Conference, Washington Week, Regional Summits and the Leadership Institute, as well as invest in infrastructure to help student veterans network more efficiently with the group's alumni, mentors and potential employers.
- Team Red, White & Blue, which focuses on veterans' health and wellness and had $5.4 million in revenue in 2020, received $6 million. The organization told Military.com the grant will help it enhance the user experience in its app by adding integration with fitness tracking devices, improving the social experience and developing gamification for challenges. The group also plans to develop new health and wellness challenges, workouts and events for veterans, such as adding more opportunities for vets to go on its "Eagle Expeditions," which are trips that the organization describes as "epic adventures that will challenge the body, humble the spirit and encourage camaraderie to last a lifetime."
- Team Rubicon, which deploys veterans for disaster relief and had $64.2 million in revenue in 2020, received $7 million. Because of the nature of the organization in responding to crises, delaCruz told Military.com it's hard to say now exactly how the money will be used, but he's hopeful it will allow the group to train more volunteers and thus help more clients than it would otherwise have been able to. "A crisis could be two homes that got hit by a tornado in Kansas. Or it could be 10,000 flooded because of Hurricane Harvey. Or it could be medical teams going to Ukraine. All of those are unpredictable," he said. "What is predictable is Team Rubicon's ability to create the enablers that solve that. I know if we can, as an example, have more volunteers that have been trained with different capabilities, i.e. what services they can deliver, we'll be more ready to respond when that next disaster occurs."
- The Mission Continues, which connects veterans with volunteer opportunities and had $11.4 million in revenue in 2020, received $10 million. Bruggeman said the grant came as somewhat of a surprise; the group had been interviewed by a firm known to be working with Scott, so suspected she might be interested in them, but was not formally told they were in the running for one of her gifts. Even after being officially notified about the grant, Bruggeman said she was not allowed to tell most people within the organization until Scott publicly announced it Wednesday. As such, Bruggeman said she is still consulting with stakeholders on the exact plans for the funds, but generally thinks it will allow her organization to "rethink how we get to our North Star" faster. That could include investments in innovation, data and technology.
- The Warrior-Scholar Project, which helps veterans and service members excel at four-year universities and had $3.4 million in revenue in 2020, received $5 million. "In short, with more, we will do more," CEO Ryan Pavel said in an emailed statement to Military.com about the group's plans for the funding. That includes expanding its academic boot camps to additional four-year institutions and college success workshops to community colleges. The group also plans to invest in technology that will allow it to provide an on-demand version of its curriculum for any transitioning service member and veteran to use, and is exploring starting a new service "to channel our expertise into hands-on guidance for any college or university seeking to stand up or refine their veteran support programming."
- Workshops for Warriors did not respond to Military.com's request for comment and did not post a news release about the donation online. The group, which trains veterans and transitioning service members for manufacturing jobs, had $6.1 million in revenue in 2020.
- Wounded Warrior Project, which focuses on injured veterans and had $287 million in revenue in 2020, received $15 million. The organization said it plans to dedicate all of the funding for its mental health and brain health programs, including WWP Talk, which provides non-clinical emotional support calls; Project Odyssey, which offers group adventure learning to help manage post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other combat stress; and Warrior Care Network, which provides care for PTSD, TBI and substance use disorder treatment in a two-to-three-week intensive outpatient treatment program.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
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