Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2013

How to Ensure Your Meeting's CSR Activities Actually Make An Impact

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

” Smith said. “But I do think that it’s actually quite exciting when you think of the opportunity. Because the will is there — I think people really want to make a difference and want to feel like they’ve left a place in a better way than when they got there. I think that is a human desire.”

‘Love of Mankind’

Meeting professionals “are in a great leadership role,” said National Philanthropic Trust’s Eileen Heisman, “because when you gather people, you can influence the way they think or behave or act, or educate them.” While you might offer CSR activities for attendees to participate in, Heisman believes that “some people can be incredibly charitable with money but not that interested in volunteering — and other people love the volunteering and do not care about money. I think you have to have things if you can for both people. Some people might be moved by something and want to write a check rather than volunteer.”

Heisman offered ways that planners can add charitable elements to their meeting programs that appeal to volunteers and non-volunteers alike:

During the convocation (or opening session), have a nonprofit representative talk about a social problem or social issue and how they make the world a better place.

Using crowdfunding, a group collectively decides that everybody is going to give a certain amount (it could be as little as several dollars each) to a local charity. As part of the meeting program, give two or three different charity spokespeople an opportunity to do a mini fast pitch, where they each get five minutes to convince participants why their organization deserves funding. Have the group vote, using an audience response system or app.

If you have an ice-breaker exercise during the meeting, when people introduce themselves to each other, ask them to talk about some giving-back event that they participated in that has been meaningful to them. Or use this as a topic for a speed-dating kind of networking activity. “Philanthropy actually means ‘love of mankind,’” Heisman said, “so the reason I use this example — where you did something for somebody or something else and expected nothing in return — a lot of times it has nothing to do with a charity per se, but it can just be an act of kindness.”

‘Dead Wrong’


Charitable components during meetings may have had a major growth spurt in recent years. But it turns out that how we feel about charitable giving isn’t modern at all, according to Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential.

Our beliefs can be traced back, Pallotta said during a talk at TED 2013, to America’s 17th-century forefathers, the Puritans, who were aggressive capitalists but also Calvinists who were taught that self-interest was a sure road to damnation. Donating to charity — calculated at five cents on the dollar — was the way they did penance for making a profit.

This lingering Puritan notion about “self-deprivation [being] our strategy for social change” is crippling our ability to make lasting, meaningful progress toward remedying the social ills that continue to plague us, Pallotta said. “The things we have been taught to think about giving and about charity and about the nonprofit sector are undermining the causes we love and our profound yearning to change the world.”

Pallotta’s TEDTalk, “The Way We Think About Charities Is Dead Wrong,” has already been viewed two million times. Here are some highlights:

“Our social problems are massive in scale, our organizations are tiny up against them, and we have a belief system that keeps them tiny. We have two rulebooks: one for the nonprofit sector and one for the rest of the world that discriminates against the nonprofit sector in five areas.”

1 Compensation “We have a visceral reaction that anyone would make very much money helping people. Interestingly, we do not have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. If you want to make $50 million selling violent video games to kids, go for it and we’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But if you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, you’re considered a parasite.”

2 Advertising and marketing “We tell the for-profit sector to spend, spend, spend on advertising until the last dollar no longer produces a penny of value. But we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising in charity. As if the money invested in advertising could not bring in dramatically greater sums of money to serve the needy.”

3 Taking risks on new revenue ideas “Nonprofits are reluctant to try any new, brave, daring, giant-scale fundraising endeavors for fear that if the thing fails, their reputations will be dragged through the mud. But we all know that when you prohibit failure, you kill innovation.”

4 Time “Amazon went for six years without returning any profit to investors, and people had patience. They knew there was a long-term objective down the line of building market dominance. But if a nonprofit organization ever had a dream of building magnificent scale that required that for six years, no money was going to go to the needy — it was all going to be invested in building this scale — we would expect a crucifixion.”

5 Profit to attract risk capital “The for-profit sector can pay people profits in order to attract their capital for their new ideas, but you can’t pay profits in a nonprofit sector, so the for-profit sector has a lock on the multitrillion-dollar capital markets and the nonprofit sector is starved for growth and risk and idea capital.

“A very dangerous question [potential donors ask] is, what percentage of my donation goes to the cause versus overhead? There are a lot of problems with this question. First, it makes us think that overhead is a negative — not part of the cause. But it absolutely is, especially if it’s being used for growth. It forces organizations to forgo what they really need to grow.

“Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ So the next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead, ask about the scale of their dreams — how they measure their progress toward those dreams and what resources they need to make them come true. Our generation’s enduring legacy should be that we took responsibility for the thinking that had been handed down to us, that we revisited it, we revised it, and we reinvented the way humanity thinks about changing things.”

‘Brilliant’ Repurposing

A simple CSR effort that really stood out for the Vancouver Convention Centre’s Claire Smith, CMP, was part of the International Congress and Convention Association’s 2004 ICCA Congress, held in Cape Town, South Africa. The organizers “made some really interesting choices on the front end that really impacted the community,” she said. Usually, on-site ICCA staff members wear green shirts with the ICCA logo on it so attendees can identify them, but in Cape Town, they wore football jerseys that had the name of a child on the back, and a number.

“They knew that a local boys football team needed jerseys,” she said, “and they went and bought them — they got the specifications, the sizes, the names, and had them all done. The staff wore them throughout the conference, and at the end of the week, they were all sent off and laundered — and then the kids had their football jerseys. And to me that was brilliant. Because it was doing something that was specific for the need rather than giving

Please log in to post comments.


Connect with Convene
on Facebook & Twitter