Ten years of war has repercussions for nonprofit sector, too

By Katy Snyder, JVA Consulting

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan.  According to CNN, the total death count stands at 2,700 troops; of those, 1,780 were American, 382 were British and 157 were Canadian. Figures for the number of Afghan civilians who have died are hard to come by, but estimates put the number at somewhere in the tens of thousands.

The toll the war has taken on Afghanistan and the surrounding countries has also been extraordinary, with ongoing violence in Iraq and enduring instability in Pakistan.

The impacts on our country have been significant as well, with economic depression that is at least in part attributable to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, political groups that are further polarized and the loss of many American soldiers. Closer to home, the war has also touched nonprofits. According to reports, the President marked today’s anniversary in “quiet reflection.” I think that some reflection on the part of the nonprofit sector is warranted, too. Below are some themes from the last few years that are indicative of the changes the war has had on the nonprofit sector.

New nonprofits form. While re-reading the book Kabul Beauty School recently, which details an American’s work as part of a nonprofit that teaches Afghani women how to become hairdressers, a highly profitable trade in Afghanistan, I was reminded of the number of nonprofits that were spurred by 9/11 and the resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Chronicle of Philanthropy article says that over 325 nonprofits were formed specifically in response to 9/11. Countless others formed to work on the ground in the war zones and with local populations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scores of other nonprofits that provide much-needed services to returning veterans have formed as well. The Wounded Warrior Project, based out of Jacksonville, FL, provides services to returning vets and those who were injured in the attacks on 9/11. It was also recently named the top nonprofit in the country to work for. Local organizations like the Bo Matthews Center and its Fourth Quarter apartments (a JVA client) provide much-needed housing and services for homeless vets. Another JVA client, Veterans Helping Veterans Now (VHVnow), was formed in 2007 to empower veterans who had been marginalized by society to utilize their skills and experience to help other veterans.

Funding dries up. Even as more nonprofits have cropped up, 9/11 and the wars that came after it have had a profound negative impact on nonprofit funding. As we said in a 2009 blog post: 9/11’s “immediate organizational impact was swift, hard and widespread,” according to an article entitled, “Lessons from the Crisis: New York City Nonprofits Post-September 11,” The 9/11 impact was “impervious to organization age, budget size, staff size, type of organization, sources of funding or revenue—whether government contracts or fee-for-service…” While the initial impact seemed to be relatively random, the aftereffects eventually seemed to hurt small and medium nonprofits the most, as they could not count on the public and private support that the larger organizations had.

While funding has rebounded slightly in the last year, the intervening years since the war started in 2001 have been rough, to say the least. A sampling of Nonprofit Street headlines from the last few years paint a vivid picture of the ongoing struggles nonprofits have faced such as these from June of 2009: $6.4 billion U.S. nonprofit giving drop in 2008 largest decline on record and Corporate foundation giving flat, expected to fall in 2009, or this one from March of 2009: Study: Wealthiest donors are giving less to nonprofits.

Not only did funding stagnate, but many funders switched their giving priorities to reflect the new realities of life in the U.S.: soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other nonprofits that provided immediate need to those affected by the resultant economic downturn were prioritized over projects that were slower to show results.

While things have begun to look up in the recent months, the impact of the war on funding has been undeniable.

Increased scrutiny for Muslim charities, donors. Not only were all nonprofits subjected to greater scrutiny as funders tightened their belts, but many Muslim and Arab charities faced a level of scrutiny that was unprecedented, and often unwarranted. According to a New York Times article from 2006, “Fearful that donations to an Islamic charity could bring unwanted attention from federal agents looking into potential ties to terrorism, many Muslim Americans have become reluctant to donate to Islamic causes, including charities.” By 2009, though, things seemed to have gotten better, as we reported in an article called The new arab philanthropy.

These are but a few of the results we’ve seen from the war in the last 10 years, but there are many more. Let us know what you’ve seen by leaving a comment.

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