By Charles M. Pickett
In retrospect, forming and chartering a new Veterans of Foreign Wars post was not that difficult. However, it would have been much more difficult if I wasn’t well versed in marketing techniques that I acquired when I promoted indie-rock bands in Boston before I joined the Army.
Here are some thoughts for other “veteran entrepreneurs,” specifically Post-9/11 veterans, seeking to start a veterans service organization (VSO) post such as an American Legion, VFW, or DAV.
- Post Name: Initially name the post after the town or section where it is forming. While the post can be renamed after a fallen comrade down the line, most veterans reference posts by the town or section they are located.
- Market Research: Is there a market for a VSO post? If you can find 10 veterans who are willing to put down $30 bucks and fill out an application so they can be on a post charter, you can probably develop 25 more through advertising and marketing and word of mouth. Is there an ACTUAL need for a new post?
- Stakeholders: As part of your market research, you must seek established stakeholders in the veteran space in your area. Any veteran entrepreneur must recognize that forming a new VSO post can cause conflict, disrupting the status quo. By doing this market research and identifying and contacting other groups (AMVETS, Purple Heart, other VFW/AL posts) you can listen to what they have to say, discuss their concerns about “poaching,” and make allies in your quest.
- A VSO Is Not A Charity: There are many veteran charities that fall under IRS Section 503(c)(3) that seek to help veterans in distress (financial, mental, employment, etc.). These charities typically have non-veterans in executive positions that are paid salaries and they typically do a great job “delivering outstanding services” to needy, disabled, and suffering veterans. Their appropriate and paramount focus is on veterans (clients) in distress (needy, disabled, suffering). However, a VSO (IRS Section 503(c)(19) is slightly different. While helping distressed veterans is definitely a major aspect of a VSO, building comradeship and a veteran community is arguably way more important. A VSO’s appropriate and paramount focus is on veterans (friends, neighbors, buddies, classmates, fellow veterans) and building and supporting a veteran community. From this foundation, good works and charity should and must blossom. Charities have clients. VSOs have members. Charities “deliver outstanding services” and use ROI metrics. VSOs have fun and help each other. While the contrast can be murky, there is a big difference. To lump a VFW in with Homes for Our Troops does a disservice to the mission of both organizations—and is something many veterans and citizens do all the time.
- Where’s the Bar/Post?: A post doesn’t need a building to be a post. A post is made up of members and their association and leadership determine the success of a post. What is more hooah, an apathetic and dying post with a leaking roof or a vibrant post that has their meetings in a GP Medium in a member’s backyard? As for the bar, while it does contribute to a veterans community, it forces the membership to turn inward and focus on the facility and not the community and charitable works in the real world. This is something I grew to realize during the chartering process.
- Incorporate and Bond: After you muster and send in your application, quickly figure out how to incorporate and get bonded. You might only have 30 bucks in the bank, but getting bonded and incorporated are two big steps toward being a real post. Your district should help you out. Don’t worry about framing the charter, paying for a bible, or getting the POW/MIA chair cover. Those will come in time.
- VFW Charter: There is no reason to hold onto the charter application after gathering the initial 35 names, unless you want to muster on a special date. The charter is open 90 days after national signs the documents and this is open recruiting season because it isn’t some “forming post” concept, you are just adding names to the charter, making recruiting much easier. This open season will help you ride the second year drop in numbers from people not renewing because they just wanted to be on the charter.
- Meetings: If you are commander, you will screw up a little. Consider buying a cheat card from the VFW Store or downloading the one I put on this blog space. Also, keep them short. If your committee chairs are taking forever, it is probably because they didn’t talk to the other members before they had to present their reports. Consider having pre-meetings that are social in nature and where nothing is decided.
- Post-9/11 Veterans and Community: Young veterans want to hang out with other young veterans. While they respect their elder vets, they are at a totally different place in their life than Vietnam veterans. One group is reproducing and the other is retiring. Big difference in focus.
- Old vs. New Post: This may heretical but I argue that it is easier to start a brand new post of young veterans than recruit Post-9/11 veterans to an old post. Why?
- The youngest Vietnam Vet (30APR1975 last VSM awarded) to today (40 years, 9 months, 9 days) + 18years of age makes the youngest possible Vietnam veterans 58 years old.
- The GWOT Expeditionary Medal was retroactively awarded on 11SEP2001. That’s 14 years and almost 5 months + 18years = 32 years old.
- There is a 26 year gap between the major conflicts which has generated the bulk of surviving veterans.
- In other words, there is sizable generational gap between the two major conflicts which translates into a gap in membership. Plus, these numbers are the narrowest extreme not the average, so there is actually a much larger division.
- In other words, do young veterans want to hang out socially with people their parent’s or grandparent’s age? One group is chasing chicks. Another group is discussing their health problems. Note: this author is right in the middle of the two groups having joined the Army at 40.
This is rather a rambling blog post. I hope some of it helps.