Veteran Outreach and what is a #VetEvent

So what the heck is a #VetEvent and what is with the number sign?

  1. A #VetEvent is a public activity designed to foster social connections and develop camaraderie among veterans in a community.
  2. Any individual or group can organize, host, or sponsor a #VetEvent but the activity shouldn’t be for advertising purposes only. A #VetEvent should be an event about or for veterans. 
  3. A #VetEvent is for all veterans and may include families, friends, and civilian allies; however, a #VetEvent should never be restricted to one subcategory of veterans.

For example:

  • The Springfield VFW is inviting all veterans and current service members to the Springfield Winter #VetEvent from 7-9 p.m. on Jan. 31 at Bob’s Tavern on Washington Road. Proof of military service earns veterans and one guest admittance to an exclusive reception with light hors d’oeuvres, drink specials, and mid-winter camaraderie.
  • The Clinton DAV is organizing a #VetEvent breakfast from 8-11 a.m. on Jan. 31 at Flow’s Kitchen on Washington Road. Open to the public, one dollar from every meal purchased will be donated to the veteran homeless shelter.
  • The Madison Boy Scouts Troop 12150 is organizing a #VetEvent at the Madison Historical Society on Sunday, Feb. 5 from 1-4 p.m. to highlight the new exhibition, “Yankee Doodle in Madison 1775-1783.” Admission is free to all veterans with proof of military service and half for family members. All children under 12 will receive a miniature American flag while supplies last.

A poor example:

  • Derek’s Discount Autos is hosting a #VetEvent on Veterans Day. Come on down and test drive an American car!

In contrast, VFW post events are typically at the post home and may be open to: the public (bingo); members and their guests (dinners); members only (meetings). Those are post events. #VetEvents are open to all veterans and typically in a public venue.

So why is this post about the concept of a #VetEvent?

The mission of the VFW is: “To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans.”

Serving our veterans, the military and our communities should not happen just in times of dire need. Instead, the VFW can serve all veterans by fostering beneficial social connections and creating supportive local veteran communities. This does not mean the VFW should change their membership criteria–at all. Instead, the VFW should foster a more inclusive veteran community, become a leader in the local veteran space, and develop camaraderie among all veterans.

For example, which scenario is better:

  • “Hey, are you a veteran? Did you serve overseas? No? Oh, I was going to ask you to join our VFW but you don’t qualify. But thank you for your service.” [Translation: you suck.]
  • “Hey, are you a veteran? Which branch? I served in the army too. Hey, you should come to our next #VetEvent. They’re open to all veterans and they can be a lot of fun. We post them on our Facebook page and we do one at least every three months. Here is a business card with our Facebook address. Did you serve overseas? No, well I hope you weren’t stationed at [insert name of dreaded base/fort/post here; Fort Polk is the default]. Our next #VetEvent is in a couple weeks so I hope to see you there and if you have a veteran friend bring them along.”

These two scenarios illustrate the difference between recruiting (sales) and veteran outreach (evangelizing). In the first one, how do you think the veteran feels about being told his service wasn’t good enough? In the second one, the veteran feels like he has made a new connection–how isn’t this a way better approach than the first sucky scenario?!

The VFW and ALL veterans groups have to transcend the mentality of degrading the honorable service of fellow veterans by excluding them outright, but they should not lose the qualifiers that make each group special and unique (think Marine Corps League and Military Order of the Purple Heart).

Now, what you can’t do is invite the public to your VFW canteen because anything the public pays for is taxable income. IRS stipulates that,”fraternal veterans’ organizations may operate a bar and/or a restaurant for its members and their bona fide guests” and not jeopardize their tax exemption status. However, a bona fide guest is an individual who is invited by a member and “whose expenses are paid for by the member.” If the guest pays for food or drinks, it is “unrelated business income and is ordinarily taxable.” While I want “to serve our veterans, the military and our communities,” I am definitely not buying cocktails for everyone.

Finally, what is with the #?

The #VetEvent has a hashtag or pound sign as part of its name. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify similar content in online searches. Remembering that the table of contents and index had to be invented in books, it is easy to understand that the hashtag has become a decent way to index content in searches. Unfortunately, a very nice veterinary consultant in Alabama (I think) is about to get angry if the #VetEvent concept takes off.

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