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Volunteerism and Your Next Corporate Meeting

The following article was written by Maureen Santoro, Manager, Group Operations for Atlas Travel Meetings & Incentives. The article was originally published in the April 2013 issue of AdminAdvantage: The Exclusive Online Magazine for Administrative Professionals. Click here to view the original article, located on page 17 of the publication.

As an executive assistant, a lot of things end up in your lap when management decides they want to do something. For example, planning the big Corporate Meeting might fall into your lap, often the people at the top of the ladder have a lot of great ideas about what should and should not happen during the event, but then leave it to you to make it all a reality. You are up to the task, of course, but what about the latest trends? For example, if your CEO comes to you and say he or she wants some Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the next meeting, you may not really have any idea what they are talking about. It turns out that CSR is really just a fancy term for “volunteerism.” Here’s how it can be a part of that next corporate meeting.

First, you should know a few things about volunteerism and corporate meetings. There are those who say that the trend is a good one, definitely generating some good public relations for the company. However, there are just as many voices on the other side of the argument, saying that it really doesn’t do much to a company’s credibility, standing in the eyes of the public, and that some of the volunteering activities could injure employees if precautions aren’t taken. Despite this, ultimately CSR is something worth exploring for your company regardless of the trade offs.

Really what CSR or volunteerism means is finding ways to give back to the community wherever the corporate meeting is being held. This is to foster goodwill among the community and your company, hopefully creating a good image in people’s minds about your company. The good news is that nearly every community will have some sort of charity organization that would be more than willing to accept some volunteers. Whether it’s painting rooms in schools, to serving soup at a soup kitchen to helping pack food for families and residents who need it, there is always something. The key is finding the right fit for your company and your corporate culture.

What does your company get out of the deal? Well, there is the goodwill that is extended, and the good light that will cast on your company. A more cynical view says that photos and stories from those volunteering posted on your social media sites, or making it into the local press, helps generate some much-needed publicity for your company that looks good. At the same time, people who attend these events are sometimes just looking for something different to do rather than just attend meetings and conferences all day. The goodwill that you extend throughout your workforce might be all the benefit you really need.

So, now that you know what your company gets out of it, and what the community gets out of it, where do find these opportunities? What are some examples of companies that have made volunteerism part of their culture? Here are some examples:

The first thing you should probably do is team up with someone who can help you find activities in the community where you intend to have the big corporate meeting. More than likely, you are not based out of that city or town, so it helps to have someone there who can help. Some of the hotels that you might consider booking for the meeting can help. For example, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts where their Banff Springs location has at least two Corporate Social Responsibility activities. The first is volunteering at a local church where your employee-volunteers can pitch in to help provide a free hot meal to deserving Banff residents. Another activity, done primarily during the summer months, organizes volunteers to help clear debris and trash from the trails of Banff National Park.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts takes their CSR opportunities and duties very seriously. They have gone so far as writing corporate policy that emphasizes CSR and promotes “green” initiatives. Even more importantly they have actively sought out local community charities and organizations to work with and to help companies work with these charities, as well.

Of course, you can also turn to a meeting planner to assist with the site selection for your next event. That’s because most meeting planners are aware of the trend in CSR or volunteerism, and have already reached out and established contacts with hotels and venues that can help add that element to your next corporate event. That way you don’t have to be the one making all of the phone calls. Plus, a meeting planner might already have a list of charities and other organizations that they can call to help schedule volunteering events even if the chosen venue does not.

The number of companies that are heading into the world of volunteerism is growing. It seems to be a trend that is sticking around for the long haul. It isn’t just small companies doing it, either, some of the biggest names you could mention are involved. For example: Morgan Stanley, Whirlpool, Xerox, Wyeth and Aetna, among others. The companies actually incorporate their CSR activities into more than just the annual corporate meeting, and you might end up doing the very same thing. It just feels good to help people, and once your employees do it, they may want to consider doing it all the time, and not just once a year.

Maureen Santoro is Manager, Group Operations for Atlas Travel Meetings & Incentives. She has 20 years of experience planning meetings for companies of all sizes.

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