by Geraldine Gatehouse | September 23, 2012
At the Site Classic 2012, which took place at the beautiful St. Regis Aspen Resort this past August, I was looking forward to hearing the results of a study of incentive program participants on the value and impact of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, the July 2012 Site Index Study, jointly sponsored by the Site International Foundation and the Incentive Travel Council, a strategic industry group within the Incentive Marketing Association, showed that CSR fared the worst within the framework of the study’s focus on program design.

A series of questions in the survey addressed the key elements of program design as it relates to measuring the type of emotional impact and the related level of intensity of memories that result from motivational travel experiences. CSR did not show up well in these categories. Statistics showed that 39 percent of respondents said they found the memory “not intense;” 18.2 percent found it mildly intense. Only 12.5 percent found it extremely intense. As regards the emotional impact of the memory, almost 52 percent said the impact for them was average, with 12.5 percent finding it negative. As with other options, not everyone sees giving back as an activity they would choose to do for themselves, especially during a time when they are being rewarded and enjoying the benefits that arise from their success. 

These results would seem to be at odds with findings from the previous January 2012 Site Index study, which found the following: “The vast majority of planners predicted an increase or substantial increase in CSR with 46 percent agreeing it will occur over the short term and 77 percent in a longer period. A very small percentage believes they will decrease.”

Earlier statistics on the importance of CSR to potential employees tie in with these findings. A 2008 survey of 759 graduating MBAs from 11 top business schools reveals that “the future business leaders rank corporate social responsibility high on their list of values, and they are willing to sacrifice a significant part of their salaries to find an employer whose thinking is in sync with their own.” 

CSR also plays an important role in the retention of well qualified personnel. In 2006, data from GlobeScan showed that 83 percent of employees in G7 countries say that their companies’ positive CSR reputations increase their loyalty while 57 percent of employees note that their respective company’s CSR reputation is a factor in retaining them (Towers Perrin-ISR global survey 2007).

If you combine the planner data from the January 2012 Site Index, where they anticipated a 46 to 77 percent increased demand in CSR, together with the above statistics on recruitment and retention, it would seem clear that CSR is an important factor. However, from the later Site Index study, it is also apparent that the CSR programs in which attendees are participating are not providing a satisfactory experience. 

One possible explanation is that there is a disconnect between the demand for a give back event and the delivery of that same event. I believe that, in many instances, there is a feeling that a CSR project or community give back event of some kind is almost a “have to” or “should be” inclusion. It may be tacked on at the last minute and/or subject to lip service. With no overall cohesive client company strategy in place, it is left to the planner to scout around and source some options. These may come from personal planner preference, recommendations from the local CVB or another tourist authority, or other supplier suggestions. Other sources may include DMCs and hotels.

For a client or company looking to include CSR, but without a set strategic plan, here are some ways to help avoid the potential for disappointing employee outcomes. Short-term and longer-term projects are both viable options.

For one, look at the company. Research its products, how they are marketed and sold, the source of its supply chain and who the end user is. Do the goods or services sold by the client have any clear connection with any type of nonprofit organization? As an example, a culinary supply and equipment company, whose clients include hotels and restaurants, and part of whose inventory includes canned foods, might see a great benefit to sponsoring an event such as "Michael-CAN-Gelo." Offered by Feet First Entertainment in Los Angeles, this innovative program offers fun, creative team building. The creations that the game produces are donated to a local food bank or other organization involved in feeding the disadvantaged. With this type of activity, there exists the basis for a connection between the product, the employees, and the end recipient, that reinforces the company-employee bond and can garner community support for the client’s company.

Another example would be for a clothing company, using its second quality items, to organize a fashion show among its employees, dividing them into designer teams. Each team would take turns in picking items of clothing with accessories, with some members of the team assembling the outfits and dressing the models. Others in the team would be responsible for creating a name, logo, and signage. A fashion show, with one of the teams acting as commentators, would conclude the event, with points being awarded for creativity, presentation, etc. Afterward, the clothing could all be donated to an organization that provides clothing to people seeking employment, or to an organization such as Goodwill. Goodwill “works to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” By extension, a company could also ask its employees to donate gently used clothing.

These are just two examples of short-term CSR projects that could benefit all entities involved, and help pave the way for a long-term, more strategic commitment. 

With business statistics showing that CSR makes good sense and provides a significant ROI in many areas, our industry has a great opportunity to become a leader in the field. By being more creative and strategic in designing and implementing effective and memorable give-back events, we not only enhance our our own lives by developing new skills, we offer a new perspective for participants and increased support for many non-profit organizations.

CSR Quote of the Month: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ― Plato

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 based in southern California, is 2012/2013 Director of Fundraising & Strategic Sponsorship for MPI Southern California Chapter, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California Board Advisor on CSR and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at [email protected]; or via her website Geraldine Gatehouse and at LinkedIn. Her Twitter addresses are @ggbrit and @IMEXGeraldine.