A nonprofit that connects communities with the brave heroes returning to them, the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) has made its massive impact in part by supporting programs like Got Your 6, which demonstrates how veterans and their families can be assets within a community.

Since its establishment in 2012, "Got Your 6" has played a crucial role in energizing the so-called “veteran empowerment movement” that’s uniting local communities, government agencies, nonprofits and the entertainment industry (and the media it attracts) to improve the lives of veterans and their loved ones.

Creating a platform for veterans to share their stories, storytelling has been key to this movement’s success.

On August 22, 2018, Anne Marie Dougherty, BWF’s executive director and inarguably its chief storyteller, talked to us exclusively about the organization’s plans to grow Got Your 6 with a new operating structure and a continued focus on telling and amplifying our veterans’ powerful stories.

Goals, opportunities, and partnerships

Meagan Meehan (MM): What are the major goals of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and what sorts of opportunities do you offer?

Anne Marie Dougherty (AMD): Our foundation asks people to stand up for heroes so that we can find, fund and shape the innovative programs that help our post-9/11 impacted veterans, their families and caregivers thrive long after their time in uniform.

When Bob and Lee founded our organization 12 years ago, our goal was to ensure that our veterans and their families had access to the same quality and range of care that helped Bob make an incredible recovery from catastrophic injuries.

That goal is the same today, with the recognition that the challenges facing our veterans and their families have evolved considerably since the beginning of combat operations after 9/11.

We invest in programs across three areas—education and employment, rehabilitation and recovery, and quality of life—to provide a range of thoroughly evaluated and proven services with measurable outcomes.

We also do a lot to bring together leaders from the government, the private sector and the nonprofit community to assess veterans’ emerging needs, identify gaps and develop solutions.

MM: How did you become interested in the foundation, and what does your role involve?

AMD: I got involved in the early days during Bob’s recovery when the Woodruff family decided to create a foundation because of the outpouring of support and interest in helping combat-wounded veterans and military families. As a social entrepreneur, I was attracted by the opportunity to build something meaningful that would have a positive impact on veterans.

My husband was serving in the Marine Corps at the time, preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, so the mission was important to me. I immediately saw the need to build a strong community of support, and it has been an amazingly fulfilling journey.

My role is largely focused around just that. At first, it was about building out the immediate community around BWF, to include the staff and board of directors.

The role has evolved over the years as the business has developed, and now a lot of my time is spent on building the community of much broader relationships, like the NFL, Veterans on Wall Street Consortium, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

I’m particularly excited about our groundbreaking work incubating the National Veterans Intermediary and the acquisition of Got Your 6.

MM: Can you explain Got Your 6 and how it will impact your foundation’s work?

AMD: Got Your 6 was established six years ago as an effort to galvanize the entertainment industry and the veteran nonprofit community around the goals of empowering veterans and changing the veteran narrative in popular culture.

BWF was a founding partner of Got Your 6, sharing a common vision on the potential of storytelling and how media and entertainment can make a powerful, positive statement about veterans.

Got Your 6 was known not only for its partnership with Hollywood but also for its “collaboratories”—these convenings of like-minded nonprofits created a forum to discuss how we could all work together to create even greater impact in areas like those that we focus on at BWF.

We are integrating Got Your 6 into the BWF portfolio, creating a “force multiplier” effect where their partnerships in the entertainment industry and a strong call to action around empowering vets will increase our reach, and in turn, help us help more veterans. We have already talked with the Got Your 6 entertainment industry partners and the nonprofit coalition, inviting them to continue to collaborate with us.

MM: How do you typically partner with communities, other charities, and local governments and to what effect?

AMD: Partnership has been a hallmark of our work since day one. BWF works with communities, other nonprofits and government at the local, state and federal level to improve outcomes for our impacted veterans.

We partner with other nonprofits by granting the funds we raise to those best-in-class organizations who demonstrate measurable outcomes, financial fidelity and direct services to post-9/11 impacted veterans, families and caregivers.

We evaluate proposals from close to 400 potential nonprofit partners each year, and after a rigorous evaluation process and close collaboration on the specifics of their programs, we grant to about 50 of the best.

Our partnership continues through the life of the grant, as we provide assistance in the shaping of the programs themselves and oversee progress on the outcomes. To date, we have granted over $45 million through more than 300 grants to leading nonprofits.

We also foster partnership and impact at the community level through an initiative called the National Veterans Intermediary (NVI). We developed and launched NVI to help our veterans navigate the fragmented and inconsistent network of services and organizations at the local level, reducing the variability in outcomes regardless of where our veterans work and live.

NVI now works directly with community collaboratives and local governments in almost 80 communities around the country.

Positive outlooks and hopes for the future

MM: What are some of the most interesting takeaways/learnings to come out of the foundation’s work?

AMD: I’m constantly amazed by the resilience and positive outlook of the veteran family, often in the face of incredible adversity. What Bob and Lee witnessed during Bob’s recovery process is very much what we still see today—impacted veterans with a singular focus on the goal of thriving throughout the recovery process.

Their families and caregivers are central to that recovery process and can often benefit from a support network that recognizes the great sacrifices they make as well.

Another thing that we have learned over the years is that we are still learning about the challenges facing the veteran community.

While physical wounds, traumatic brain injury and mental health concerns remain top of mind, our work also includes the exploration and evaluation of emerging issues like veteran underemployment, the challenges faced by children in veteran families, and sensitive topics like intimacy and reproductive issues created by service-related injuries.

MM: What could be done to better support veterans when they return to civilian life?

AMD: While I am certainly encouraged by the continued outpouring of support for our veterans, I often hear people say, “I want to help veterans, but I’m not sure where to start.”

There are so many great options to help, but the sheer number of veteran-serving organizations can be overwhelming.

If we can help simplify the process of investing in positive outcomes for our veterans and their families, at the local and national level, we will be helping to empower our veterans and create the conditions where they can realize their full potential after serving.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for the future of the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Got Your 6?

AMD: We have made tremendous progress in our support of veterans and their families, both via the programs that we fund and the stories that we tell. But there is so much more than we can do, and my goal is for BWF to lead that effort. Got Your 6 is reflective of our efforts to tell the powerful stories of our post-9/11 veterans and their families; we want to reenergize the Got Your 6 call to action and incorporate a new generation of entertainment industry support, including the full range of emerging media.

I want to see Got Your 6 become an even stronger statement of veteran support, one that points to the positive impact we are making for veterans, their families, and caregivers.

MM: Is there anything further that you would like to add about the Foundation and its events?

AMD: This November, around Veterans Day, many folks start to think about what they can do to support our nation’s injured veterans. We love to see that surge of goodwill, but there are other opportunities to make a difference throughout the year. I want to highlight that this September is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Mental health challenges can impact all of us—from veterans to the entertainment industry and all of America.

It’s important to remember that the issues that many veterans face are “people problems” that any one of us could struggle with. These challenges are often amplified and experienced through a different lens due to their military service. I think that especially now, there is a tendency in the public consciousness to focus on what makes us different, rather than what connects us—but by keeping our shared humanity in mind, we have the opportunity to be more compassionate toward our fellow Americans. So even if it isn’t a specifically veteran-focused day or week or month, I’m asking that we all look to what we can do to lend a hand and support our neighbors—especially those who have served their country.

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