by Kaitlin Holden | September 01, 2011

More than half of planners say corporate social responsibility has become more important to their meetings over the past year, according to a recent M&C Research survey. Yet, the majority are hesitant to add such an event if it would increase costs (for full survey results, see "How Meetings Give Back").

Clearly, more meetings and events would feature a CSR activity if it were affordable. The good news: It can cost little or nothing to give something back to the community.

"Even if you don't have a budget, there still are ways to make a difference," says Alan Ranzer, managing partner and co-founder of Impact 4 Good, a company that specializes in organizing CSR programs.

Ranzer and other experts offer the following ideas for CSR events that cost less than $5,000 -- including a few that are practically free. These activities are geared to fit into a busy agenda and take less than three hours to complete. Contact information includes companies and agencies that have experience running that particular event.

(Note: In addition to firms that specialize in creating CSR events, check with your hotel and local destination management companies, who can customize CSR events for groups.)

Baby Shower In June, the Senior Planners Industry Network held its first major North American conference in St. Paul, Minn. During the planning stages, SPIN founder and president Shawna Suckow, CMP, sought an activity that would make a difference to the local community. She learned that a domestic-abuse center in nearby Bloomington called Cornerstone provided refuge for battered women, many of whom arrived in the middle of the night with their babies and were in need of infant clothing and supplies. It sounded like an ideal cause to take up.

The group asked attendees to bring baby goods to the conference for donation to Cornerstone and later held a "baby shower" at the Mall of America, hosted by the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB gave participating planners a $20 gift card to use at the mall to buy more baby supplies for donation.

Cornerstone was deeply grateful for the support, says Suckow, who notes, "It's not about the act, it's about the impact."

For more details: 
Cornerstone, (866) 223-1111, and the Senior Plan­ners Industry Network.

Wardrobe Assistance
Clothing drives are a low- or no-cost way to give back to the local community. One fine charitable organization to work with is Dress for Success, dedicated to improving the lives of women in financial distress by providing professional clothing and career support. Attendees are encouraged to bring any unneeded, gently used work-appropriate clothes to the event for donation to women living in the area. A representative from Dress for Success will be at the event to thank guests for their donations and offer suggestions for other ways to help. Thanks to Visit Orlando for this idea.

For more details:  Dress for Success, (212) 532-1922