Don’t Give Up On CSR: Easy and Affordable Ways to Keep Programs Going Right Now

May 22, 2020

So your meeting or trade show has been postponed or cancelled. You turned your misfortune into good fortune for others by donating your unused food and event supplies to local food banks and charities. You even got your team involved in the feel-good effort, which you made sure to share with your event audience via your marketing and social media channels. But as an event planner who believes in the power of corporate social responsibility to engage audiences and support those in-need in host communities, you may be asking – now what? How can you continue to support the common good with engaging CSR activities in a time of social distancing? 

We asked Courtney Lohmann, director of culture at PRA, a Chicago-based business event management company, to share how events can still maintain their CSR goals until we’re able to meet – and give back – face-to-face again. 

Re-evaluate your goals. 

First, understand that CSR efforts are two-fold: at the internal (or corporate) level and the event level, and that there are numerous things organizations can do to keep their give-back efforts alive with employees and at virtual events, Lohmann explains. But before you begin brainstorming, remember that good social responsibility starts at home, she says.

“What companies need to do now is turn inside first and re-address their CSR goals and objectives, then approach their business in a much more prolific manner with all of those CSR goals in mind,” Lohmann says.

This will help you gain more clarity about your company’s societal purpose, she adds.

Put your people first.

During this pandemic and time of self-isolation, we’ve seen people in the industry taking more time to be with their families, talk to one another and engage. That only demonstrates what we in the face-to-face industry already know and value: the importance of people, Lohmann says.  

“Human connection is so important, so now more than ever, it’s important for companies to step back, make sure they have a truly holistic approach to their CSR and re-dedicate themselves to their people,” Lohmann says. “They affect how your business operates and the impact you have in your community and with your clients.”

An engaged staff is a happier and more productive one, so besides doing everything you can to make your team feel safe and valued during this challenging time, consider integrating virtual CSR team building activities to boost morale and promote a sense of community, Lohmann recommends.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Virtual volunteering: Instead of being physically present to support a charity, virtual volunteering allows employees to donate their time and services remotely to help with essential tasks such as fundraising calls and outreach, social media promotion and management, graphic design, data entry and marketing assistance.
  • Matching gift and disaster relief campaigns: Encouraging staff to donate collectively to an important cause that is also backed by matching employee donations demonstrates that your organization takes CSR seriously, which can help boost employee loyalty.
  • Virtual fitness challenges: Besides promoting wellness and engagement, hosting walking, running or push-up challenges can also foster a competitive spirit as teams track their daily progress for a set period of time and compete for prizes. 
  • Remote cooking or baking challenges: Set up a designated time, then send out an ingredients list, decide upon a theme and set the ground rules. Once everyone is online, start the timer, get cooking, then compare your dishes and vote on whose turned out the best. Then sit down and enjoy your meal together.

Redesign CSR for virtual events.

It is challenging to keep attendees engaged in virtual settings for long periods of time, so re-thinking your online conference to incorporate interactive CSR activities – beyond just monetary donation campaigns – will require a higher level of creativity and out-of-box thinking, Lohmann says.

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“If you have a long-standing CSR charity partner, make that phone call and brainstorm about how you can flip more traditional CSR activities so they can still be carried out while following CDC social distancing recommendations,” Lohmann suggests.  

  • Build-it activities: If your virtual event attendees are centrally located, arrange a CSR activity where everyone picks up supplies at one location prior to the event and then participates in a group activity at a designated time during the conference, such as a water filter build project. As with a live CSR activity, include a charity representative to explain how their efforts are making an impact as well as provide instructions and guidance. Post-event, attendees can mail or drop-off their finished donations.
  • Letter-writing campaigns: If your event budget and programming is tight, consider something as simple as a letter-writing campaign to help vulnerable individuals – such as those living in isolated environments including rehabilitation homes, nursing and foster care facilities – feel cared about and less alone. Provide your audience with a list of organizations your event is supporting, along with ideas of what to write and where to mail their letters once finished.

 “Just doing that can have a really big impact, so it doesn’t have to be over-complicated,” Lohmann says. “We can still do a lot in this very strange time that we’re in with the resources and the restrictions that we have.”

Incorporating your CSR goals into your employee and event programming will not only forge an emotional connection with your event, organization and brand, but also help engage people’s souls – which is something many of us could use right now.

“We need to come together, support one another and feel like we’re striving toward helping others in some way,” Lohmann says. “To make someone laugh, help someone feel encouraged, make someone feel like they’re getting a hug – those are the things that are more important than anything right now.”

Lead photo credit: Wine to Water

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