Learning and LeaningOn August 26, 2016, Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN) and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) will convene a day-long event to educate, encourage collaboration and provide tools to make military spouse-led organizations more effective. Learning & Leaning In, to be held in Arlington, VA, will connect military spouse-support organizations with others supporting spouses, national stakeholders in military family policy, and resources and tools that support nonprofits to better sustain our community. The full day of learning, led by military family nonprofits that have been working in the military family support space for years, may well be only the beginning of the conversation.

“By bringing together military spouse-led nonprofits that serve military families, we can better serve our collective community,” said Josie Beets, President of the Military Spouse JD Network and co-organizer of the event. “Working together means we can be more effective.”

The military spouse community has an abundance of riches—organizations that exist to support the educational, career and personal lives of those who love those who serve. Dozens, even hundreds of nonprofit organizations exist to serve military spouses and families.

Of this vibrant nonprofit community, many are run by military spouses—after all, there is no better subject matter expert. In the all-volunteer force, the families are the ones who get drafted, moving from place to place with little say in their next destination, not only for love of country but for love of their servicemember. To cope with this constant change, military spouses have learned to adapt and support one another not only through military service-sponsored organizations such as Family Readiness Groups but also through nonprofit work.

Most nonprofits are small and under-resourced (both in human and financial capital), leaving little opportunity to focus on anything other than the core mission. A mission-focused perspective can hamper a more global view of what other organizations are doing both in and outside of their area of expertise, leading military spouse-led organizations to miss opportunities for cross-organizational support and promotion among their peers.

“In the military spouse support space, I’ve seen this first hand,” said Patty Barron, Director of Family Readiness at AUSA. “It is exciting to see military spouses get involved in their community, but we worry we’re missing opportunities to connect and create opportunities to magnify our impact.”

At the same time that more and more military spouse support organizations are being formed, serious decreases in funding from government and foundations for military family support functions are leaving gaps. A 2015 report from the Center for a New American Security, titled “Charting the Sea of Goodwill,” analyzed the landscape for nonprofit organizations serving the veterans and military community and their funding sources and concluded that a gap is emerging between need and resources in this sector. The study focused on veteran and military organizations, but the conclusions ring true for our military spouse and family nonprofits as well.

“If we want to remain a strong, successful spouse community,” said Beets, “we must work together closely and collaborate to fill the gaps in services left from a decreasing funding environment.”

A key element of Learning & Leaning In will be the conversations attendees have with each other to better build a collaborative community of support for our organizations.

“We are stronger together,” said Barron. “We hope you will be a part of building strength in our military family community.”

To register for Learning & Leaning In, visit learningandleaningin.eventbrite.com.