November 8, 2022

The Pat Tillman Foundation Invests in Veterans’ Futures

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts. 

Author Kathryn Kochanowicz, Content Specialist

Dan Futrell wants to position the work of the Pat Tillman Foundation as an answer to a problem. “If we can’t say what problem we’re solving, then we shouldn’t exist, and the problem we’re solving is the leadership gap in the world.”

As CEO, Futrell leads an organization that seeks to fill that leadership gap by identifying exceptional veterans and military spouses who believe that the biggest impact they’re going to make in the world hasn’t happened yet.

The foundation believes that veterans and military spouses are uniquely positioned to do so—and they have helped provide $24 million worth of scholarship funding for a diverse group of individuals. “Over 18 years, we’ve created a community of more than 800 Tillman Scholars across the country who contribute to a variety of fields,” says Futrell, himself a 2011 Tillman scholar. Those scholars, with the support of the foundation, have gone on to significant and distinguished careers in public service—business, law, medicine, politics, science and the social sector are well represented among Tillman Scholars’ paths.

Many are already familiar with Pat Tillman’s life story, but Futrell feels that it is the uncommon humanity of the late veteran, husband and professional athlete that underscores the ethos of the foundation created in his memory. Founded and led for many years by friends and family of Tillman, including his wife Marie, the foundation continues to seek applicants who not only excel in their fields, but who embody the service, authenticity and kindness that defined Pat Tillman, “It’s very important to us that we’re advancing the values which drove Pat’s life,” says Futrell. “I imagine all the time what Pat might think if he were to walk through the door right now into this conversation, or this event.”

As Futrell and the foundation look to the future, they’re endeavoring to become a leader in leadership. This year, they’re piloting the Tillman Leadership Institute. “The Institute is our effort to create a leadership development curriculum and offer it to other organizations in and out of the nonprofit sector,” he says. “We have this reserve of experience and knowledge within our Tillman Scholar community, and we want to share that knowledge and experience with others.”

Something unique about DAFs is they often drive a multiyear relationship in ways other kinds of giving don’t, and we really value those relationships.

Known for annual fundraising events like Pat’s Run in Tempe, the organization takes an all-around approach to development. DAF donors have proven to be a source of especially meaningful support. “DAFs make our work possible. Something unique about DAFs is they often drive a multiyear relationship in ways other kinds of giving don’t, and we really value those relationships.”

For those looking to approach veteran-related philanthropy in an impactful way, Futrell offers some insight: “A lot of organizations out there want to support veterans who have served, and as a veteran myself, I love that that’s out there. But that’s not who we are. Our scholarship is not a reward for the thing you did, it’s an investment in the thing you haven’t done yet.”

Futrell suggests donors consider veterans’ futures as well as their pasts. “What I would say to people who want to philanthropically support veterans would be to look for organizations that are investing in veterans as an asset, and not a liability. There’s a time and place for a pat on the back for the service veterans have offered. What we do is invest in the service they’re about to offer.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2019 with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.