Just over a year ago, the world changed overnight for government contractors and for our nation as a whole. In mid-March, as we first navigated Zoom and Webex, and learned how to socially distance our critical missions, we could not have envisioned how other forces in our nation would unfold in the coming months. We confronted social injustice and recommitted to diversity and inclusion in our workplaces. We also answered an unprecedented call from the communities where we live and work to help.
One day last spring a colleague sent me a video of the long lines at a Texas foodbank – cars were probably six or eight across in lines extending more than a mile. Our company and many others answered immediately with donations to help feed those facing hunger after the job losses of the early pandemic. We set up blood drives. We donated PPE to hospitals that were at their breaking points.
None of us did it for the credit, and I doubt there is any tally of the collective impact. We did what was simply right. But now, as we emerge from the pandemic and enter into a new normal, we have an unprecedented opportunity to codify the good we do and communicate to our customers the commitment and impact of our corporate social responsibility.
Doing the Right Thing
C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” For companies in the government services space, integrity is one of our core values and service is part of our DNA. For our industry, it was easy to write those checks to help feed our neighbors in the early days of the pandemic, and we didn’t do it to get credit. But as we re-emerge into more normal operations, we have an opportunity to align the good we do with what matters most to our employees and our customers.
As service contractors, we work side-by-side with our customers, often under difficult conditions. We understand the unique challenges of uniformed service members and government civilians alike. We know what impacts them, and what makes life easier. This gives us excellent insight into ways we can help while aligning those efforts with the overall mission.
Likewise, this alignment resonates with our employees. Many either wore that uniform previously or worked as civil servants, and they are used to being part of something larger than themselves. These opportunities to give back and connect have a direct impact not just on those that receive support but also improves job satisfaction and retention of our employees.
The Collective Good
Despite decades in the government sector, I have never seen an aggregated reporting of the philanthropic contributions of government contractors, nor an attempt to demonstrate the collective impact. I’d have to imagine that if we added up our COVID-related efforts alone, we donated tons of PPE, collected thousands of pints of blood, and delivered enough food to feed thousands of people who were acutely impacted by the job losses at the start of the pandemic. The impact was transformative for those communities that we served; I can only imagine the impact across the greater GovCon community.
As we move forward, it’s important that we highlight the breadth and depth of our outreach. Frankly, I think our government customers would like to know. As an industry, we can take the first step by better understanding what others are doing. As we return to industry events, we can talk with each other about the commitments our companies have made. We can create a roundtable to share our successes and lessons learned. We can compile information on our efforts to try to demonstrate the collective impact of our philanthropic activities.
Next, we can actively tell our story. As we meet with customers or our elected officials, we should talk about our activities, both individually and collectively. Amentum began sharing this information in our regular meetings with our elected officials, and just saw two members of Congress tweet about a program we’re working on that directly impacted their constituents. We can also establish new award programs that recognize companies that are doing innovative and groundbreaking work that benefits others.
Joining Forces with Small Business
Many large contractors have the financial resources and expertise to set up structured corporate social responsibility programs, but this is a luxury many smaller contractors simply cannot afford. To help fill the gap, we need not look any further than the mentor-protégé model we use in business development. Why not use a similar model to share expertise related to philanthropic giving? We can take the first step by imagining programs that have the ability to expand beyond our corporate borders and open our efforts to the broader government contracting community.
One example I’d like to share is a new partnership we’ve created with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic. Last year, they came to us with a very specific need -- seeking a partner to help educate the military community that families with seriously ill children are eligible for wishes, even if pursuing treatment within the military health system. They knew military children were underrepresented, and that many more were eligible. Of course, once they found them, they’d need additional financial support to help grant the additional wishes which provide hope in a family’s darkest times. We knew this aligned with what matters to our employees and our customers and have since rallied to provide support. We envision opportunities to grow this program both locally and nationwide – we hope our industry partners will join us, at a level that makes sense for their businesses. For small businesses, it’s an entry point that can grow with them as they grow, giving them access to the enhanced visibility that comes as part of a larger effort. It also has the opportunity to grow to other areas of the country, perhaps led by other large government contractors with a presence in these areas. The good we can do together has no limit.
For smaller contractors working to start up a corporate social responsibility program, I’d encourage you to first look inside – what do your employees care most about? What does your local community need? Are there causes that make sense for your business, like supporting STEM programs? With this information, it’s easier to seek out the right partnerships and verify their good stewardship through online ratings on websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar.
PSC can also play an important role, helping to connect companies who may need help with those who have more mature CSR programs and can mentor others. Additionally, it is the perfect organization to help us aggregate our initiatives and impacts, and help tell the story of how government contractors are making a real difference in the lives of our customers and the communities where we live and work.
If your company is already engaged in a CSR program, I invite you to join me as we further the conversation and help connect our efforts. If your company is just getting started, I invite you to take the first steps. Not only does good corporate social responsibility make good business sense, it’s simply the right thing to do. It aligns with our service-orientation and our core values. As we emerge from the past year into a new normal, let’s recommit ourselves to joining forces and giving back.
Ronald “Fog” Hahn is Executive Vice President of Strategic Growth at Amentum, and a member of PSC’s Board of Directors. He is a retired Marine aviator, a former civil servant, and for the past decade, part of the government services community at Amentum and its predecessor companies.
This article appears in the Spring 2021 Service Contractor.