by Geraldine Gatehouse | July 30, 2012
The second annual SPINCon North America 2012, held from July 11 to 13 in Telluride, CO, at The Peaks Resort, featured some innovative and original ways to incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into a conference. 

SPINCon is produced by the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN), which started out as a social media networking site for full-time senior-level planners with a minimum of 10 years’ experience in the meetings, event, and exhibition industries.  Founded in 2008, SPIN’s roster now boasts 40 live events annually, which include think tanks held throughout the country. For her efforts, Shawna Suckow, CMP, SPIN’s founder and president, was recently recognized as one of Successful Meetings magazine’s “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry.”  She is also the author of Planner Pet Peeves, which is currently available on Amazon.

Originally, SPINCon’s CSR plans included a silent auction and concert component but, owing to time constraints, this morphed into the SPINCake Wars, a rock ‘n’ roll performance, and The Big Give. These three events engaged attendees and combined to support grass root-style non-profits, either locally or across the nation.

Let Them Eat — and Design — Cake
The Telluride Tourism Board, SPINCon’s destination partner, was helpful in introducing SPIN to the San Miguel Resource Center, which became the beneficiary of the $1,000 raised by the SPINCake Wars. The center’s mission is to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault in its local community through intervention services, prevention education and social change. To participate in SPINCake Wars, an attendee paid a fee and received a single cupcake with the goal of creating the best design. The results were astounding — a graceful strawberry swan vied with a caterpillar; a beach scene contrasted to the downhill skier on a mountain. And all of these taking place on the minimal surface of a cupcake. A $25 gift card went to the winner, Sherry Sullivan, president of SS Meetings based in Florida.

Tracey B. Smith CMP, CMM, vice president of programs for SPIN was responsible for overseeing all the CSR programs, and noted that “the results [of the SPINCake Wars] exceeded our expectations.” Sean R. Schuette, CMP, director of meetings and events at IntrinXec Management Inc., in Minneapolis, had this to say: “I know that I could comment on the fact that it was a unique event that allowed people who are normally working hard on many details to think outside the box and outside the standard cupcake. Hats off to the executive chef for pushing all who attended to think that way as the end results are a direct reflection. There were definitely some interesting ‘spins’ on decorating a cupcake, for sure.” 

Let Them Rock On
Lunch on day two was held on the terrace of The Peaks Resort, SPINCon’s vendor partner, below a brilliant blue sky and surrounded by a stunning view of the mountains. A unique “fashion show” put on by the staff of the resort offered a light-hearted look at local fashion through the ages and was followed by a performance from boys attending a local music program, The Rock and Roll Academy (RRA). The RRA is an experiential music program that emphasizes the musical, technological, and social aspects of students’ creative processes within a multimedia environment. The objectives of the RRA program are as much about team building, self expression, and social responsibility as they are about learning to play music. 

During and after the performance, attendees were invited to make a donation to the RRA with the goal of raising $700, the cost of providing a scholarship to one child for one semester. The results again exceeded the initial goal: almost $800 was collected. On a sustainability note, no paper was used in these transactions, thanks to a Square device attached to a smartphone, capturing details and issuing email receipts.
The SPINCon survey showed that attendees thought this was a winning idea. Below are a few comments:

”It was fun to have the Rock and Rock Academy kids perform. That helped us know who we were giving back to.”
“Very entertaining!”
“[I] love to give back!”

Smith says, “It’s great to raise funds for good causes. To see the faces of the children who will benefit directly from those funds makes the heart swell with good feelings that last a long time. It’s the best ‘purchase’ anyone can make, and the ripple effect can last for years to come.”

Let Them Compete
The third and final give-back CSR component of SPINCon was the “Big Give’s Winning Idea.” This idea came about when Tracy Riggan, a planner for IPC and a SPIN member, organized a Big Give event for the Family First Center. It led her to believe that there should be a way for all SPIN members to participate and help a few great organizations around the country, and that’s how the Big Give’s Winning Idea Scholarship Contest was born. IMEX America was the CSR sponsor for this program, which allowed three scholarships to be awarded for winners to attend SPINCon. 

SPIN members voted for Pet Haven in Minneapolis; The Little Red Wagon Foundation in Valrico, FL; and The Elixir Fund in Princeton Junction, NJ to participate. The three organizations submitted their requests for assistance with planning and strategy, for which SPIN members submitted their proposals. The nonprofits selected what they felt was the best plan and planner creators of the three winning plans were awarded a scholarship to attend SPINCon. 

Both IMEX America and the IMEX Group have a strong, long-standing support of and commitment to sustainability and CSR programs, so the partnership with SPINCon and its give back programs was a perfect match. (Disclaimer: Please note that the author is part of the IMEX America team.)

Suckow is known for her innovative out-of-the-box thinking, and this led to some interesting sustainable elements at the conference as well. “BYOB” usually means “Bring Your Own Bottle” but at SPINCon, BYOB stood for “Bring Your Own Badge.” Not only was this a sustainable practice, it created an additional talking point among the attendees. Badges used came in all kinds of sizes and designs; craft materials were available to those who wished to get creative and decorate their badges.  I thought this was a very clever idea and one more conferences could emulate. Signage was very minimal; framed sponsor logos with a QR code linked to the sponsor website, were used as part of a planner incentive game. Lastly, sponsors only brought business cards with them, leaving out the expense and potential of bringing and giving out collateral. 

SPINCon was a conference experience that concentrated on bringing planners together to communicate, discuss and collaborate. In a 2011 video interview for Successful Meetings, Suckow notes that “audiences want to get back to communicating and collaborating with each other. [The audiences] want to create their own outcomes now more than ever before.” 

SPINCon 2012 certainly provided the forum to do just that, don’t you think?

CSR quote of the month: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” — Henry David Thoreau

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 the MPI Southern California Chapter, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California Board Advisor 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 handles are @ggbrit and @IMEXGeraldine