In 2009, Blue Shield of California Foundation learned of the increasingly high rates and devastating impacts of domestic violence among military families. Given the incredible stress these families had endured after more than a decade at war, the findings were difficult to hear, but not surprising. Thankfully, we were in a position to do more than just listen. Through our work to end domestic violence in California, we saw an opportunity to make a difference for our servicemen and women.
The Foundation began investing in new research on veteran mental health and wellbeing, and brought community stakeholders together to discuss policies, opportunities, and challenges to serving our returning combat veterans. In response, we launched a number of demonstration projects focused military members and their families, facilitated new collaborative endeavors, and funded specialized training for healthcare providers and counselors. At the time, we were the first and only foundation in the nation to identify and address the issue of family violence among the veteran community. We saw our small, but strategic investments generate significant impact and outcomes. We also saw that we, independently, could not sustain the pilots and partnerships seeded by our funding.
After four years, we faced an important question: How could we make promising results sustainable over time and spread best practices to other organizations and systems?
We found like-minded colleagues and foundations, cultivated new relationships, and began building an infrastructure to enable wide-scale partnership across the entire philanthropic field. We knew that the responsibility to our veterans was too great, and the problem too big to address it alone. So, in 2014, we helped launch the Philanthropy Joining Forces Impact Pledge in partnership with Joining Forces, the Council on Foundations and other foundation leaders. In the critical period after the wars abroad have ended, this Pledge is helping to ensure that we don’t give up on our veterans now that they’re back on American soil, and back in our communities. The pledge challenges the philanthropic sector to be willing to collaborate and meaningfully commit to Veteran wellbeing over time.
We’ve since provided grants to institutionalize our collective efforts and bring more partners to the table every year. We’re proud to support the White Oak Group in leading strategic dialogue about future needs and opportunities for Veterans and their families, and have awarded grants to both the Foundation Center and Council on Foundations to further develop the infrastructure needed to support the Pledge and Veteran’s Philanthropy Exchange. We’ve also recently forged a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to spread a domestic violence prevention model already proven to work in six VA centers around the country.
The journey of Blue Shield of California Foundation provides clear evidence of the power of philanthropy and collaboration. And it shows that any funder can find an inroad to this important issue. We did not start this work with expertise in Veterans or military families. It also reveals that you don’t have to be the largest funder involved in order to make a difference. We found a series of modest, but strategic, investments can still achieve big results. The Pledge has taken the legacy of a few grants in 2009, and transformed it into a nationwide, multi-million-dollar cross-sector effort to serve those who risked their lives to serve us.
We remain excited about the opportunities created by the Pledge to further our work as a foundation, strengthen new partnerships, and continue to make a difference for those most in need.