Thanks to one activity on Solta Medical's global sales meeting agenda, the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance in California is now equipped with badly needed computers for its after-school youth program. The computers actually were built by the 100 sales reps who attended the medical laser firm's January conference in Newport Beach, Calif. The activity, arranged by destination management firm PRA Orange County, was designed not only to foster camaraderie and inspire ingenuity among the medical laser company's team, but to leave a lasting, positive legacy in the community where the meeting was held.
Solta Medical's experience is just one example of how volunteer activities are becoming a more common component of meeting and incentive agendas. (For related statistics, turn to this month's Research findings, "Doing the Right Thing.")
According to Padraic Gilligan, managing director of global destination management firm Ovation Global, the negative press the meetings industry has received is spurring corporations to leave a "philanthropic footprint" in the wake of their events. "You need to offset the perceptions of being extravagant by doing something for the community, the destination," Gilligan says.
Give-back activities also can make attendees feel good about the organization. "Companies need to engage their employees in meaningful ways. The bottom line is that these types of programs impact employee attraction and retention," says Alan Ranzer, executive director of Impact 4 Good, a Bethesda, Md.-based team-building firm that specializes in CSR activities.
The ways groups can have a positive impact on a destination or community are myriad. They run the gamut from cleaning up a public park to building homes or renovating schools. For example, for a sales conclave held in Malta last year, pharmaceutical firm Allergan and its meetings management firm World Events Group created a Monopoly-style board game whose "properties" featured community facilities on the Mediterranean island that needed refurbishment; players or teams who "bought" a specific property thus became in charge of that project in real life. The upshot: The firm's 760 sales reps renovated nine properties, including a women's refuge and an orphanage.
The cost to the sponsoring organization can range from as little as $100 total for gloves and bags for a beach clean-up, to $100 or more per participant for a more sophisticated materials-oriented activity, such as a bicycle-building program for children.
Following are tips for how to add CSR components to meetings and incentives.
The first step: Find out if your company already has a community affairs program, says Ira Almeas, president of East Hanover, N.J.-based Impact Incentives & Meetings. "Many corporations have a strategic alliance with certain causes, such as fighting hunger, building literacy or health-related charities," he notes.
Check with the hotel: Some chains, such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (fairmont.com) and Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts (ritzcarlton.com), have formal programs that match groups with various volunteer activities and community charities.
Another option is to work with professional firms, such as Impact 4 Good (impact4good.com), Give Instead of Take (give-instead-of-take.com) and Odyssey Teams (odysseyteams.com), which match groups seeking charitable programs with local organizations in need. They typically have packaged team-building activities that can be executed anywhere, plus they can create custom events based a group's interests or tied to the sponsor's industry.
Destination management firms such as PRA Destination Management (pra.com), based in San Diego, and Ovation Global (ovationdmc.com), based in Dublin, increasingly are adding CSR activities to their roster of offerings. To find one, contact the Association of Destination Management Executives (adme.org) or Site (siteglobal.com), which has many global DMC members.
Destination marketing organizations (destinationmarketing.org) and national tourist boards also can assist in arranging CSR activities.
And if your company has a branch in the meeting destination, it's likely a locally based employee can recommend worthy causes in the community.
Following is a sampling of activities that are well suited to groups. (Be sure plans are cleared with the proper authorities, such as beach or park commissions, when necessary.)
Create military care packages. Teams of attendees decorate and fill boxes for U.S. troops. For example, PRA San Diego (pra.com) has participants create packages for Marine squadrons based out of nearby Camp Pendleton and now serving in Iraq. Teams write personal notes to the squadron and include a photo of the "packers." For assistance, contact the U.S. Department of Defense Community Relations department (www.ourmilitary.mil).
Give a facility a facelift. Groups can spruce up a facility that serves the local community, such as schools or senior centers. Work can include painting, landscaping and general maintenance. For reference, the United Way (liveunited.org) represents more than 1,300 community programs throughout the United States.
Help at a food bank. Attendees sort and pack food for local food banks, who distribute the meals to the homeless, senior citizens and families in need. Feeding America (feedingamerica.org) can help locate a food bank.
Build bikes. Participants assemble bicycles and donate them to a local charity for children. Among the team-building firms that can implement this activity are Impact 4 Good (impact4good.com) and Odyssey Teams (odysseyteams.com).
Nourish young minds. Attendees read to local children or help them with homework. United Way (livingunited.org) can help you find charitable children's groups; for schools, contact the National School Board Association (nbsa.org).
Perk up a park. Choose a local greensward in need of TLC; teams can compete by number of garbage bags filled with debris. For help, contact the National Park Service (nps.gov); the National Recreation and Park Association (www.nrpa.org) or the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (nacpro.org).
Lift young spirits. Teams make layer cakes and colorful cards of hope and encouragement for charities such as Ronald McDonald House (rmhc.org) or children's hospitals. Or, participants can decorate and stuff piñatas with toys and games for hospitalized kids. Impact 4 Good can make arrangements; contact the American Hospital Association (aha.org) for children's hospitals in your area.