Founded for the Soldier Who Died Twice: NYC-based Nonprofit Gives More to Wounded Vets Than Just Cash

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Voted one of New York City's Top 50 nonprofits for 2013, the all-volunteer 501(c)(3) doesn't just offer financial grants to combat injured veterans from Iraq & Afghanistan; their "Thank a Vet Network" and "ScoreForce" connect military families with professional services, small businesses and a little fun.

We're getting cash and services to vets who need it. Period.

They're not the biggest dog in the fight, but with a fast-growing base of supporters and volunteers, is proving to be a strong influence among the nation's top nonprofits that support wounded veterans. And the best part? It's practically free.

"It's incredible what a few motivated people can do on nights and weekends from their apartments," says Mike Gifford, a combat veteran of Iraq and's Executive Director. "We don’t have an office, we’re all-volunteer, we keep expenses below 10%, and although it usually means a ton of work on our own time and dime, we're getting cash and services to vets who need it. Period."

Founded in 2005 by Gifford and a handful of veterans from his former Army Reserve unit, ‘OnBehalf’ started as a way to raise some quick cash for one of their own, Specialist Christopher Kotch. Following a brutal IED attack by Iraqi insurgents in 2003, Kotch suffered massive neck wounds and was nearly killed, “flatlining” twice at a local combat hospital. “And that wasn’t even the worse part,” Mike added. “When [Chris] eventually got back to the States, not only did he go through hell with surgeries and rehab, he fought the Veterans Administration tooth and nail for benefits. He waited years. We couldn't believe that someone who literally died twice for his country would be subjected to this.”

Since then, OnBehalf has expanded nationwide to help other vets like Chris stay on their feet while waiting on benefits. This usually requires cash, and lots of it. And although they receive thousands per year in online donations, Mike and his team prefer to “earn” them, often the hard way. "Our 'Team OnBehalf’ ran the Boston Tough Mudder at Gunstock Mountain last summer and raised over $6000 in an afternoon," says Mike. “Despite electric shocks and a record heat wave, we were 30-runners strong. Everyone really got into it.”

When cash isn't the answer, OnBehalf turns to its ‘Thank a Vet Network,’ a registry of independent professionals and small businesses who offer their services to injured veterans at a discount. "Not everyone has cash to give, and we get it. ‘Thank a Vet’ provides an alternative for those Americans who want to give back, but with their expertise, service or experience instead," Mike adds. “Small businesses make up 99% of the American economy, but there’s no organized way for them to offer in-kind support to our vets. ‘Thank a Vet’ is the perfect way to do so.”

OnBehalf’s unconventional grassroots volunteer program, ‘ScoreForce,’ is also growing in popularity. Armed with a phone, computer and a handful of charm, these volunteers contact businesses in the veteran’s community and attempt to negotiate deals for their benefit. “When we’ve exhausted the funds available for a wounded vet, our ScoreForce reaches out to local shops in the vet’s neighborhood to see if they’d like to help,” says Mike. “Car repair, gym memberships, fishing trips, golf lessons—you’d be surprised how many businesses are willing to lend a hand when you just ask. And our volunteers usually do it from home in their spare time. It’s been a real effective program that’s saved our vets big bucks.”

Based in New York City and Boston, OnBehalf is getting support from coast to coast. “We just received a very generous $5000 donation from Severson & Werson, a law firm in San Francisco, as a memorial tribute to one of their associates, Allan Fink, who flew for the Army Air Corps in WWII. “I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to Mr. Fink’s service than giving today’s injured warriors a financial hand,” says Mike.

The organization has had an impressive year. Voted one of the Top 50 nonprofits in New York City for 2013 by, they were also nationally recognized by for their commitment to transparency. Partnerships with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA) are also in the works. “With the help of a lot of generous Americans, we’re making a serious impact,” says Mike. “It feels great.”

For the organization's COO, Toni Wakester, herself a combat vet and active member of Boston's nonprofit community, working with OnBehalf is a calling. "When my contract with the Army ended, I still felt that there was more to do. The cash we raise gets vets the care they need, supports their families, and shows them Americans haven't forgotten about their service," an emotional Wakester added. "You can't put a price on that."

Veteran-founded and run since 2005, OnBehalf aims to raise funds for eligible wounded vets of Iraq & Afghanistan nationwide, and looks to connect them with professional services that offer relief or enjoyment.

Michael J. Gifford
Executive Director

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