Alumni as partners

When you change lives, they will want to change yours

COVID-19 not only forced us to reconsider our organization’s business model, it also created an opportunity to rethink our relationship with our 2,000 program alumni.

Peace of Mind is a therapeutic intervention in which IDF veterans receive time and space to process their combat experiences. Run by the Metiv Israel Psychotrauma Center in Jerusalem, the program strengthens their emotional and mental wellbeing, allowing for a healthier transition from military to civilian life. 

COVID-19 not only forced us to reconsider our organization’s business model, it also created an opportunity to rethink our relationship with our 2,000 program alumni.

Until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the major part of the therapeutic process would take place while the group of veterans and our therapists were hosted by one of our 50+ Jewish community partners overseas. These host communities and donors would also raise the funds to pay the program costs for the group that they hosted. 

Our approach with program alumni has historically been that we help you, then you live your life. For that reason, we never had a formal alumni program. Those who need it receive through the program individual therapy, but as therapists and an organization we did not seek a lifelong connection. 

Last Rosh Hashanah, Matan, one of our alumni reached out to us. “The program changed my life,” he wrote. “I heard that programming has stopped as you can no longer send veterans abroad, but you also have 120 teams of IDF veterans on your wait list. How can I help?” 

From that email came the idea of a crowd-funding campaign, led by Peace of Mind alumni, most of whom had not been in touch with us for years. The campaign raised over 2 million NIS ($620,000) from 6,500 plus Israeli donors. The funds will allow us to provide the Peace of Mind program in Israel. 

This was the first time our organization had ever received serious donor funds in Israel. Within the span of two weeks we increased our Israeli donor base from the dozens to thousands.  

More than the funds themselves, the long-term significance to our organization is the creation of an Israeli societal and economic support base, fueled by our re-engaged alumni. 

This is especially crucial as we move beyond providing direct services to ever increasing numbers of veteran units. Our vision for comprehensive veteran care provides for the mental health needs of those 80% of IDF combat veterans who suffer symptoms, whether mild or moderate, all the way to those 10-15% who suffer from PTSD, many of whom are not helped by current treatment methods. This vision includes research and enhanced treatments, along with work on levels that we have not engaged in previously, from PR and lobbying work, all the way to changing the way the system itself relates to the issue of veterans and mental health.   

So what did we learn in the process?

  1. We needed to change our conception of our alumni, from recipients of care services we provided to partners and investors in our vision and work. 
  2. Provide an outlet for alumni who seek further engagement. Many of our alumni want to help. Communication is crucial. If they don’t know what’s going on and what the challenges are then they can’t help. 
  3. Emphasize the greater purpose. Beyond the opportunity for personal improvement offered by the program, many of our alumni are driven by a shared vision of changing the system of veteran care in Israel. Build an alumni community based on that shared vision
  4. Acknowledge areas outside of one’s expertise. Having never run a crowd-funding campaign before, we could not have succeeded on our own. We were dependent both on the expertise of JGive staff who are experienced in such campaign, and on our alumni working together with the JGive platform and staff to set up an ambassador based campaign.
  5. Let alumni lead, and let them do it together. We have alumni who are experts in PR, digital marketing, design, storytelling, campaigning, lobbying, and more. They want to use their skills and they want to take ownership over the process. 

All of these lessons served us not only during the campaign itself but will guide us moving forward in creating a sustainable Israeli donor base to complement our existing donors abroad. 

As we enter a new year, with all the twists and turns that the pandemic continues to create in our field, we are grateful for the new alumni community that is newly invested with us in revamping veteran mental health care in Israel.  

Chaim Landau serves as director of development and partnerships at Metiv. He can be contacted at Chaim@metiv.org