Today’s nonprofit organizations exist in a world that is constantly evolving. This brings complex challenges that require both innovative solutions and exceptional leadership from all levels. Fortunately, there is an often-overlooked pool of talent that has exactly the skillset to thrive in this environment: veterans. As we look deeper into the invaluable contributions veteran leadership can make to a nonprofit, we’ll uncover a wealth of leadership, teamwork, diversity, resilience, adaptability, and above all, a profound sense of service. 

Leadership Excellence

Military training is synonymous with leadership development. The military invests a lot of time, work, and energy into formal training in areas such as strategic planning, resource management and conflict resolution. Leaders are then immediately put into positions to use that training and receive real-world feedback on it. Veterans emerge from their time in the service with a multitude of skills and are willing and ready to bring that wealth of leadership expertise to nonprofit organizations. Their ability to inspire, motivate, and empower teams while remaining calm under pressure, thinking critically, and making sound decisions in high-stakes situations is unparalleled, helping to drive organizational success and impact. 

The Power of Teamwork

Teamwork is at the heart of all military operations, where success often hinges on seamless collaboration and unity of purpose. Nonprofits are often small teams trying to accomplish huge things, and so the same collaborations and purpose are a vital part of success. Drawing from their experiences in diverse and challenging environments, veterans excel in building cohesive teams, leveraging the unique skills, perspectives, and experiences of each team member, in order to achieve far more together than they ever could alone.

Diversity and Inclusion

The veteran community is as diverse as the society it serves. It brings together individuals from all parts of the country, all walks of life, and a huge array of backgrounds. This diversity enriches nonprofit organizations by bringing those differing perspectives and experiences to the table. Veteran leadership understands the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, championing initiatives to create welcoming and inclusive environments while showing how to create unified teams and share goals within that diverse environment. 

Resilience in Action

Running a nonprofit is hard. As soon as one challenge is figured out, two more appear. These can often pile up leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed.  Built by going through and overcoming years of adversity, veteran leadership brings an unmatched resilience to the forefront, navigating challenges within nonprofit organizations by being able to recognize each problem individually, and then work on them with confidence and composure finding creative solutions, charting new paths forward and overall seizing opportunities for growth and development. Being able to rally a team during a crisis, or simply maintaining morale during a difficult time helps to create organizations that can weather storms, adapt to change, and emerge stronger and more resilient than before.  

Adapting to Change

Adaptability is a hallmark of military life, where rapid change is the only constant. Veterans thrive in dynamic environments, quickly adapting to new challenges and opportunities. Within nonprofit organizations, where funding, regulations, and priorities can shift rapidly, this adaptability is invaluable. By embracing change as a natural and inevitable part of the journey, veterans foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement that empowers organizations to stay ahead of the curve and remain relevant in a rapidly evolving landscape. 

Answering the Call to Service

At the core of the veteran experience lies a profound sense of service and duty. Veterans are driven by a desire to make a difference, to serve something greater than themselves. Within nonprofit organizations, veterans find a natural outlet for their desire to serve, channeling their skills, expertise, and passion toward addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. Importantly, veterans’ commitment to service is not just about individual actions but also about collective impact. Recognizing that no one person can solve complex social problems alone, veterans leverage their networks and connections to build coalitions, forge partnerships, and mobilize resources to effect systemic change and create a more just and equitable society. Their commitment to service inspires others and fuels the collective effort towards a brighter future. 

In the dynamic landscape of nonprofit work, the veteran community stands as an untapped reservoir of talent, experience, and passion. From leadership and teamwork to diversity and resilience, veterans bring a unique set of skills and attributes that help to fill many gaps within nonprofit organizations and then propel them towards a much greater level of impact and success. 

About the Author:

Caucasian Man outside smiling in a grey blazer and blue button downStephen Cook, ACNP, Sr. Manager Global Operations, USANA Foundation

Stephen Cook is an operations professional with over 20 years of experienceAfter retiring from the U.S. Air Force, he found his calling in the nonprofit worldHe was hired on to run operations for a local Utah nonprofit, USANA Kids Eat.

After 2 years, he was also given the incredible opportunity of simultaneously running global operations for USANA’s larger philanthropic arm, the USANA FoundationHe holds a master’s degree, and multiple certificates but is most excited about the Advanced Certified Nonprofit Professional.  



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