By Danielle DeSimone
At the USO, we talk a lot about the people who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces because they are the ones in need of support, and they are the ones who deserve the spotlight. However, we sometimes don’t talk enough about who we are as an organization, and whether or not the USO is a nonprofit.
According to research, many people aren’t sure if the USO is a nonprofit (yes, we are!) or they think that we are somehow a part of the government (no, we aren’t!). So, what is the USO?
There are many answers, but the most important one is this: the USO is a nonprofit, non-government organization and we rely on generous donors to fuel our support of the nation’s service members and their military families.
Here are five ways to help remember our charity status:
1. The USO is a Military Support Nonprofit, Built from Civilian Charities
The USO has been serving those who serve in the U.S. military since 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that an organization be created to support U.S. troops, in anticipation of the U.S. entering World War II.
To answer this call, six civilian organizations came together – the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board – and thus, the United Service Organizations, or USO, was formed.
2. Working With – But Not Part of – the Department of Defense
In order to accomplish our mission of supporting active duty, Guard and Reserve members and their military families, the USO works closely with the Department of Defense (DOD) – but we are not a government agency or a part of the government. We are an independent nonprofit.
Since the beginning, the USO has relied on private contributions, grants, donations, goods and services from individual donors and corporations to keep the doors of our Centers open and our programs running for our nation’s service members, military spouses and military children.
Fun fact: The USO is a “congressionally-chartered organization,” which means that the United States Congress passed a symbolic law that stated the mission, authority and activities of the USO. Only a handful of nonprofits and organizations have this designation!
3. Powered by a Team of 18,000+ USO Volunteers
With more than 250 locations around the globe, the USO serves millions of service members and their families each year in large part thanks to our volunteers. There are more than 18,000 USO volunteers both here at home and abroad, and they are the heart of our organization – without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
Whether it’s helping at our community events for military spouses, greeting guests at the front desk of an airport Center, organizing NFL watch parties for service members stationed on the front lines or simply providing a listening ear to a soldier in need, our volunteers ensure that we can carry out our mission to support the people who serve working around the world.
Interested in getting involved? Click here to learn more.
4. Fueled by Generous Supporters Who Give Donations Big and Small
Aside from our volunteers, the other reason the USO is able to carry out its mission is thanks to the support of generous donors from around the country. As a charity organization, our work depends on those that give a little or give a lot. Regardless of the amount, every dollar counts and makes a difference in the daily lives of service members, military spouses and their families.
Because of our donors, we are able to support our wounded, ill and injured service members while they recover; we can offer programs that allow deployed parents to read their child a bedtime story from halfway around the world; we help military spouses connect with each other and potential employers; we provide on-the-ground support to military units responding to natural disasters at home and abroad; and so much more.
None of this could be accomplished without the generosity of individual donors and our corporate partners, who make sure that America’s service members know we have their backs.
5. An On-Going Legacy of Providing Free Entertainment to Troops
When you hear “USO,” your first thought might be of WWII, Korea and Vietnam where entertainers like Laurel and Hardy, Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe performed free shows for GIs serving on the front lines.
Today, the USO continues this tradition of free, live entertainment, and hosts USO entertainment tours for service members and their families stationed all around the world.
Regardless of who they are or where they come from, our USO entertainers all participate on our USO tours by donating their time and energy for free because they believe in our mission – and because they believe in giving back to our nation’s heroes. But most importantly, bringing these entertainers to the military community both at home and abroad offers a chance to remind our service members and military families that their sacrifices are not forgotten.
No matter how you choose to support the military, you can rest assured that the USO will always be by the side of the people who serve, strengthening them and their families through every step of their service.
-This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated in 2023.
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