Key Things to Think About When Planning a CSR Volunteer Event
From building houses through Habitat for Humanity and helping homeless pets at a local animal shelter, to helping victims of natural disasters and building bikes for underprivileged children, volunteer projects are becoming increasingly popular at meetings and conferences as companies look for ways to give back to their host communities.
“(CSR teambuilding events are) a great way for people to get to know each other on a more personal level, have a little bit of fun, learn about each other and their personalities, and in a different setting rather than in an office or meeting room,” explained Brandi Tice, heromaker with Play with a Purpose, an Orlando-based company that organizes community service and charity teambuilding events for event groups.
She added, “When people know they’re doing something good for the local community that they’re meeting in, it gives them that feel-good benefit.”
According to Linda Gornitsky, president and founder of LBG Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in the development of strategic corporate citizenship and CSR programs; benchmarking; community attitude and evaluation studies; image-building/communications campaigns and efficient management practices, when conference implements community service activities into their programming, there can be several levels of return beyond the satisfaction of giving back, including peer networking and relationship building.
“If somebody’s at (an event) and everyone there is either a competitor or a peer and you want to get to know them in a less formal way, this is a great way of doing it because you’re all even…it takes away all your titles,” Gornitsky explained.
She continued, “For example, if you have representatives from Apple, Microsoft and Google at a tech (event), and all of them are out there painting a school, it’s a great way to meet somebody at another company. It takes away all the competitiveness and you become friends. It helps develop relationships and we know that that’s paramount today – it’s all about who you know, not necessarily what you know.
By demonstrating that they care about the world outside of their own companies, meetings and conferences that integrate volunteerism and/or charitable giving stand to gain in significant ways, including increased attendee engagement, satisfaction and retention.
So if you’re ready to leave your event destination a better place than when you found it, consider the following to help make your CSR volunteerism activities more meaningful, memorable and successful:
Know Your Audience: The greater the emotional connection between your attendees and your volunteerism activity, the more they will want to participate and feel good about it afterward, so pick an activity that they will feel passionate about. Would your attendees be more excited about helping children, animals or the homeless; would they prefer a physical or environmental experience, such as beautifying a community park or planting trees, or would they rather participate in a fundraising or donation-based project?
“It’s important to find different CSR activities to fit different groups’ needs,” said Keri Moore, social enterprise manager at Spread the Word Nevada, a nonprofit that provides books to at-risk youth throughout Southern Nevada via book drives and teambuilding activities at local conferences, trade shows and companies including MGM Resorts International, Barclay Card and Expedia.
She added, “What does your organization care about, what are its goals and missions? Those are really big factors to consider.”
Whatever your group’s preference, making sure to select an activity that’s fun and inspiring will help you not only make your volunteerism activity a positive experience, but will also help you retain those volunteers year after year and grow that activity’s participation via word of mouth.
Have an Objective: Decide what you want to achieve and pick an organization and project accordingly. Make sure the organization you partner with understands what you bring to the table, including how many people will be participating, for what length of time and what your expectations are. Also, determine if a local or a national organization would be most appropriate for your group.
“You have to think it through: why are you doing this, what do you or the volunteer want to get out of it, what do you want from the non-profit and what does the nonprofit get in return?” Gornitsky explained.
She continued, “Then there’s timing – if you only have half an hour, there’s not a whole lot of stuff you can do, so you probably don’t want to bus people around, which means that you want to bring people from the nonprofit to the event site and then there’s the logistics of all that. Make sure to think it through carefully and give yourself and the non-profit enough time – if it’s an hour and a half or a two-hour event you can do a lot more, but if it’s only 30 or 15 minutes, there are things you can do but it takes a lot more thought and planning to make it work logistically.”
Match Activities with Skill Levels: Gage attendee skill levels and pick an activity that suits their capabilities rather than something they might find too difficult or frustrating. For example, if your attendees are tech experts, bringing them into a school to work on its computer system or website or to train teachers or students would be a better use of their time rather than squandering their skills painting a schoolyard.
Besides working directly with nonprofits or third parties to coordinate your volunteerism activities, consider reaching out to the local CVB, which can offer assistance ranging from simply providing a list of local nonprofits, to connecting you with organizations that best suit your group’s interests and needs, to hands-on coordination of your activity.
Spread the Word: Just as you would with your event, pre-promote the volunteerism or donation activity well in advance so attendees can get excited about joining in. After all, the more people who know about your community service project, the more likely it will be successful.
Enjoy the Results: Most attendees who participate in volunteerism events not only want to work hard but also see the fruits of their labor. During the activity, take lots of pictures and videos and show them off during the conference. If seeing end results aren’t possible by the end of the activity, such as a finished park restoration project, follow-up later with photos or videos when the project has been completed, such as a photo of the children with the bicycles your team helped build.
Once your group gets a taste of the joy and satisfaction that comes from giving back during events, volunteerism activities won’t just be something your event tries once and never again – it will become an integral part of your conference culture, a memorable enhancement of the event experience that your attendees will look forward to year after year.
“Whenever they add a CSR activity to a meeting, companies get more buy-in, more ROI,” Moore said.
She continued, “Having that CSR component is not just a real give-back to the communities they’re visiting, it also connects their organization to those communities they’re holding their conferences in. It gives buy-in to the attendees that the event and the people there care about their communities. I think that really resonates with people now.”