A passion for serving the men and women who serve our country is what keeps Anne Meree Craig going. The COMMIT Foundation she founded and runs as CEO helps post-9/11 veterans transition to civilian life, providing training and tools to navigate life after time in uniform.

“I eat, sleep and breathe this work. I think about it 24/7,” she said on the latest episode of BMNT’s The Innovators Radio Show and Podcast.

Anne Meree was a doctoral student on 9/11, and so moved by the attack and its aftermath that she decided she had to join the men and women working to protect the nation. She left her doctoral program to work in national security.

There, she saw firsthand that veterans leaving the military have an incredible set of skills acquired through their service, but tended to default to careers in government or defense contracting when they actually wanted to do other things.

“They had gaps in information — not understanding how their skill sets transferred. They had gaps in confidence, no matter what barrel-chested operator they had been in uniform.”

But perhaps the biggest obstacle was these veterans often had an enormous gap in imagination for what was next, not knowing what was possible for them after they left the service. COMMIT looks to fill that gap.

Guided by personal experience

Anne Meree knew personally how hard transitioning could be on veterans and their families. “I was truly living a bad transition of my husband’s departure from the military. My husband’s transition on paper looked beautiful, and it was horrible at times.”

She formed COMMIT so others would have a better experience. Through COMMIT, Anne Meree looks to ensure post-9/11 veterans have a network and purpose, personally and professionally. “I used to hunt bad guys. Now I hunt good guys,” she says.

Part of that process involves giving veterans the tools and space to take what Anne Meree calls a “tactical pause”- a mindful break that helps veterans move from a life where every next mission and job is pre-scripted to one where they must map out their own journey.

Veterans who take time to understand their values and goals, and center their next professional and personal steps around those goals, are better able to take the reins of their future in a way that is purposeful, fulfilling, and energizing. Without a break, she says, there’s a risk of first masking and then being anchored by unprocessed feelings about multiple deployments, losing friends on the battlefield, and the loss of a clear future.

Veterans often “wear a Cheshire cat grin, and they show up every day and crush it, but inside they’re sort of falling apart.”

Practicing what she preaches, she points out that entrepreneurs similarly need to understand their personal and professional goals — the north star that guides them — as they look to fulfill their mission.

How does COMMIT stay on track? “We are where we are because we’re authentic to the veteran and we are authentic in our approach. We don’t let mission creep happen.”

Mission-driven nonprofits can especially mine this podcast for valuable insights. Hear more about the lessons Anne Meree’s learned about building a successful nonprofit here, or skip to the time stamps below.

4:53: How COMMIT helps veterans see new possibilities

7:55: Gathering the storm — how Anne Meree drew on personal experience to put together a powerful force for helping veterans in transition

11:10: How we could all benefit from an operational and tactical pause

15:15: Freedom from opportunity

18:21: Entrepreneurial “ah ha” moments: Anne Meree’s insights on quality of service, finding the right partnerships, and scaling

23:10: Why a founder can’t separate herself from the end user, even as the CEO

25:18: What commitment to country means for Anne Meree and COMMIT

34:55: Why you should treat your nonprofit like a for-profit

42:57: How to know whether your nonprofit is making an impact

51:00: The best transition program that no one knows about

The Innovators Radio Show and Podcast highlights the best and brightest mission-driven entrepreneurs — people dedicated to making the world a better place. The show airs Mondays at 11 am PT/2 pm ET on Stanford University radio station KZSU, 90.1 FM, and is streamed at kzsu.org, Past episodes are archived here.

Tune in Aug. 5 when our guest will be JoJo Roy, Vice President, Innovation and Design Services at Salesforce.