Craiglist founder Craig Newmark just gave $5 million to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a nonprofit for post-9/11 veteran advocacy and support. In doing so, he continues a charitable spending spree that, within the last year, has included separate $20 million gifts to support journalism at the City University of New York and a nonprofit news site called The Markup.
“I can see that veterans and active service members and also their families actually put into real action what we aspire to believe in in this country,” he says. That includes promoting and defending core values like “fairness and opportunity and respect”—the cornerstones of Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
The donation was made on the same night that Newmark, who has served on IAVA’s board for more than a decade, earned a civilian leadership award from IAVA. “We only found out he was considering doing more in the last few days,” says IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff in an email to Fast Company. “It’s another example of how Craig steps up when veterans need him. He’s always got our back–and especially now.”
Newmark’s donation couldn’t be more timely: at a time when there’s a national suicide crisis among vets, charitable support for veteran service organizations has dropped. Rieckhoff says that those nonprofits now receive less than 1% of the U.S.’s overall giving. “This is happening while demand for veteran support is skyrocketing. There is just much more need than groups like IAVA and our allies can all handle.”
Part of the problem may be the divisive political climate: “Donors are often picking sides in the political wars. Groups like IAVA that represent all sides have suffered as a result,” he says. Since being founded in 2004, the group has helped 1.2 million veterans and their families reconnect and readjust to civilian life. It fields a team of social workers that work directly with vets and can respond rapidly in times of crisis, and has supported legislation to improve the GI Bill, boost suicide prevention services, and encourage employers to hire more vets. In 2017, IAVA had an annual operating budget of about $6.5 million. It’s currently in the midst of a $20 million fundraising campaign to secure and expand its services.
Several of IAVA’s current priorities include continuing to battle the suicide problem, providing better recognition and support for female veterans, and winning more awareness and recognition about the health dangers to soldiers who served near burn pits, which the military has commonly used to dispose of all types of potentially harmful chemicals and waste while in the field.
Newmark says his giving spree is meant to counter the country’s currently polarized state. “Our country is being attacked by bad actors, you know, both foreign and domestic,” he says. “So people like me, who’ve been lucky enough to have some success, it’s time for us to stand up. I’m putting my money where my mouth is.” (He declines, however, to clarify who exactly the bad actors are.)
“[T]hat means defending the country, and that means helping the people who defended the country,” he says. But not at the expense of other things he sees as important: “In high school history, I learned that a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy, but I also learned about the Bill of Rights and the sacrifice that Americans made to secure all that. We’re still fighting for it,” he says. “That means supporting the press. It means supporting vets. It means supporting active service members and their families.”