This post is sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance.
It's not every day a business aimed at military members can hit that sweet spot between supporting the bottom line and doing something good for the community just because it seems right. But when it does happen, it can feel like magic.
That's exactly how the longtime title sponsor and now owners of the Military Spouse of the Year program at Armed Forces Insurance (AFI) feel about the program. For them, it's the sweet spot between matching with their mission and pushing positive change in the military community.
The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Award recognizes military spouses from across all branches by selecting awardees for each base or area, as well as a single winner for each branch and an overall military spouse of the year. While nominations are done through a public process and base winners are selected by a popularity vote online, the finalists for all other stages of the award are selected by a combination of public voting and a panel of experts.
What started almost a decade ago through their sponsorship as a great way to connect with the military community has since become a part of who they are as a company, said Lori Simmons, who leads their marketing team and champions military spouse issues.
"Our tagline is 'our mission is you,' and our value proposition is we specialize in serving the military community exclusively. We offer real people on the phone and a real agent who can connect, no matter where you live," Simmons said. "Originally, we wanted to become the sponsor to build our brand, but also to get involved in other initiatives where we could live our tagline. We're about relationships ... the ability to have a relationship with the spouse community just fits right into that model."
And so AFI became the title sponsor of the Military Spouse of the Year awards. Over time, Simmons said, company employees and leadership grew personally invested in the awards program, nominating potential recipients, voting and, eventually, meeting the candidates that AFI brought to visit the company's Kansas headquarters.
But the more personally invested they became, the harder it was to simply sit back in the role of sponsor, Simmons said. She wanted the company to have a chance not just to shape the awards from a funding standpoint, but also to expand the opportunities recipients gain through being in the program. To make that happen, AFI in 2018 purchased the program from its previous owner, Neptune Holdings LLC.
That means Simmons, who feels a strong personal investment in the awards and its winners, gets to spend more time giving winners the recognition and platforms that she not only believes they deserve, but that they can use to help move the community forward.
For example, every base winner in 2019 received by mail both a certificate from AFI and a letter of congratulations from Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, something that had never been done before. Winners also will for the first time also have a chance to connect with each other as part of an extended townhall that will stretch over two days instead of one to allow for more time networking, Simmons said.
It's that in-person benefit and the chance to connect spouses with each other that makes operating the program particularly rewarding to both her and AFI, she said. She's seen the connections made at the annual event help spouses get jobs, build friendships and, over time, help develop military community policy that has an impact across the force.
"I love giving through this program, personally, because of how much it's changed lives," Simmons said. "It's emotion, it's connecting, it's the intangible things."
But sometimes the things are tangible, too. For example, this year AFI is offering scholarships for military spouses who want to attend conferences or events they normally would not be able to afford, such as the annual Military Influencers Conference and even their program's townhall.
Giving those scholarships allows AFI to continue to invest in the community, she said.
And while, yes, AFI would like to sell insurance and extend their business services to every spouse involved in the program, Simmons said, at the end of the day it all comes back to that tagline of "our mission is you."
"We're in the business of taking care of people, and the MSOY program lets us show that in a non-business way," she said. "It helps us prove that we're living -- not saying, living -- our tagline."