11/19/2013 12:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Answer for Peter Buffett -- Part 3

In An Answer for Peter Buffett (Part I), I outlined the top five issues facing the philanthropic industry. In Part II, I outlined the key stakeholders in the industry and their different wants and needs. For any new system or platform to be viable, it must successfully address both of these, the industry issues and the diverse needs of its stakeholders.

The impetus for me writing these posts was because I felt that, when it comes to serving a greater cause, there are lots of discussions about WHAT the problems are, but few effective ideas for HOW they can be addressed. Particularly when it comes to serving our nation's military servicemen and women, there are many leaders who can identify what these individuals need. However, helping these service members actually find the assistance that best suits those needs, and get it in a timely and efficient manner, is another thing. I consider properly assisting these individuals and families a profound national and moral imperative.

In order for the philanthropic industry to address this problem, or any problem our society faces, there are a few critical questions that need to be asked.

1. What does success look like?
Success for veterans is them receiving prompt and quality assistance when they return from duty so that they can properly assimilate back into society. Their diverse needs are met when needed, which will include medical, psychological, educational, employment, and financial assistance. Some of these services will be provided in the short term, while some will have to take longer.

2. What are the obstacles to that success?
The biggest obstacle right now is that there is no clear, visible go-to-destination where people can go to seek assistance, or to provide assistance. This makes it difficult and confusing for those who would like to help and for those who need help. Also, the needs of veterans are often less visible and they have multi-tiered needs, which makes it hard for people to comprehend.

Regarding service delivery, the overarching challenge is that there is massive fragmentation within the industry. There are over 40,000 nonprofits evidently dedicated to serving veterans, and limited collaboration amongst them. There are also numerous government organizations, councils, community stakeholders, and company and community "partners" and foundations, which makes it very confusing for veterans to understand which services are available to them. Veterans are a disbursed population, which further exacerbates the challenges of service delivery.

Veteran needs are often less visible, and sometimes they are reluctant (or do not know when) to reach out for help. It's hard for them to find others who are facing the same challenges and who could potentially help them find the assistance they need. And, when they run into a problem (e.g., a VA problem), it is not readily possible to elevate the issue and mobilize a critical mass of individuals to gain sufficient attention in order to resolve it.


3. HOW will obstacles be overcome to be successful?
A "Collaborative Group" should be developed, under which the credible servicemen and women-related organizations could be invited to join. The key to this collaborative group is that it should serve to promote the interests of the underlying member organizations, ultimately serving the needs of servicemen and women. In other words, it should help bring order, not control, and bring oversight, not bureaucracy. It should not be able to interfere with the member organizations' individual goals, and they should have the freedom to leave at any time.

Currently, there are two such collaborative groups gaining traction. One is called Generation Empathy, which serves to bring together credible animal-related groups and individuals to combat any form of animal abuse, and be able to speak about it with a louder voice. The other operates under the title Human Trafficking & Migrants' Rights and brings individuals and groups together who care about such issues with the hope to have an open and productive dialogue that leads to the betterment of those impacted. "Land of Smiles" Musical, a member group underneath the Human Trafficking & Migrants' Rights group, is a musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand. What's powerful is that real women are sharing their stories there, which moves the discussion from theory to individuals, in order to better understand the issues at hand.

Both collaborative groups have safeguards in place to ensure they do not evolve into bureaucratic entities. While the collaborative group at large can accept donations on behalf of the cause, it must disburse 50 percent of any donations received to the underlying groups. Such a collaborative group for servicemen and women could be done, with many sub-groups, all connected in one place.

The key is that member organizations may invite those they serve or who are impacted to join their group, and share in the discussion. Individuals may also share their stories with the collaborative group, and automatically to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, broadening awareness to the issues they face. In this way, a collaborative group can become the go-to destination for servicemen and women.

Other groups that address specific needs could be formed under the umbrella/collaborative group, for such things as mentoring, PTSD, TBI, support groups, etc. Groups can be open to the public, invite only, and moderated. Some will need to be private, given the sensitivity of issues discuss.

Servicemen and women (including those currently serving in the military, veterans, and families) could join multiple groups and share their stories automatically with their groups, and the collaborative group at large. Having all the organizations and people in one place helps greatly in bringing clear organization to overcome fragmentation. Redundancies can then more clearly be seen and weeded out.

4. What is the value to key stakeholders?
The key is creating a place that is readily accessible and comprehensible to the public. Then, their involvement can occur on a much more massive scale. And, since the great majority (about two thirds) of donations come from individuals (as opposed to trusts/foundations set up by the very wealthy), the increased funding received could be rather significant.

More specifically, the value by stakeholder is:

Servicemen and Women
A centralized area for servicemen and women to find information and share amongst themselves.

Others now have a place where they can easily see many organizations to assist and donate to. It helps them better understand the issues at hand for military servicemen and women and ways to get involved.

There are compelling reasons for nonprofit organizations to join a collaborative group since they will lose out if they do not. They now have a place where a real discussion can occur. They can invite staff, volunteers, companies, and those impacted to participate and share in the discussion. The main benefit is that they are part of a bigger cause (the Collaborative Group) that goes beyond what they can achieve as an organization by itself, it means greater exposure of their organization and bigger impact.

One of the benefits for companies is that such a collaborative group is a more valuable target, since it represents an accumulation of different causes and therefore its sheer size, since most companies will want to use their charitable giving for PR uses.

To employees, it will be more interesting to be able to pick from different volunteer and giving opportunities, since now they can choose from multiple groups, while still supporting the mission of the collaborative group. Companies should be able to track those efforts and have valuable data on who their employees support and hopefully match their efforts.

5. What are the critical implementation issues?
Superior execution is essential. So often I have seen great strategies that are accompanied with good business initiatives, but they fail from poor execution. The involvement of a few esteemed and trusted generals, with this common vision, would go a long way in establishing the collaborative group's credibility and creating awareness. There will be some difficult decisions that will need to be made; for example, which organizations should be included, and which not. Authentic transparency, with the utmost integrity, is not just essential but must be the foundation of the collaborative group, and its member groups.

Peter Buffett had it precisely correct when he said: "it's time for a new operating system." Unbeknownst to him, starting in 2008, a massive effort began to understand the needs of all key stakeholders in order to develop a common platform that could provide deep value to all of them. Lots of offerings out there cater to one group of stakeholders, but have failed to have a large impact because they did not take all stakeholders into consideration.

What the industry demands is one credible go-to platform where all key stakeholders can come together to address our society's most pressing needs. This online destination will serve as a hub for all nonprofits and allow those who are servicing similar issues to find one another and join forces under the aformentioned collaborative groups. Our nation's servicemen and women should not be left lost in a sea of information. They, and the individuals who want to support them, should be able to access all the available resources in one place, and be able to have a more meaningful discussion about what is needed.

All nonprofits owe it to their constituents to get on board with an idea like this one. But as we know, many are slow to react to change.

In part 4 of 5, I will discuss a number of mindset issues that will need to be overcome. These issues, which exist within charities and corporations, are easy to identify, but less simple to change. Management needs to be put on notice.

In part 5 of 5, I will address some over-arching nonprofit governance issues. Boards need to step up their fiduciary responsibility to ensure nonprofit heads are responsible for WHAT their plans are, and also HOW they execute them.

Then, in an addendum post, entitled, "United Way or United WHY?" I will outline how the industry cost structure will be disrupted, and the likely causalities.

(Part 3 of 5)