Less than a decade ago, corporate social responsibility activities were unheard of during conferences and events. Today, a majority of event organizers are including them in their program. The most popular form of social responsibility for meetings is a community or legacy project. Community projects fall into the “Feel Good, Look Good” category of CSR, where the projects contribute to a sustainable cause and provide promotional benefits to the sponsoring organization. In addition, they provide the personal experiences participants are now craving during conferences.
If your organization hasn’t already included this type of community charity event, it may be a welcome addition. Attendees are asking how to give back to the people in the destinations where meetings are held. The key is to design the best community project, with the least amount of work, during an already busy time. These tips will get you started…
Make It Personal
Community projects are always the most successful when you consider how the project will relate to your organization, what is really important to your participants, and what type of person will attend. Young, active participants may be more able to plant trees, build shelters and carry food donations. Technology wizards can offer to help a local low-income school program their computers or offer an afternoon of training. Businesses in the energy industry may want to help retrofit community centers to be more energy efficient. Look to the skill set of both your organization and your attendees.
Partner with Established Charity Volunteer Organizations
Make your life much easier by working with an organization that already has a volunteer program in place and can easily work with you and your participants. The easiest way to connect with these programs is by asking the destination’s visitors bureau, meeting venue, or local vendors for referrals in your event city. If they aren’t able to help you, try Giving Good, Feeding America or Clean the World which are nationwide resources.
Provide Donations Instead
If the timing of your event doesn’t allow for participants to volunteer for a hands-on project, consider donating. While this can always be cold, hard cash, it may be a more significant experience to have participants bring cans of food, school supplies, blankets, children’s books, or professional clothing. This type of donation will definitely need to be tailored to the distance attendees will travel to the event and what fits into a suitcase if air travel is involved.
Don’t Forget Your Sponsors
Event sponsors love looking good, so give them an opportunity to be involved in a CSR project. Companies can either sponsor the entire volunteer event or a part of it such as transportation, food and beverage or necessary supplies. One popular activity is to have a sponsor for the “Green Angel” Program. Green Angels are onsite volunteers who help attendees learn more about the waste stream by recycling, reusing or composting during the event. The amount of waste diverted from the landfill is measure and reported during and after the event. Green Angels can also give out stickers for name badges when they catch someone doing a green act. Pre-promotion, onsite acknowledgement and post-event media will be important to them and should fit into your social media plan as well. Their support will help you leave a legacy behind.
Leaving a community better than you found it is a powerful way to do business. The business of meetings is no exception. Event attendees enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community when you make it easy for them to participate. CSR projects are a winning initiative for everyone involved. As an example the MeetGreen team participated in a project with Meals on Wheels.
We talk about corporate social responsibility projects that your organization can incorporate into your events but you can also participate in a CSR project outside of an event. In August the MeetGreen team volunteered at the local Meals on Wheels chapter in Portland, Oregon.
The vision of Meals on Wheels is to ensure no senior will go hungry or experience social isolation. Our team is passionate about helping our local communities and we were excited to volunteer to help the seniors in the Portland area.
The team arrived early ready to go and each of us was assigned a responsibility to help out the Meals on Wheels team. This included greeting the seniors who came in for a meal, helping with prepping & serving the meals, and delivering meals to home bound seniors who were unable to come in person.
Helping out our community was impactful to the whole team. Here are some thoughts from the team about their experience:
“What a wonderful way to support such a deserving community. Hats off to the staff and volunteers. Literally, because it was a hot day and I was wearing a hair net!”
“Not only was it powerful to see the direct impact Meals On Wheels is having in our local community, but also the commitment of the largely volunteer staff that helps drive the operation. One man I worked with had been volunteering several days a week for the past 12 years. Truly an inspiring organization!”
“It was a gratifying experience to spend the day with Meals on Wheels. It inspired me and showed me the urgency to get more involved in my community.”
“I absolutely loved the energy at the recreation center. The music was playing, numerous activities were going on, and people were so happy to have a cooked meal and a safe place to escape the heat. It was truly an honor to be a part of the team and serve the community that day!”
“Meals on Wheels was the best volunteer project I have encountered thus far. I had the opportunity to pack and deliver meals which was a whole new experience. But I also enjoyed the community base environment that I felt when I was there. I look forward to going back regularly!”
“Volunteering at Meals on Wheels was an honor, especially to work with the staff that makes this happen every day. My favorite part of volunteering was meeting and getting to know the seniors who came in for lunch. Seeing them enjoy the company of their friends over a meal and games was heart warming. I am proud to be a part of making that happen.”
Nancy J. Zavada