Sydney Wolf has been working in the Event Services division at metroConnections since May 2011. As a member of the Sales Team, Sydney leverages her expertise in creative design, program management and event logistics to create experiences for metroConnections clients. With previous roles as Event Coordinator and Program Manager, she can help clients understand the process from start to finish as she works alongside the Operations Team every step of the way. Sydney holds a degree in Sports, Entertainment and Event Management from Johnson & Wales University with an emphasis in Sales and Meeting Management.
Social responsibility has always been a prominent and important part of our personal lives. As the interconnectivity between our personal and business lives grows, so does the desire for employees to give back at work. To this end, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) events are on the rise as they create goodwill with attendees and the community. Corporate groups of varying sizes are able to come together through a mix of different programs set up to benefit local or national nonprofit organizations. However, the key to success is selecting the right CSR activity for your group, as well as following some best practices.
CSR is a hot topic of conversation among many meeting executives. It is more widely accepted that companies with a CSR policy seem to have more credibility and integrity with clients and customers. According to an article published by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), nine out of 10 meeting industry businesses actively engage in CSR. Meetings and events provide a great opportunity to meet this growing desire by team members to give back.
As quoted in the same article, Alex Kenyon from Leeds Metropolitan University stated that there is growing evidence that CSR agendas and strategies can enhance reputation and identity in the minds of stakeholders. Consider that 75 percent of CEOs are concerned about maintaining their organization’s image, particularly with an increased appetite for transparency, communication and trust; it makes sense to explore avenues to enhance market value.
CSR activities not only increase brand equity from an external standpoint, but they also offer many internal opportunities for teambuilding. When integrated into a meeting or event, CSR logistics can be streamlined because people are already gathered in one spot. However, like any activity, there are some keys to success to ensure the activity meets your goals.
CSR activities come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing to consider is your objective so you can select the right cause. To begin, are there organizations that are already integrated into your organizational culture? If so, it may make sense to pick an activity or non-profit that is an extension of your brand or industry as it allows you to continue that relationship. For example, if your company sells educational software, supporting local schools in the host city for your event may be a fun way to help attendees build a connection with their target audience. Case in point was a recent conference held in Nashville. Even though Nashville is known as the “Music City,” the music programs in schools are historically underfunded. Building on the music theme because of the conference location, and educational theme because of the organization’s product offering, an activity that catered to both themes created a rallying point for attendees.
The most effective and efficient CSR projects relate to the geographic region, organizational passion and available budget. One recent example was the August 2014 World Education Congress (WEC) Conference, hosted by MPI. Minneapolis-Saint Paul is the No. 1 metro area in the country for volunteerism. To spotlight Minneapolis’ passion for philanthropy, event planning firm metroConnections, in partnership with Meet Minneapolis, conceptualized and executed a give-back event that turned the Minneapolis Convention Center into “CSR Central.” Six different hands-on activities supporting eight local charities engaged attendees, while educating them on how to incorporate CSR initiatives into teambuilding events. The outcome was the assembly of 16 bikes and 500 personal hygiene kits, the stuffing of 96 backpacks, the sorting of 927 cans of food, the painting of 15 furniture pieces and the creation of 85 blankets.
Meeting attendees also can provide great insight into appropriate activities. This personal engagement helps them to be better advocates for the cause. Other factors to consider include issues that may impact that region, or even the time of year (such as a winter coat drive). However, it is key to recognize that initiatives don’t always have to be large orchestrated events. Rather, an event may incorporate a recycling focus to ensure a CSR initiative. For example, consider ways in which you can reuse materials and handouts from the meeting.
Another consideration is whether or not this will be an annual activity. Since people tend to get bored easily, you may consider doing a similar activity each year to make CSR a tradition, albeit with new ideas mixed in every year.
Once you have established your desire to engage in a CSR activity, select volunteers to organize the event who care about the cause. They will not only feel more engaged but also will serve as advocates for the project. Although it is often advantageous to use a professional meeting planner for your event, it is still essential to have internal advocates for the CSR activity to create allegiance and excitement. Delegate action items to committee members to maximize the efficiency of the project. This allows the meeting’s project manager to focus on the big picture.
One of the first steps for the CSR planning team should be reviewing the conference or meeting agenda to evaluate time and space restrictions. These factors are key to selecting the right activity. In addition to the available space and schedule factors, also consider the make-up of attendees as their demographic, attitudes and work styles can influence what you do. The necessary time and supplies for the activity also are key. For example, if you are planting a garden, are the right tools available and within reach for participants? If stuffing backpacks with school supplies, are the supplies in piles and organized for efficient stuffing? If your meeting is out of the area, assign a local advocate to work directly with the non-profit organization and coordinate logistics. On the day of the activity, assign a host who can help the group navigate throughout the activity. A host can really drive home the message of giving back and connect it to the company cornerstones. In addition to engaging the appropriate players to help manage the CRS event, it also is important to promote the activity. Many organizations choose to mandate attendance at the CRS activity to show how significant it is to the overall meeting or conference.
Although there is a perception that CSR activities and donations can be costly, with proper planning, there are a variety of ways to alleviate the budget drain. The percentage of your overall meeting or conference budget that is tied to your CSR activity is really up to your team. There are no best practices or rules of thumb. Donating time, rather than monetary resources, is a simple and impactful way to give back without sacrificing the bottom line. Another idea to save money could be to provide an incentive for employees to give their own monetary donation during a conference. For example, if you wanted to raise $10,000 for a charity but couldn’t justify it as a company, auction off extra vacation days for employees.
Another means to afford a CSR activity is to look for funds outside of the conference or event budget. While the conference budget can cover the cost of the facility rental and actual organization of the activity, there may be funds available from a corporate CSR line item or other funding mechanism. If you are donating goods or resources, oftentimes companies use a different internal budget center, which helps make the activities more feasible.
Although CSR may be the trendy topic in the business world today, the benefits are real. Integrating CSR into your next event, provided it is accomplished in a mindful way, creates goodwill for all involved. C&IT