Grinston makes fundraising priority for Army Emergency Relief

John Vandiver | Stars and Stripes | Jan. 8, 2024

The recently retired top enlisted Soldier who leads Army Emergency Relief, the service’s official nonprofit, has one overriding goal for the organization: to make it the top choice for Soldiers among its peers.

But a little more than a week into the job, retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said a major challenge facing AER is the gap between donations and contributions.

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“We’re giving out sometimes more than we take in,” he said Friday in an interview. “That’s hard to sustain … and that’s one of my concerns.”

On Jan. 1, Grinston became the first former enlisted Soldier to lead the organization since it was launched in 1942.

He said he’s looking for ways to stand out in the battle for donations, where everything from GoFundMe drives to other well-established nonprofits are competing for dollars.

“We’re looking at (increasing fundraising) from two sides,” he said. “There’s inside the Army, Soldiers helping Soldiers. And then those organizations outside of the Army, those people that maybe do business with the Army or just want to help support their Soldiers.”

About a decade ago, roughly 25 percent of Army personnel contributed to AER, Grinston said. But during the past couple of years, that number has hovered at about 6 percent, he said.

The past year was a busy one for AER, which assists Army Families experiencing unexpected financial difficulties by offering a variety of aid, including grants, loans and scholarships.

In 2023, the organization provided roughly $57.6 million in assistance and $5.3 million in scholarships, according to AER.

Major efforts include helping Soldiers and Families when disaster strikes, such as the tornadoes that hit the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, community in December 2022.

The nonprofit also helped about 1,500 Families affected by Typhoon Mawar, which swept through Guam in May.

The assistance comes in many forms, with AER managing more than 30 different programs. The top needs are often for small things, such as car repairs, Grinston said.

“If I can’t get to work, I have to fix that car,” he said. “And that takes money away from me buying food … and that’s where we need to come in.”