Concert for Valor inspires outpouring of donations to nonprofits that help veterans

John Woodrow Cox

Before introducing rock star Dave Grohl at Tuesday night’s Concert for Valor, film legend Meryl Streep told those packed onto the Mall and watching on HBO about something more important.

“Please: Go to theconcertforvalor.com and read about the veterans service organizations like Semper Fi Fund and Give an Hour and Soldier On,” she said. “Find your way to give and honor the valor of those who serve.”

None of the three organizations have well-known brands, and their combined exposure to the audience (including Streep’s pause for a cheer) was about nine seconds long, but the impact was immediate — and dramatic.

Semper Fi’s Web traffic spiked, helping fuel 355 contributions that totaled nearly $60,000 by night’s end. Give an Hour, which provides free mental health care to veterans, received 60 times as much money as it does on a typical day. Donations to Soldier On, which helps homeless veterans, surged to their highest level in the charity’s 13-year existence.

“Because we don’t advertise, many people don’t know about us,” said Wendy Lethin, vice president of community outreach for Semper Fi Fund, which gives financial assistance to wounded warriors. “To have that sort of exposure from someone who is so highly thought of, there’s no doubt it gives us credibility.”

Benefit concerts have long been used to raise millions of dollars for all kinds of causes, from famine relief in Africa to aid for the families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Though the Concert for Valor was not held exclusively to raise money, 16 organizations were featured on the concert’s Web site and mentioned at least once by celebrity presenters.

Comedian John Oliver implored viewers at home to visit the site of the Pat Tillman Foundation, which awards college scholarships to veterans and their spouses.

“If you’re thinking [at] home of not doing that, think of it this way — it’s literally the least you can do,” he said.

The foundation received an onslaught of e-mails from veterans either interested in applying or from civilians who wanted to help.

“Motivated by the concert for valor,” wrote one person.

“I am at home watching the Concert for Valor and found your site,” wrote another. “This donation is the least I can do on this Veteran’s Day.”

The Mission Continues, which helps veterans adjust to life at home, received a $3,000 donation just minutes after comedian George Lopez mentioned the nonprofit group.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation received more than $13,000, the vast majority of which came in after Woodruff, a journalist wounded in Iraq, addressed the crowd. The foundation helps injured service members and their families get back on their feet.

The Fisher House Foundation, also mentioned by Woodruff, raised $75,000 on Tuesday, more than twice what it did on Veterans Day a year go. Team Rubicon — featured in a stirring short film at the concert about how the group uses disaster relief efforts to give veterans a sense of purpose — received about $20,000 during the three-hour extravaganza.

Hiring Our Heroes, run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, wasn’t mentioned until after 9 p.m. but still drew more online traffic than on any day this year but one, when the Pittsburgh Steelers featured the organization on their Web site during a Sunday night football game.

“Truthfully, it’s a huge moment for our program to have been in the spotlight like that,” said spokesman Bryan Goettel. “We do job fairs all around the country.”

Yet unanswered, of course, is what impact the concert will have on these organizations in the weeks and months to come.

“An effort like the concert is crucial for raising awareness of the issues we care about and inspiring people who want to address those issues to give time or financial support,” wrote Barbara Van Dahlen, Give an Hour president and founder, in an e-mail. “In order for this event to really make a difference in the lives of those who serve and their families, this cannot be a one-day response: we need Americans to step up in a variety of ways every day.”