Nonprofit Pioneers Innovations in Veterans Philanthropy

Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance

As we approach Memorial Day and honor our nation’s active-duty service members and veterans during Military Appreciation Month, Philanthropy Roundtable is recognizing Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans find employment. Its mission is to identify and fund “the most efficient and effective organizations that get unemployed veterans back to work.”

The backdrop to Call of Duty Endowment’s work is a changing landscape in the field of American philanthropy. While charitable donations and programs for veterans and military families have been one of the fastest growing areas of philanthropy over the last 15 years, the government remains the largest provider of veterans support services – and has done so for decades. The current system is expensive and has not produced intended outcomes – namely employment and economic opportunity post-service. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the cost per job placement has risen significantly over the last few years while the number of veterans hired has decreased. In contrast, there has been a much slower increase in cost per placement in the nonprofit sphere … and the philanthropic sector is pioneering new ways to approach challenges related to veterans’ employment.

That’s where Call of Duty Endowment enters the picture. Named after the famous video game inspired by those who served in uniform, Call of Duty Endowment has become one of the most impressive charitable actors in the veterans service space.

In fact, Call of Duty Endowment has helped place over 100,000 veterans in jobs, spending under $547 per veteran placement in 2021. This is in sharp contrast to the average $5,901 spent by the Department of Labor for similar services. Moreover, the organization boasts an average starting salary of $64,000 for veterans.

It all started with a chance encounter in 2007, when Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, a video game holding company, met former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson at Walter Reed Hospital. The men discussed a philanthropic foundation that was planning to build a performing arts center on the grounds of a VA facility in West Los Angeles, and Nicholson expressed frustration that more attention wasn’t being paid to finding jobs for veterans

Following that conversation, Kotick felt compelled to research employment statistics for veterans, and found that 50,000 out of 150,000 veterans returning to the workforce at the time were unable to find jobs. These troubling statistics moved Kotick to action, and he founded the Call of Duty Endowment in 2009. In 2013, Kotick hired Dan Goldenberg, a former Navy officer with strong business consulting experience, to lead an effort reimagining veteran employment support.

Goldenberg chose to partner with organizations that provided direct services to veterans like resume creation, interview preparation and job placement assistance, rather than what he saw as more indirect services like mentoring or coaching. Then, applying some of the same “narrow and deep” business principles that made parent company Activision Blizzard a success, he developed the Seal of Distinction, a prize awarded to nonprofits that “demonstrate the highest level of effectiveness, efficiency and integrity in placing veterans in quality jobs.”

To vet organizations for the prize, Call of Duty Endowment, in concert with professional services company Deloitte, examines a nonprofit’s impact, financial health and scale potential. Call of Duty Endowment pays particular attention to the organization’s cost per placement, average starting salary and retention rates. The Seal of Distinction award, which is intended to nationally recognize outstanding organizations and incentivize them to continue good work, includes a $30,000 prize. Notable grantees include Hire Heroes USA, which was awarded the Seal of Distinction in 2013.

As Goldenberg looks ahead, he says his organization remains focused on finding and helping to scale the highest-performing nonprofits that place veterans in high quality jobs.

“Given our grantees place veterans into good jobs at one-tenth the cost of U.S. government efforts, it’s clear that the nonprofit sector has pioneered an approach far superior to that of the government,” he said. “We’d love to see federal veteran employment funding reprogrammed to support what works in the nonprofit sector. If this happened, we could effectively solve the veteran employment problem in the United States.” 

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