Social Impact is changing how the world views non-profits and for-profits. As support for veterans is scrutinized by charity controversy and VA struggles, the need for social impact has never been greater. But the social impact movement for veterans is lagging other societal needs. However by 2017, you will see more veteran support organizations moved to adopt social impact. Part of this change will come from social enterprises that will create tremendous impact for military veterans - veteran charities will need to decide to innovate or stagnate.
So, What Is "Social Impact"?
Simply stated "Social Impact" is combining profits and social outcomes. In other words, believing that traditional charities can act more like for-profits to generate sustainable revenue and impact. It also means socially focused (for-profit) companies can make profit and great social impact at the same time.
Some good examples of this are the Chicago-based non-profit, Leave No Veteran Behind. They provide transitional jobs for veterans through the "Safe Passage" program they created to provide a safe environment for children to attend school. Sounds like a traditional charity, right?
Wrong. They look more like a massive HR staffing company complete with training, payroll, and huge contracts with the City of Chicago. Those contracts provide a majority of the revenue needed to provide jobs for veterans. But they are not just a "veteran employment" charity. They are creating statistically proven reductions of crime is some of Chicago's toughest communities. While everyone is talking about escalating violence in urban communities , but these upstart veterans are actually making an social impact.
A for-profit example is Rags of Honor. This apparel company is a social enterprise that only employs homeless and at-risk veterans. For skeptics out there, yes I have visited their facility and met veterans who were living out of their cars before they started at Rags of Honor. The organization knew they couldn't be tethered by non-profit rules to succeed. They need to make profit and grow to hire more veterans. If they keep hiring more at risk veterans I hope they make millions.
Do We Need More Social Impact To Meet Military Veteran Needs?
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald has publicly stated, "We can't do this job alone." The "Sea of Goodwill" we saw in the decade following 9-11, continues to retreat to a new norm.
The societal needs of veterans will continue to grow, so we must start the changes to ensure long-term support before the situation worsens. There needs to be a deliberate paradigm shift incorporating social impact to create a more sustainable model of support for veterans.
Lagging In Social Innovation
The traditional lines between non-profits and for-profits are blurring, but social areas such as domestic hunger-relief are light years ahead of veterans needs. This could be caused by strong checkbook philanthropy and purpose marketing generating revenues for veteran charities. It could be caused by a lack of understanding of how market-based solutions can create social impact for veterans.
Whatever the reason, we are lagging behind other areas in social impact.
Ask Yourself, Why Are You So Critical?
Many are against social impact for veterans. If you are, is it because you're a traditional charity that generates good revenue now? You don't want more tax scrutiny?
Are you a part of the "Old Guard" of veterans charities resisting change or a challenge to your member-based model? Or are you a newer veteran charity concerned how this could change dynamics with your donors already giving tens of millions?
Or, God forbid, a for-profit social enterprise creates massive impact for veterans and actually makes money in the process - how dare them!
What Can I Do?
If you are in a non-profit or for-profit, pursue social impact. Ashoka Innovators for the Public says "Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change."
If you encounter social enterprise, be open when you see it. In many cases we are innovating and creating something that's never been done before. We may fail a couple of times before we get it right, but it is needed and will be worth it to create long-term support for this community.
Tom Aiello is a 2002 graduate of the Kellogg School of Management and was recognized as a Kellogg Youn Impact Scholar in 2016. Tom has made significant social impact around the 24 million Americans who have served in the US military along with their families. In 2013 Tom started MARCH Marketing, a multicultural communications company focused on the insight of military service. He believes that more culturally relevant communications to and about the military veteran population will create a positive social impact and close the perceived gap between the "1%" Veterans' and the rest of the US population. To date, Tom has raised over $120 million for nonprofits.