By Angela Jos

It’s no secret that incorporating a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) project into event agendas has been on the rise in recent years. Whether it’s an afternoon clean-up a local park or a pencil drive for school children, companies are weaving these give-back opportunities into meetings and incentive trips alike. And, according to a worldwide study completed by the International Centre for Research and Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University in London, 86 percent of those polled believe that this trend will continue to increase because a CSR component is now an expectation and not just a pleasant addition.

However, we all know that just because something is trendy and popular, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea (enter: mullets, shoulder pads, and Hammer pants). Luckily, unlike our favorite love-to-hate-‘em 80’s staples, being a socially-conscious company and including CSR components into events is impactful for the attendees, the recipient organization, and the host company.


According to a Successful Meetings study, the most common reasons respondents added a CSR component were:

  • Promoting corporate accountability (51.4%)
  • Giving something back to the host destination (49.2%)
  • Building relationships with clients (48.1%)
  • Promoting personal accountability (33.9%)
  • Increasing brand recognition (32.8%)

Corporate Implications

While CSR initiatives may have started as a way to change the image of the meetings industry, the expectation for a CSR component now comes from the growth of socially-conscious participants and business leaders. The study also showed that 90% of employees at companies with CSR programs feel a stronger sense of company loyalty, an effective driver of employee engagement. Companies are promoting accountability and give-back as a way to inspire and connect to their employees. It’s also an answer to the growing societal demand for sustainable and ethical behavior by corporations.

This is especially evident by the increasing use of the term “triple bottom line.” Now, it has become evident that every corporate decision has social, environmental, and financial implications. Customers and clients are paying more attention to the integrity and culture of companies, instead of just the final product. Now that social media is an open platform for the sharing of feedback and opinions, corporations are making the effort to land themselves on the beneficial-side of the “share” button.

Agenda Implications

Luckily, the high-level corporate implications don’t detract from the direct benefits of a CSR project on the meeting agenda. Events are meant to be a shared experience, and we know that successful events create emotional responses in their attendees. Using a CSR project as a teambuilding event plants deep-seated connections among people and creates heartfelt interaction. Consider also how valuable those relationships could be once the attendees are back in the office.

Additionally, CSR components can break up the monotony of a meeting. We further explain the importance of Brain Breaks and their role in information retention in a recent blog post. Attendees are able to better connect to the meeting message when the agenda can successfully keep them from assuming the dreaded blank stare. As a part of an incentive trip, a CSR component can act as a contrast to the “fun and sun” the attendees are experiencing, heightening the emotional connection they may have to the destination and impact of the program.

So now that we’ve explained the why, let’s explore the how.

The How

Here are 5 ways to add a CSR project to your event:

1. Wear It

There are companies that make wearing your social contribution fun and fashionable. Toms gives you the option to “purchase with a purpose” as each product you buy helps a person in need, with their one-for-one model. The Giving Keys employs those transitioning out of homelessness and their products are stamped with messages of encouragement. The brand then encourages those with a piece of their signature wearable keys to then pay it forward. Unlock Hope lets you literally wear your beliefs on your sleeve with graphic tees and tanks printed with sayings like “Equally Human” and “Human. Kind. Be Both.” The mission of this company goes beyond just spreading encouraging words; every purchase provides equal access to food, shelter, education, and healthcare for women and refugees in Uganda.

For a unique experience, you can have a pop-up stand for your attendees to choose their favorite product or collect sizes beforehand and have their selected item waiting in their welcome packet or delivered as a room drop.

2. Collect It

You can always keep it simple with a traditional donation drive. Pick a charity local to the event destination or one that speaks to your industry or the products you make, distribute, or sell. Make hardware supplies and hosting a National Sales Meeting in Scottsdale? Connect with the local branch of Habitat for Humanity to donate some nuts and bolts. Sell office supplies and hosting an incentive trip to Cabo? Connect with a local school to donate pencils and paper.

A collection drive is also a great way to get those involved who may not be traveling to the event; you can host a collection in the office before or after the program. For even greater impact, promise a corporate match to any individual donations.

 3. Raffle It

If it’s not feasible for your attendees to bring or buy physical products for the CSR contribution, consider hosting a raffle instead. Attendees can buy raffle tickets to win high-end electronics, extra activity options (spa, anyone?), or exclusive company perks –  like dinner with the CEO – with the proceeds going to the charity of choice.

Another idea is to raffle off something exclusive to the event or destination. For example, have a local artist paint a canvas during the welcome reception. The art is then raffled off and the attendee not only gets a beautiful piece of art, but your efforts support the local community and the attendee has a unique connection and emotional memory tied to the piece.

4. Build It

Or paint it, or clean it, or pack it. Give attendees a break from the boardroom and send them outside to build, clean, or paint a local shelter, school, or community center. The benefit of an active CSR project like this is that it acts as a teambuilding event and a destination excursion in one. We hear time and again how attendees are itching to get out of the airwalls and spend some time outside in the actual air. Similarly, there has been much research that shows a major goal of attending meetings and events is to network and meet colleagues and partners. An active CSR project is a natural, meaningful avenue for genuine connection. It’s always less intimidating to ask for a last-minute favor from a guy you’ve seen covered in sweat and dirt.

For a unique experience, create a game or competition out of it. Which team can complete the project first? Perhaps the first-place team gets to bypass the lunch line?

5. Bring It To Them

Don’t have the time or resources for an off-site experience? There are organizations that bring the experience to you. Helping Hands, a corporate team building program by Odyssey Teams, Inc., brings all of the parts to build mechanical hands to your group. Then, the completed hands, along with a decorated bag and personalized note from the attendees, are delivered to those who need them in developing countries. Or, think about setting up a bag-pack. You can bring in bulk supplies and attendees assemble them into complete packs with one of each item.

For a unique experience, invite those who will be receiving the supplies to a short ceremony where the items are presented. If it’s a group of children, ask them to sing a song or two, then watch their faces light up when they see the basketballs and crayons they’ll get to take home. There won’t be a dry eye in the place. Trust us.

Of course, a CSR component shouldn’t feel like a last-minute addition; you should weave it into the entire event. Try any mixture of the options above – wear your t-shirt when you go out into the community to build benches for the park, or raffle off wearable items from sustainable companies, or tie accountability into your keynote speech. The budget doesn’t have to be a barrier to CSR either. Think about a locally-sourced picture frame for the final night room drop or local talent to perform at the welcome reception. That contributes to supporting for the destination’s economy and residents, and it’s probably something already accounted for in the budget.

Let’s Work Together