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 on the Rise
CSR is a hot topic of conversation among many meeting executives. It is becoming widely accepted that companies with a CSR policy seem to have more credibility and integrity with clients and customers. Even though CSR programs don’t directly bring in revenue, the external pressures for companies to differentiate themselves will likely cause CSR engagement to grow. 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 since 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 pick 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 nonprofit 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 considered 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, the organizer created an activity that catered to both themes and served as 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), hosted by Meeting Professionals International (MPI). Minneapolis-St. 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 team-building events. The outcome was assembly of 16 bikes and 500 personal hygiene kits, stuffing of 96 backpacks, sorting of 927 cans of food, painting of 15 furniture pieces and creation of 85 blankets.
Meeting attendees can also 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, but with a fresh twist.
Establish a Team
Once you have established your desire to engage in a CSR activity, select volunteers that care about the cause to help. They will feel engaged and 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 makeup 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 nonprofit organization and coordinate logistics. On the day of the activity, assign a host that 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 right players to help manage the CSR event, it is also key to promote the activity. Many organizations choose to mandate attendance at the CSR activity to show how important it is to the overall meeting or conference.
Debunking the Money Myth
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.
It’s Good for Business
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.
Event ideas that have been very popular during the last few years include:
Finding a food-related organization and helping to plant a garden or farm with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Create a dynamic event space with different stations where attendees can choose what activity to engage in. Ideas include building bikes that are donated or assembling backpacks for children in need.
Fundraising can be done in many different ways and is a simple, easy way to give back. Consider incorporating fundraising into a golf or casino event. Auction off ‘benefits’ within the company to enhance donations. Better yet, secure a company match to further motivate employee support.