Undoubtedly, the news of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of one of the nation’s largest nonprofit veteran’s organizations has reached nearly everyone at this point. What began as an organization dedicated to serving the men and women who have served our country has turned into a maelstrom of lavish spending, leading to the dismissal of high-ranking leaders and the disenchantment of thousands of donors (and millions of dollars). To be sure, this is a tragic story of a noble idea turned sour by the allure of big money — one that has played out across numerous nonprofit organizations in recent years.
However, the tragedy runs much deeper than one organization “breaking bad” and pocketing some money meant to help those in need. The real tragedy is the widespread suspicion now present in the general public about how their charitable dollars are being used, and fallout that tens of thousands of fiscally responsible, well-intended, and impactful nonprofits will suffer as a result of this assault on the American philanthropic psyche. Further still, the tragedy is that many of those in need will simply be denied the empowering and transformative opportunities that have long been foundational to our society.
In the case of veterans, many worthy nonprofits across the Treasure Valley and nationwide stand to suffer the distrust that should rightly fall on only the offending charity. The downstream impact of such a mentality would be devastating, and the repercussions lasting. Not only might thousands of men and women facing the personal and professional challenges of transitioning into civilian life after serving our country be forced to forgo much-needed services and assistance, but the effects would surely extend to their families and communities in the form of strained relationships, lost productivity, and lack of engagement. To be sure, not all transitioning veterans are in need of the various forms of support offered by the organizations that exist to serve them. To those that do, however, the need is real and the cascading effect of the life-changing support made available to them is simply incalculable.
Most importantly, we must realize that the generous and selfless support of individual and corporate donors and foundations throughout the country is the sole conduit between those in need and the organizations dedicated to meeting that need. The transgressions of a few individuals (or even a few organizations) whose moral compass led them astray should not be the impetus for us to deny the deep cultural and historical precedent that guides us to continue supporting the greater good with pride and zeal. To do anything less is to punish the many we are obligated to serve for the sins of a few who chose to serve themselves.
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Brent Taylor is executive director of the Wyakin Foundation, an Idaho nonprofit serving the educational needs of veterans in transition. In a January 2016 Idaho Statesman story, the Wyakin Foundation distanced its mission and practices from the Wounded Warrior Project — which has been accused of spending lavishly on itself.