Giving Back

‘Authentic Groups’

A hotel company takes its ‘VolunTeaming’ program global — offering meeting attendees the chance to work together to do some good.

volunteamingPrincipal Financial Group always incorporates some sort of team-building activity into its incentive programs. The Des Moines–based company has also done “a few volunteer projects in the past,” according to Jenni Gardner, Principal’s director of meeting planning services.

Principal found a perfect blend of the two when the company decided to bring two incentive groups to the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, last month. For the past two years, every Ritz-Carlton property in the United States — including Kapalua — has offered a CSR-related team-building project as part of the hotel company’s Volunteering program. And as of this month, Volunteering is available at all 77 Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world.

“Often [groups] want to go beyond the traditional team-building activities [and] leisure activities, and really want to make a contribution to the destination that they’re visiting,” said Sue Stephenson, vice president in charge of Ritz-Carlton’s Community Footprints social-responsibility program. “That’s the premise behind VolunTeaming.”

Under the program, each hotel partners with a local community organization to offer a teambuilding project or projects “that really have a sense of place,” Stephenson said. The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park works with the Battery Conservancy, whose mission is “to rebuild and revitalize” Lower Manhattan’s 25-acre Battery Park, for example, while the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia partners with the hunger-relief organization Philabundance. And the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua works with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program.

“This is an educational program to engage people with the environment, “Gardner said in an interview just before the two incentive events, which recognized Principal’s sales leaders. “As we talked further with them, we identified some potential projects and decided on doing a beach cleanup with a little competitive spin to it – which works well with salespeople.”

Principal’s two overlapping groups were slated to stay at Kapalua on March 14-18 and March 16-20 — with 150 employees, spouses, and children in the first wave and 275 in the second. Each group was scheduled to participate in a cleanup of a private conservation area controlled by the Puu Kukui Watershed Preserve, with prizes awarded for “such things as the most unique find,” Gardner said. “They will also build a structure from their finds, and we’ll give the team with the tallest structure a prize.”

Each VolunTeaming project also includes an educational component, Stephenson said, “so people aren’t just contributing physical activity but are taking away some knowledge of the location and what they did.” She added: “These are authentic groups that are doing work in the local community. This is not something we’re outsourcing. These are our own partnerships.”

It was something that Gardner was looking forward to sharing with her attendees. “It’s away for us to engage our field partners in these efforts as well as incorporate some team-building elements, too, “Gardner said. “We think it will be a very fun and rewarding experience for everyone.”

Much Appreciated

When a group returns to the Ritz- Carlton after completing its VolunTeaming project, hotel staff members are lined up to greet participants with “a wall of applause, just to show our appreciation for what they’ve done in our local community,” Ritz-Carlton’s Sue Stephenson said. “People are not expecting it. They’re tired, they’ve been working for hours — and they’ve got this thunderous applause when they get back to the hotel. Our meeting planners love that.”

For more information about Ritz-Carlton’s VolunTeaming program, visit

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.