Corporate Social Responsibility

Meeting Planning

Early one weekend morning, about 400 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and began construction on a playground at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in southeast San Diego. Among the volunteers were 175 attendees at a Deloitte, LLP conference who had traveled across town from their hotel to a neighborhood seldom visited by meeting attendees.

Within a few hours, a dilapidated space with only metal bars under some bleachers for children to play on was transformed to a state-of-the-art playground with a brand-new slide, tubes, a rock wall and more fun options. For all who participated—adults, kids, locals, visitors—it was an exhilarating and heart-warming experience. For Deloitte, which provided the $80,000 in funding and the partnership with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit company specializing in community-built recreation, it was part of their core corporate social responsibility initiative.

It was definitely a win-win opportunity, says Margaret A. Moynihan, CMP, Director of Global Conference Group for Deloitte, whose group headquartered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.  Plus, “There was a sense of pride and accomplishment, of giving back,” she says.

MPI volunteers in Salt Lake City.

Many companies and organizations are committed to being good corporate citizens in their home towns, but many others are taking the idea “on the road,” giving back to their host communities when they meet. While the economy has impacted everyone’s bottom line, meeting budgets have been cut and there are increasing demands on everyone’s time, interest in CSR remains strong.

“I think we might see even more interest and emphasis on this, as meetings have taken such a severe hit the past few months: Are they important, do they contribute to the ROI to the company or association,” says Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, which offers planners a unique CSR program to participate in. “It’s one way people can say meetings are not only critical to learn and to grow, but they give back as well. It’s a good thing for the industry.”

Planners are particularly well placed to initiate CSR projects and have many opportunities to contribute, both personally and professionally. Here are some ideas and resources to inspire you, to help you get buy-in from your management and to put the activities in place.

Not Only Heads In Beds

Many hotel brands have seen the connection between fiduciary and social responsibility, developing formal policies and programs to carry them out. For instance, Marriott International’s Spirit to Serve commitment supports a broad scope of issues, from shelter and food to the environment and diversity.

As one example, each year the company hosts client/associate sales meetings where they bring in top planners from various segments to focus on what’s happening in the industry and to thank them for their loyalty. According to James Karson, senior manager in Marriott’s global meetings department, when participants register to attend, they can sign up for the community service project attached to that particular event (an easy process now done online). “We just had the top intermediary producers at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn [Scottsdale, Ariz.] for three days,” he recounts. About 50 people came in a day early and helped to refurbish and reorganize four homes run by Maggie’s Place, a Phoenix nonprofit that takes care of expectant mothers who are homeless or who don’t have anyone to turn to. “We went in for 4–5 hours, and our volunteers painted, landscaped and organized the homes. It’s a feel-good for attendees and a chance to help a good cause,” he says.

RockResorts’ Give & Getaway program.

The Ritz-Carlton, now under the Marriott brand, has reinvented the word “volunteering” and created its own term and concept: “VolunTeaming.” The program combines team-building activities with volunteering opportunities that benefit the local community (under the corporate Community Footprints umbrella). There are full- and half-day projects, like a recent one that helped to restore the historic gardens on Alcatraz Island, a national park in San Francisco. For those groups with more limited time, there are on-property, two-hour programs like Bike Building for Charity, where participants assemble bikes and donate the finished product to a local children’s charity, and Go Green Racing, an innovative eco-focused activity where teams of approximately eight members build a solar car, design and construct a recycled car and design two team flags. The cars then compete in a relay race, the grand finale of which can be watched by the schoolchildren who will receive the racers (along with brand-new solar car kits and a solar classroom curriculum).

Each Four Seasons property has its own individual programs geared to the locale and community, but closely tied to the parent company’s values. But there’s room for flexibility, as the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North will attest. When Rust-Oleum held a sales meeting at the resort, the company provided Converse shoes as an amenity. When some attendees didn’t select to take their shoes home, one of the salesmen suggested donating them instead. He worked with the hotel to find the right recipient, and the result was 48 pairs of shoes for the Phoenix Rescue Mission. And, only a few weeks earlier, a meeting group with a name-brand retailer held an interactive team-building event at the resort, assembling backpacks full of school supplies for donation. Each of the delegates also brought a children’s book along to the meeting, to be included in the pack.   

Deloitte’s KaBOOM! Build Day.

Not surprisingly, given the company’s founding and exquisite properties in two of Canada’s most beautiful national parks, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has a social responsibility thrust that’s heavy on sustainability. Each of their hotels has a “green sheet,” a one-pager on-site dealing with environmental issues specific to that particular property and what the hotel is doing about them. Last year in San Francisco, all five Northern California hotels (employees, families and friends) participated in the statewide California Coastal Clean-up, their local philanthropy. Before any Fairmont meeting, planners should check with the property to see what initiatives may be available for your group and what works with your time-frame.

“Voluntourism” is yet another new word in the CSR vernacular. After a successful two-year program, RockResorts (a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc.) recently expanded its voluntourism-centered Give & Getaway package across all nine of its resorts, throughout Keystone and Breckenridge Hospitality and in Grand Teton National Park.  Based on natural resource conservation and preservation, the program has fixed dates and projects, but it can be custom-tailored to meeting groups. For instance, your group can work on recreational trail restoration, pair with sustainable local farmers and contribute to forest health projects and those supporting local stream and river ecosystems. Full day, half-day and multiday options are available, depending on your needs.

