by Geraldine Gatehouse | May 21, 2012
One of the many interesting opportunities that came out of the Green Meeting Industry Council's annual conference in Montreal last month was the Idea Auction. The brainchild of Meeting Change's president, Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA, the auction is a way to raise funds by selling ideas created by the conference attendees onsite. This crowd pleaser proved to be fun, creative and competitive. Nineteen individual ideas were chosen as top picks by the amount of support shown from the attendees during the idea presentation. In addition to these nineteen, all the ideas that were submitted are available in the Idea Book which is also available for purchase for a limited time. The goal of the auction was two-fold, to raise funds for the foundation, and also to spread awareness about the innovative ideas on sustainability that could be used for standalone events or as part of a sustainability strategy. 

My contribution was the “Triple Bottom Line CSR Employee Engagement Program. It's an idea I have been mulling over for some time now, and that I recently had the opportunity to present to a major international retailer. No, it didn't make the top picks - but it does appear in the Auction Book. My idea combines many elements I think are important in moving us along in our triple bottom line work. I believe it has potential for a company looking to move beyond its existing teambuilding/employee engagement programs to offer more benefit and leadership skills to its human resources and the community in which it is located.  It also has the potential to substantially improve inter-department collaboration by choosing team members from different departments or areas to work together.  

The program has the capability to help expand and enhance the existing level of teamwork, either company-wide or between selected departments. Combining an extended team building event with the opportunity to be of service to a local non-profit furthers a give back philosophy, while providing the group to take team work to the next level. 

To develop an ongoing inter-departmental community-focused teambuilding program that would raise awareness of community connections, encourage partnerships among work teams, foster creativity, and result in a significant contribution to one or more non-profit community service organizations. The program would concentrate on collaboration, co-creativity, employee engagement, resourcefulness, personal development, entrepreneurship, and a raised awareness of community.

Because this is a new program, there exists the opportunity for input and co-creation by the group members throughout the program process.This would help engage and involve employees in the results and the outcomes to a much greater degree than if the program was handed to them fully formed.

The following steps would be expanded, refined and finalized before the project was launched. Some of these pre-planning steps could involve the teams, if so desired. This would be a way of encouraging interactive participation in advance.

Project Summary/Milestones:
1. Identify a community service project in partnership with a local 501C3 non-profit organization involved in sustainable practices - energy conservation, or urban agriculture, for example.
2. Create teams based on the needs and desires of the company - inter-departmental teams are recommended to maximize the impact of the program.

3. Allocate a certain amount of paid volunteer time per team per week/month to work on the project.

4. Establish goals for the teams, including raising funds and producing a plan of action for the chosen non-profit, based on its needs and wants.

5. Funds would be provided by the company as seed money for the teams - say $250-$500 per team, for example.

6. Teams would create an initial plan of action, timeline, goals and desired outcomes - outline to be provided - for submission to the designated department head for approval. 

Components of the Program:
1. Fundraising. Using seed money provided by the company

2. Plan-creation for the use of the non-profit partner. This would be based on the expertise of the group - financial, marketing, and training, etc. - and tailored to the needs of the partnering non-profit. 

3. Recognition. Celebrate plans chosen by the non-profit for implementation with team awards.

4. Implementation. Enact the chosen plan

5. Hands-on event. This can, optionally, be held at the culmination of the program.

The outcomes of this program would include, for fund raising, recognition for the teams based on whatever criteria was considered the most optimal - factors could include most creative, highest amount raised, amount of participation within the team, etc. Funds raised would be donated to the non-profit - the seed money could be retained by the company, depending on the amounts raised. If the company was a retail seller of goods and services these amounts could be given in gift cards, which would mean those funds raised would go back to the company in sales.

The plans of action created by the teams would be would be presented to the non-profit, which would choose the one they felt best fit its needs.  The chosen plan would be implemented with assistance from members of the whole company, not just the team that created it. This would emphasize collaboration and working for the community as a whole.

Additional potential benefits include long-term community goodwill and an additional means for HR to measure leadership skills within the departments, perhaps in a non-traditional way. Leaders may emerge from any level in any department. Working with a new program demonstrates a willingness to be an early adopter of change and creative ideas, and could be feature in company news and PR materials.

This program allows for flexibility and would operate successfully with fewer components. A longer-term undertaking has the capability to bring out different qualities in individuals than a simple one day event, and presents many opportunities for creativity, collaboration and personal growth. It also emphasizes inter-departmental cooperation and collaboration, an area that many companies find challenging.

Constructive feedback is always helpful, so please let me know if you have any comments. If you would like to adopt the idea for the program, I invite you to make a donation to GMIC. If you would like to implement this program and need help, I would love to hear from you.

CSR quote of the month: "Companies that are breaking the mold are moving beyond corporate social responsibility to social innovation. These companies are the vanguard of the new paradigm. They view community needs as opportunities to develop ideas and demonstrate business technologies, to find and serve new markets, and to solve longstanding business problems.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review

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 a member of MPI, 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 address is @ggbrit