Why would a self-described tech nerd with no personal connection to the armed forces give away $100 million to organizations focused on veterans and military families?
“Because I owe them,” said Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist turned philanthropist and veterans advocate. “I’ve realized that some people are going to risk themselves, maybe taking a bullet overseas to protect me … There are a lot of issues in the military community that I barely understand. But on a gut level, I know we owe vets and their families a lot.”
Newmark, who stepped down as CEO of his namesake web site more than 20 years ago, has spent most of the last eight years focused on charity work, launching the Craig Newmark Philanthropies to distribute some of his personal wealth.
The latest $100 million pledge is actually a continuation of recent efforts focused on military groups. About $42 million of the money has already been given away, including $10 million each to Blue Star Families and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The rest of the money will be awarded over the next three years.
In announcing “a big number,” as Newmark deemed it during a sit-down with Military Times, he hopes to spur not only new research and outreach among established military supporters but also to draw public attention to those efforts, some of which have fallen out of the public eye since the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s hard to ask someone to do their best to serve their country if they’re worried about their family back home or if they’re worried that they may be abandoned as a vet,” he said. “So people in industry, and also one-percenters everywhere, probably could pony up some cash to help out.”
Newmark’s foundation said the money will be directed towards “contributing to solutions for the most pressing challenges facing veterans and military families,” a list that includes mental health problems, food insecurity, employment challenges and loneliness.
The beneficiaries of the donations say the money provides unexpected opportunities for growth and outreach. Blue Star Families, for example, will see their operating budget almost double thanks to the new money. Officials hope to use it to further research on the struggles of military families and open more chapters to connect spouses with each other.
“This is really transformational for us,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families. “When you’re a non-profit, you don’t get investors and … you don’t grow like a for-profit. You have to grow incrementally. But with a big infusion like this, you can leap to the next level, and that is exciting.”
Newmark has an emeritus seat on Blue Star Families’ board of directors, but describes his role as mostly listening and “getting out of the way” while advocates work towards solutions. He believes most Americans support helping military members and their families, but don’t know what that means or how to do it.
“We need to learn what we already know: that we owe vets and their families,” he said. “They’ve done the job we asked, they’ve made great sacrifices. It feels right to do something about it.”
Information on how groups can apply for the new grants are available through Newmark’s foundation website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
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