by Jonathan Vatner | April 01, 2018

Is it really better to give than to receive? There's no need to make meeting attendees choose. The latest trend in corporate gifting serves dual purposes. A growing list of premium gifts have adopted the "one for one" formula that has fueled the popularity of businesses like Toms shoes -- for every pair purchased, the company donates a pair of shoes or other services to someone in need.

It's a fitting concept for meetings. Case in point: Robin Holsonback, an executive administrative assistant for BMW of North America, was fitted with a pair of Revo sunglasses at the Hosts Global Alliance Forum in Miami in 2016. What made the experience special: Doug Chorpenning, founder and chief visionary officer of Wet Paint Group, which sponsored the giveaway, told her, "You're going to help one person regain their vision today." Revo donates $10 dollars from the purchase of each pair to the Brien Holden Vision Institute, which diagnoses and treats eye diseases in the developing world.

Read on to learn more about this and other corporate and incentive gifts that motivate employees by giving back.

> Revo sunglasses
To sunglasses aficionados of a certain age, the Revo brand carries a lot of cachet -- but the product fell from public view until a few years ago, when the East Rutherford, N.J.-based eyewear company B. Robinson bought Revo and began manufacturing and distributing the glasses.

Along with the change of hands came a new charitable perspective. Not only did B. Robinson create the "Buy Vision, Gift Sight" campaign in collaboration with the Brien Holden Vision Institute, but rock legend Bono, who recently revealed that he wears sunglasses because he has glaucoma, became the brand's ambassador. In 2016, B. Robinson donated $1 million to this cause.

"Imagine if you couldn't see because you didn't have money," says Cliff Robinson, owner of B. Robinson. "If you can't read the chalkboard, you can't go to school, and if you can't go to school, you can't get a job."

While the brand is sold in optical and specialty stores, Wet Paint Group handles corporate sales. Pricing starts at $140 per pair.

After the brutal 2017 hurricane season, Wet Paint Group and Revo doubled their charitable impact by donating another $10 per pair to My Brother's Workshop, a relief mission based in St. Thomas, training locals in carpentry to help them rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

> FEED Projects
Lauren Pierce Bush (niece of George W. Bush) founded FEED in 2007 to help eliminate childhood hunger around the world. The brand's stylish bags, clothing and accessories are made with sustainable materials such as organic cotton and burlap, by workers who are paid a fair wage. A number is stamped on each bag, representing how many school meals or micronutrient packets were provided by the purchase of that single item.

A corprate gift with CSR flair:
The FEED 10 tote bag provides
10 meals to schoolchildren.

The bags are popular as corporate gifts, says Melissa Crossley, senior sales manager. "The fact that our custom bags have a meal donation built in adds a storytelling component to corporate gifting that is valuable to companies that want to engage their employees or audience in giving back."

Top-selling items include the FEED 10 Bag, a printed cotton tote that retails for $25 and provides 10 school meals; and the Go-To Canvas Bag, a slim, durable style suitable for business or casual use, that sells for $68 and pays for 40 meals for children. The bags can be logoed or otherwise customized.

> Helping Hand Partners
Founded by Michael Arkes upon retiring as CEO of Hinda Incentives, Helping Hand Partners brings products made by social enterprises and artisans all over the world to the incentive market. The Chicago-based nonprofit also hires and trains locals to manufacture a high-end bath and spa line, 1eleven. To the people who craft these products, HHP provides an array of benefits, including health care, safe working conditions and microloans. To date, HHP has funneled $1 million to people in need.

Making bath and spa products for
Helping Hand Partners gives struggling
workers needed support.

"For the Millennial generation, corporate social responsibility is one of the top drivers of purchasing decisions," notes Dena Hirschberg, executive vice president of Helping Hand Partners. "Our products support and align with our customers' mission of being socially responsible."

HHP's products include tote bags made from recycled cement, jewelry crafted from seeds and nuts, cuff links made from deconstructed bike chains  and chocolates made by people with developmental disabilities. Just about any product can be logoed, and gift cards are available. Prices range from a few dollars to several hundred.

"For participants, it doesn't take a lot of effort," Hirschberg says, "and it feels good to know that your choice has made an incredible impact."

> John Bukaty Live Art
During an exclusive dinner at IMEX America in Las Vegas in 2017, artist John Bukaty was stationed in the ballroom, beckoning guests toward a blank canvas. He asked attendees -- who were event planners invited by the Insurance Meeting Network, an Orlando-based hotel representation and marketing firm -- to dip their thumb in a paint color of their choice and smear it across one section of the canvas. Once that area was filled, Bukaty set to work on the rest of the painting, and the purpose of the smudges became clear: He painted a dancing woman with streaks of color shooting out behind her.

Attendees add their own touch to
John Bukaty's artworks, which are then
auctioned to benefit a charity of the
sponsoring company's choosing.

"Then he got up and talked about life as a series of dances, and he shared some personal stories," recalls Doug Chorpenning, who books Bukaty for events. "There were people crying. It gives me goosebumps even thinking about it. People went up to the painting and identified their smudge, because now it meant something."

Afterward, everyone received a giclée print of the painting, signed, numbered and framed -- a stunning memento of an unforgettable night.

