Every conference attendee shares some similarities. They need continuing education credits. They’re looking for networking opportunities. They want to find tools and resources to help advance their careers. They’re also searching for another important piece: the ability to make a difference and contribute toward a more sustainable society.
“People have an intrinsic motivator to help other people,” Ryan Shortill, Founder and CEO of California-based Positive Adventures, says. “The idea of corporate social responsibility is really gaining traction among groups from all types of professional backgrounds.”
While a gathering of thousands of conference attendees seems like a place where everyone can easily come together to make an impact, developing an effective CSR component is not always a sure-fire success.
“We represent a huge membership where social activism and altruistic efforts mean a lot, but we have struggled for years to find the best ways to engage and give back in the local communities,” Tammy Berger, Director of Exhibits, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, says.
ASHA isn’t the only organization that has faced challenges in successfully implementing some type of on-site volunteer efforts. Shortill says that the action-packed schedules at most conferences can often lead to lagging attendance at CSR-related activities. It’s not because attendees don’t want to be involved; it’s because their time may be in scarce supply.
“If you have a volunteering event in the middle of the entire conference where everyone can come right after lunch, it will be successful,” Shortill says. “However, if you ask attendees to dedicate a full afternoon on a nice day, your participation numbers may suffer.”
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Making Volunteering Flexible
At the 2014 ASHA Convention, Positive Adventures is helping the organization rethink the way it can help more attendees embrace the idea of fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities.
“We wanted to create a location that will give attendees an opportunity to stop in for five minutes to contribute,” Shortill says. “If they want to stay for two or three hours, they can easily do that, too.”
The approach is called ASHA Caring Square, and it will stand in the spotlight throughout the entire conference. Located in the center of the Exhibit Hall, the environment will provide a relaxing atmosphere where attendees can get involved on their own schedules. To keep them coming back, each day will feature a different project. On the first day, attendees can help build dollhouses for a local youth organization, and the second day offers opportunities to paint meal trays for use at senior centers and nursing homes. The final day of Caring Square will feature care package assembly for local veterans and military families.
“We have found that people really enjoy working with their hands,” Shortill says. “While it’s nice to see someone stand on a stage with a big check, our goal is to truly connect people with the cause.”
SEE ALSO: Best CSR Initiatives In The Meetings Industry
Keeping Another Audience Segment Happy
In addition to connecting people with three notable causes, Berger is excited about Caring Square’s ability to connect attendees with some very important members of the ASHA Convention: the exhibitors.
“We think Caring Square will be a draw that also helps keep the Exhibit Hall busy and vibrant, which is an issue that every exhibit manager considers,” Berger says.
Berger adds that Caring Square is open all day, so attendees will be able to meander through during a break. If all those education sessions and speakers get to be a bit overwhelming, attendees don’t have to retreat to their rooms or feel a sting of guilt. Instead, they can ditch a session and volunteer during the break from learning.
SEE ALSO: How To Ensure Your CSR Efforts Actually Make An Impact
Extending The Impact Outside The On-Site Square
The interactive design of the program will help attendees feel like a bigger part of the volunteer efforts, but the program does not stop there. Shortill says that they will capture images of delivering the hand-made items to demonstrate the impact.
“Those images will wind up in the organization’s newsletters and social media feeds,” Shortill says. “It’s a great way to make Caring Square live on past the end of the convention.”
“Oftentimes, the donations we’re making are the biggest in the history of the non-profit recipient,” Shortill adds. “We’re partnering with local organizations, but we’re bringing the strength of a national convention. It leaves a huge footprint of goodwill behind in the host city.”
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