Jump Right In

An early adopter of voluntourism, Seattle’s CVB launched a volunteer program for meeting groups (among others) that operates in partnership with Seattle Works, a leading community service organization. “It’s becoming so much more popular to do, and important, and we know a way to make it easier [to arrange],” the CVB’s Norwalk says. “Seattle Works does this for the local population here in the city, every day, day in and day out. They’ve got a mechanism set up that knows who needs help and a calendar, and can put something together. It’s as easy as one-stop-shopping. Just decide what you want to do, how much time you have, how physical you want to be, and they can plug you into place,” he says.

Deloitte’s KaBOOM! Build Day.

Planners can go direct or arrange this through the CVB, which offers a mini RFP on their website where you can say “I’ve got a morning window and want a morning activity that’s close to the downtown core, or a Saturday afternoon, and I want to go out of the city and do something environmentally pertinent to the area,” he says.

The Greater Good

The top national organizations for meeting professionals all have an overarching CSR plan that encompasses social as well as sustainable objectives. Their annual meetings are great examples of principles in action. At PCMA’s annual conference in New Oreleans last January, more volunteers than ever signed up to participate in their Hospitality Helping Hands project, rebuilding homes, landscaping historic cemeteries and beautifying City Park.  MPI’s recent WEC in Salt Lake City saw more than 40 attendees plant trees as part of Salt Lake County’s Million Tree Program. And ASAE, for its upcoming annual convention in Toronto, is sponsoring a volunteer project benefiting Horizons for Youth, an emergency shelter and resource center for homeless and at-risk young people.

Deloitte’s KaBOOM! Build Day.

Local chapters of the various organizations have pitched in at home as well. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, MPI’s Oregon Chapter created a calendar of community service projects for the year. “We wanted to build a strong foundation for the chapter,” says Anne M. Hallinan, CMP—and “build” turned out to be the operational word, as she served as event chair for a Habitat for Humanity project. “We had about 20 participants. We didn’t realize we were going to do real building,” she recalls. After arrival the group was divided into two teams, selecting which one they wanted to be on. “I did framing—we built a closet,” she says with evident pride.

The experience was gratifying. “It was heart-warming—how much fun it was, how good it felt to do that. It was great giving back to the community and helping a good cause,” she says. “We all got something personal out of it. Everyone wants to do it again, and those who couldn’t make it asked when we were going to do it again.”

If You Don’t Have the Time

Not all CSR projects involve hands-on work; some take the form of donations based on hotel room nights.* At The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Southern California, through the brand’s Meaningful Meetings program, groups that book 10 or more room nights can contribute 10 percent of the total room revenue equally to a charity of their choice and to causes supported by The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints program (the company’s charitable arm). Donations are made directly by the hotel to the group’s charity and to its fund, which benefits hunger and poverty relief, education and development for disadvantaged children and environmental conservation.

Rust-Oleum’s shoe donation at the Four Seasons Scottsdale.

As another example, Hilton Hotels & Resorts in Mexico has launched a new meetings initiative in Mexico dubbed K.I.D.S. that will donate $10 per meeting guest, per night for the length of the stay to local charitable organizations for children. The program is based on the success of a program began in 2001 by Hilton Caribbean that has raised more than $2.5 million thus far. Participating properties include the Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort, Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort and Hilton Villahermosa & Conference Center.

Brand-wide, The Fairmont’s Sweet Meeting Deal provides a 10 percent credit applied against the master account for functions booked and executed by June 30, 2010—but the amount can also be donated to a charity of the group’s choice. The deal applies to groups with a minimum of 10 room nights, and the 10 percent credit is based on actualized room revenue only, exclusive of tax and gratuities.

MPI-OC’s Habitat for Humanity building project.

Also, La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. offers the Meetings Make A Difference package to groups who meet at the property during 2009. The program gives a 10 percent credit of the entire value of the meeting, which can be donated to a charity of the group’s choice (or returned back to your company, if you so choose).
And, similarly, the Wyndham Orange County, in Costa Mesa, Calif., offers the Art of Generosity meeting program that allows planners to donate 10 percent of their bill to their favorite charity, or to select among other package options.

The feel-good aspect of CSR can’t be dismissed, especially at a time when we are all looking for things to brighten our day. But, following the thread of Seattle’s Tom Norwalk, giving back is also good business.
*See individual hotel websites for more details.

CSR=What Does It Mean?

According to the BNET Business Dictionary, Corporate Social Responsibility is a voluntary approach that a business enterprise takes to meet or exceed stakeholder expectations by integrating social, ethical and environmental concerns together with the usual measure of revenue, profit and legal obligation.


Often your CEO or organization has a favorite charity, which makes your job easier. If you need to select one on your own, however, there are two frequent stumbling blocks: how to choose a charity or nonprofit, and linking up with one that has volunteer projects in the works. Here are some tips to jump-start your search.

How to Choose a Charity

  1. According to Charitable Choices, there are several ways to investigate a charity to determine its mission and match it to your interests.
  2. Check the website (click All Charities A to Z, which have met 10 accountability standards)
  3. Check to see if the charity is in the federal government’s charity drive
  4. Check the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance
  5. Check the website (which has financial information about nearly every charity in the country)
  6. Ask the charity for its report to the IRS (charities are now required to make their 990 annual report available upon request)

How to Find Volunteer Opportunities

It’s not difficult to find affiliates of national organizations like Habitat for Humanity, but you may need to branch out a little to find other nonprofits that fit your time frame and your group. You can:

  1. Ask your hotel or the destination’s CVB for any charities it partners with.
  2. Visit the Network for Good. In addition to enabling you to donate money to your favorite causes, either personally or as a group or a company, this online organization posts thousands of volunteer opportunities.