We’ve all heard stories of pay-it-forward chains that pop up at Starbucks drive-thrus, where one person unexpectedly pays for the stranger in the next car, inspiring that person to do the same for the following car, and so on. I ran across an inspiring story in Fast Company about a Philadelphia pizzeria that takes that idea up a notch: Customers can pay in advance for a slice of pizza, handwrite a message on a Post-it note — often with a few words of encouragement — and stick it on the wall. Homeless people and those down on their luck can come in and redeem one of those notes for a free slice, no questions asked. The walls of this neighborhood eatery are littered with them (see the video at convn.org/pizza-4-homeless), a testament to the fact that many people jump at the chance to help others.
Community-service projects — whether donating goods, services, or money, or organizing the volunteers to complete a worthwhile task — at face-to-face meetings can have just as meaningful an impact on a local level in the destinations where they’re held.
Yet the benefits of CSR programs aren’t solely confined to the charity. Done right, CSR programs at your meetings have the ability to enhance the meeting experience and build community among your attendees.
Who doesn’t feel better after helping someone in need? This is especially true when participants can see the results of their efforts. It doesn’t have to be complicated (think about the pizza joint’s walls overflowing with colorful, handwritten Post-it notes). I’m sure that the volunteers at this year’s Convening Leaders Hospitality Helping Hands program, who donned hairnets and shoveled out giant vats of uncooked pasta, felt just as good about the dent they made in organizing food for distribution to food banks as they did about the camaraderie that blossomed during their time at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Participants are likely to view the meeting or sponsoring organization more favorably for spearheading both a valuable experience for participants and a worthwhile project for the community. And so will local destination leaders, lawmakers, and the general public.
We at PCMA realize that worthwhile CSR projects are often difficult to identify, especially when you have to start from scratch each time you meet in a new destination. For that reason, we are developing a cloud-based resource that will help planners easily assess opportunities in different cities. Planners can input quantifiable results of their programs, and an evaluation tool will summarize the impact of specific projects on local destinations. The tool will also aggregate data from all projects in order to assist meeting organizers in identifying CSR projects worth their investment in upcoming destinations.
Look for more on this exciting tool by the end of this year. In the meantime, I hope you’re inspired to develop or improve upon your own meaningful community-service program at your next event.