Opinion

Call of Duty Endowment aids veterans by focusing on results, not hype

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Video Games,Ashe Schow,Veterans,Nonprofits

Did you know that playing Call of Duty actually helps veterans?

Activision, which makes the popular series of video games, wanted to give back to the veterans who make up a large portion of the games' fans.

The company created the Call of Duty Endowment in 2009 to fund programs that help veterans find jobs.

Easy, right? Because whole host of charities have sprung up over the past several years to help veterans.

Not so much.

Finding programs that were actually getting results among the more than 40,000 nonprofit groups in the U.S. dedicated to helping veterans proved difficult, Dan Goldenberg, the endowment’s executive director, told the Washington Examiner.

“Almost all of them are well-intentioned, almost none of them are well-run,” he said.

An example: The Center for Investigative Reporting looked at the Wounded Warrior Project -- perhaps the most well-known veterans charity -- and found that it spends 42 percent of its expenses on administrative costs, including 10 employees who earn more than $150,000 a year. The group's executive director received $330,000 in total compensation in 2012, the center said in a July 2013 report.

Goldenberg came up with a solution: a metrics-oriented grant proposal for nonprofits seeking funds. The proposal focused on efficiency (how much it costs the organizations to find a job for a veteran), effectiveness (how many veterans found jobs through the organization), the quality of those jobs and the industries they were in, how long the veterans stayed in those jobs and whether the organizations could expand beyond a local impact.

Using those metrics, the endowment launched the Seal of Distinction award last year to highlight organizations it had already been working with and to find new groups to fund. Among the 11 organizations that received the 2013 award were Hire Heroes USA, the Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes and the Veteran Staffing Network.

The organizations selected help veterans rewrite their resumes and prepare for interviews, focus their career goals and help veterans transition from military service to civilian work. Select organizations also help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, for instance, avoid the stigma that keep them from getting hired.

The unemployment rate for U.S. veterans aged 20-24 is 13.4 percent, according to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, more than double the 6.3 percent national unemployment rate. There were more than 722,000 unemployed veterans last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The endowment decided to fund programs focusing on post-9/11 veterans because they have a higher rate of unemployment than veterans of previous wars.

Organizations that have earned the seal received a $30,000 unrestricted grant to use however they see fit, and additional funds that can only be used for placing veterans in jobs. Hire Heroes USA, for example, was given a $1.3 million grant.

“There’s too many nonprofits out there, there’s just too many,” Goldenberg said. “I mean, gosh, if all the money that had been given [to those organizations] had been concentrated in the most effective organizations — I mean, wow, what a difference it would have made.”

And because the groups are nonprofits claiming to help veterans, people will donate, even if the organization doesn’t actually help veterans.

“In the business world, this would never happen, right? Because underperformers just fall away, the market forces that to happen,” Goldenberg said. “In the nonprofit world, as long as people keep injecting money without understanding impact, this is going to keep happening. And the bad side of that is less [sic] vets being helped.”

But, as Goldenberg noted, “there’s no Yelp for nonprofits.”

So far, that approach seems to be paying off.

Last year, the endowment helped place 850 veterans in jobs, at an average cost of $1,286 each. The endowment's overall cost per veteran since 2009 is $1,510, roughly half of what it costs the federal government to place a disabled veteran in a job.

Goldenberg's goal for 2014 is to place 3,000 veterans in jobs, and 25,000 after five years.

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