Better Because You Were There

According to The New York Times, living with the pandemic “has pushed us to reckon with our deepest questions … [about] how we make meaning of our time on this earth.” In particular, COVID-19 has brought the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, social responsibility, and wellness to the fore.

A number of our consulting clients have made social responsibility a cornerstone of their conference strategy — with the desire “to leave the host city better because we were there.” When you adopt a strategic objective like that for your conference, it leaves room for creativity in achieving that desired outcome. Here are some suggestions.

Choose Your Charity

Work closely with your local chapter or Destination Marketing Organization to identify two or three local worthy causes that you’d like to help. Selecting multiple recipients increases the chances of aligning with your attendees’ passions.

To encourage more participation and to make a bigger difference, vary the community-service projects from being very hands-on — like helping in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home — to encouraging micro-volunteering by having an on-site area for volunteers to stuff hygiene kits for the homeless or women’s shelters. Enable participants to make micro-donations and work on finding a sponsor to match donations for a charity in need.

In addition, with food waste such a significant issue — studies show that as much as 40 percent of the global food supply is wasted — inquire with your host hotels and convention centers on what food banks or groups are most in need, and work with them on making excess food donations from your events.

Reuse and Reduce

We all know the importance of recycling and diverting plastic, paper, glass, and aluminum from landfills. Meeting professionals can make an even greater impact by increasing their focus on the other two other Rs:

Reuse — Ask your convention center or hotel if they have a green purchasing program and eco-friendly items like bamboo plates. The Phoenix Convention Center has an inventory of 31,000 KI Daylight chairs made from recycled car battery casings and seatbelts — something most conference attendees would appreciate knowing.

Reduce — The best way to think about reducing is to apply the tenets of the sharing economy. Make sure you select aisle carpet that has been, or will be, used by multiple shows. Find out if a conference being held before or after yours could share staging, directional signage, or other resources. Encourage your vendors to help identify opportunities for reducing waste, like using digital signage instead of foam core.

Helping to Heal

Years ago, I facilitated focus groups with association executives around boycotting destinations. This was shortly after the killings of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Following those shootings, a number of association conferences pulled out of — or dropped from their consideration — nearby Orlando and St. Louis as meeting destinations.

One of the focus group participants said something that really resonated with me: “Instead of boycotting their destination, my leadership wants to do everything they can to help the healing. “

What if we apply this mentality to destinations that have recently passed laws that we find appalling, instead of boycotting them? How can our organizations become advocates for good — and be a part of the healing?

 Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2021.

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