by Leo Jakobson | March 01, 2013
From painting a school to cleaning up a beach, an increasing number of companies have been trying to make sure that they leave the communities in which they meet a little better off than when their attendees arrived. 

Not all of these activities require an extensive time commitment from attendees. In 2010, industry association Meeting Professionals International (MPI) included a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity at its Vancouver conference that consisted of getting down on the floor to help socialize (as opposed to “play with”) black Labrador puppies. The canines were beginning the process of being trained as aide dogs for the disabled. 

The next year, at the 2011 World Education Conference in Orlando, dozens of MPI volunteers spent two hours at the nearby headquarters of Clean the World to help sort and re-sanitize partially used soap and shampoo donated by hotel companies. The nonprofit organization then distributes these products to people in impoverished parts of the world. 

The economy has not seemed to cut into companies’ willingness to fund CSR activities, according to the respondents of Successful Meetings’ “2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Survey.” 
Nearly three quarters of the meeting planners surveyed said that their company included a CSR activity in at least some of its meetings and events last year. 

That number does not surprise Alan Ranzer, managing partner of Impact 4 Good, which creates and runs CSR programs for corporate groups. “Many people thought that CSR was just a trend, and that once ‘perception’ issues dissipated, CSR would fizzle out,” Ranzer says. “This shows the continuing upward trend of planners who make a difference via their events with CSR.”

And in fact, 36.1 percent of this survey’s respondents said they expect more of their events to include CSR activities in 2013, compared to less than 5 percent that expect to have fewer CSR activities. 

There are many reasons that companies incorporate CSR activities into their events. The most common, according to our respondents, were: promoting corporate accountability (51.4 percent), giving something back to the host destination (49.2 percent), and building relationships with clients (48.1 percent). Promoting personal accountability (33.9 percent) and increasing brand recognition (32.8 percent) were also important. 

In Ranzer’s experience, building client relationships is a key goal for more and more companies’ CSR events. “Many of our clients are asking us to create experiences that their sales teams can share with their clients,” he says. “Sharing in a community service experience with clients allows them to see the values of the companies they partner with, which creates longer lasting and stronger bonds.”
Besides, CSR programs are popular with attendees. Only 13 percent of respondents said they felt that attendees would prefer some form of entertainment to a CSR event. Additionally, almost a third (32.2 percent) said that their groups were enthusiastic and expected a CSR activity to be included. And even when CSR activities are voluntary, they are well attended. More than half of the respondents said their attendees generally choose to participate if a CSR activity is offered, but don’t particularly miss it if there isn’t one.

Ranzer took issue with that last point, citing recent research that shows nearly nine out of 10 “employees at companies with programs that give back feel a stronger sense of loyalty to their employers,” and that “pride and loyalty in one’s company can drive greater employee engagement.” 

He adds: “the ‘kids’ coming out of college make up what is regarded to be the most socially conscious generation since the ‘60s, and they’re asking their potential employers how they’ll be able to make a difference if they join them.” 

If CSR programs aren’t offered, Ranzer says, “employees will certainly notice.”

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