Bukaty specializes in "live art," painting to music during events. He honed his craft by painting at concerts and began doing corporate events when he met Chorpenning a dozen years ago.

"He doesn't have any shtick," Chorpenning says of Bukaty. "He'll paint a 3-by-4-foot canvas in two hours. He'll paint the vibe of an event. He's very charismatic, gracious and humble."

The charitable aspect comes later. Included in the price tag -- $7,500 plus travel expenses and the cost of the giclée prints -- Bukaty donates a second painting to be auctioned off for a charity of the company's choosing. He calls this generosity "kartma," a mix of art and karma. "I think we are all looking for purpose in almost everything we do," Bukaty says. "I feel more satisfied when $1,000 is donated than when I make $1,000."

Insurance and financial companies in particular "really like the community service or give-back concept when running their programs," says Marian Gardiner, a partner of the Insurance Meeting Network who planned the event at IMEX America. "It shows their attendees that they are being socially responsible."

> Sudara

In 2005, Shannon Keith, a pharmaceutical sales rep, visited India to dedicate a freshwater well that happened to be in the middle of a red-light district. She was disturbed to see women imprisoned in brothels with their children nearby. She realized that for these women to escape, they needed jobs. So she founded Sudara, a company that employs Indian women rescued from the sex trade to sew luxurious pajamas that she calls "Punjammies." Each print is named after a woman or the son of a woman on the road to freedom.

Profits from Sudara pajamas help
combat modern-day sex slavery.

Sudara partners with Wet Paint Group for corporate gifting. For $115 per person, guests might receive a robe or a T-shirt and pants for a pajama party by the pool, and then they'll have a colorful, casual outfit to wear later in the trip and at home.

"Gone are the days when people just got pens and watches," Keith says. "A meaningful gift is something unique that has a story attached to it."

For the Maritz Travel Collaborative annual event in Denver in August 2017, Fenton, Mo.-based Maritz Global Events brought in Wet Paint Group to hand out Sudara pajamas and educate the nearly 600 attendees about its mission. Maritz gave the items away again in November for an internal incentive trip to Hawaii.

Sudara was a perfect fit for Maritz Global Events, which opposes human trafficking as part of its core values. The same companies that the meetings industry relies on -- airlines, hotels, convention centers -- often unwittingly facilitate human trafficking, and Maritz has taken a stand. As a holiday gift to clients, the company donates to ECPAT International, which aims to end the sexual exploitation of children globally.

"As members of our local communities and the communities we do business in, it's our responsibility to try to give back," says David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events.

As for Shannon Keith, she hopes Sudara can provide a wake-up call to consumers about the consequences -- positive and negative -- of their clothing purchases. "Chances are, there's slavery in the supply chain of the clothes you buy, " she says. "The only way we will change that is by holding brands responsible to clean up their act. We have so much more power than we realize."

> CharityChoice Gift Cards
Another option, of course, is simply to donate to charity in the recipient's name. Countless companies offer a small donation in lieu of a holiday gift or in addition to a more substantial corporate gift.

Daniel B. Goodman took this idea one step further by founding CharityChoice, a Lakewood, N.J.-based nonprofit that lets the recipient direct the gift to a charity among a growing list of options, now spanning more than 1,000 nonprofits.

CharityChoice's most-funded charities are the American Cancer Society, the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the American Red Cross, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Alzheimer's Association. Immediately following natural disasters, funding skews toward relief efforts.

Brian Galonek, president of the Fiskdale, Mass.-based All Star Incentive Marketing, includes CharityChoice in his online, point-based employee reward catalog, and says it's the top seller in the "pay it forward" category. Employees left with a relatively small number of points, particularly during holiday season, will often give them away to a favorite charity -- and these donations add up.

"It's like the bucket on the counter when you cash out at the store," says Galonek, who also is a board member of Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers, a strategic industry group of the Minneapolis-based Incentive Marketing Association. "It gives them the ease and convenience to donate in a frictionless environment."

For corporate groups, CharityChoice offers physical gift cards as well as gift codes that can be embedded into a welcome packet, letter or thank-you note. The code can lead recipients to a custom redemption web page designed to match the graphic design of the event.
"You can select 10 or 20 charities," Goodman notes, "limiting it to those with an affinity to your mission."

CNN recently gave out a CharityChoice gift card to all 750 VIP guests at its Heroes event; Visit Phoenix gave the cards to event planners during a promotional tour; Johnson & Johnson handed out cards at a recruiting event to underscore the company's social responsibility, and MetLife offered cards to people who donated blood. 

CharityChoice deducts credit-card and processing fees, which usually amount to less than 10 percent, before forwarding the money to the specified charity. As CharityChoice is nonprofit, surplus funds are put toward the Special Kids Fund, another charity that Goodman founded, to support organizations that help children with special needs.

For employee rewards and recognition, Goodman partners with Stoner Bunting, a company that specializes in gift-card sales and marketing, to promote CharityChoice within corporations, particularly during holidays and after highly publicized natural disasters.

"America is very generous and compassionate," Goodman says. "When they see people in need, they think, 'I can do something good here.' "