by Geraldine Gatehouse | May 22, 2014
When incentive planners leave site tours at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, they might be thinking about the Ambassador that is at their service. The Ambassador is Ms. Cindy Heeter, who serves as a group's dedicated point-of-contact for community service projects, also known as VolunTeaming projects.  

Community service projects have proven to be effective at engaging people and building lasting team camaraderie. Participants can connect through community service, leaving a volunteer legacy at the destination and a special bond between them on their return to corporate life. It is not always simple for planners to connect with local nonprofit organizations, and that is where the Ritz-Carlton steps in.

"The challenge is that programs start in the local community and that's difficult for a meeting or incentive planner to coordinate from their home market," says James E. McManemon, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. To assist planners, Heeter was appointed VolunTeaming Ambassador to build relationships with local nonprofits to better align them with the budget, philosophy, and time allotment of each contributing corporate group. The effort has worked for both small- and large-scale groups.  

In April 2014, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, VolunTeaming team worked with Diania Ciresi, community relations manager for Texas Roadhouse restaurants, to implement their annual Humanitarian Day for 1,000 store managers, corporate office personnel, and vendor partners. "Our annual Community Service objective is to include diverse projects that touch different factions of lifestyles and interests;  Cindy Heeter found the partner mix we feel best reflects our philosophy," says Ciresi. The neighboring organizations that benefited from the contributions of more than $110,000 included the Barnabas Center, YMCA PrYme Time, the City of Fernandina Park & Recreation, the Nassau Humane Society, the Council on Aging, the USO, Gracie's Kitchen, and Wine to Water.

For those of you considering incorporating one of these rewarding and worthwhile programs into your incentive programs, here are a few tips you might want to consider:

1. What type of project best aligns with an organization's social responsibility focus? Is it shildren, health, and hunger alleviation; environment, education, or wildlife protection? It's important to be in alignment with the company's values and goals when choosing a project.

2. How much time can be allotted in the agenda to a give back event?  If it is off-site, then there is travel time to consider. On the return, you will need to allow enough time for participants to freshen up and get ready for any evening activities.

3. If time is limited, consider a project at the hotel, and make sure you include appropriate venue space in your hotel contract. There is a whole range of activities that will keep participants engaged such as preparing brown-bag meals for donations, packing backpacks with school supplies for disadvantaged children, and painting mural panels for donation to a school or hospital.

4. If you have a large group and/or a very diverse mix of generations involved, consider providing more than one CSR option. This provides participants with a choice between active projects such as painting, building and digging, and one less physical activity involving making no-sew fleece blankets, putting together care packages and making greeting cards for children at a homeless shelter or orphanage. The options are limited only by your imagination!

5. Inviting the benefitting organizations to attend is a good policy.  A simple thank you from an outside source sends a very powerful message to the participants and is an effective way to reinforce the importance of the contributions made by them. 

Whatever you choose to do, the benefits of CSR events cannot be overstated in terms of engagement, goodwill, and giving back. 

If you have operated or will be running a program where give back is involved, please let us know about it. We would appreciate the opportunity of sharing your story with other INCENTIVE readers.

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent incentive and event planner, freelance writer, speaker and instructor, with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is President-Elect for Site Southern California 2014, Chair of Special Projects for MPISCC 2014/2015, the Site Classic 2014 committee member responsible for CSR, and a proud member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at ggatehouse@cox.net; or via her website, and at LinkedIn. Her Twitter addresses are @ggbrit and @IMEXGeraldine.