In San Antonio this January, attendees who made a New Year's resolution to help others will get their chance. Working with San Antonio Habitat for Humanity, volunteers will swap business suits for sweatshirts, pick up hammers and paint brushes, and refurbish homes for needy families. Participants will be charged $50, which goes to Habitat for Humanity. The costs of the project are covered by the sponsors, Conferon and Renaissance Hotels.
Community service days have become a trend at, a way for attendees to develop camaraderie while they provide much-needed assistance to others. It's also an opportunity for the association to give something back to the community. "We're letting the community reap the benefits-other than the economic ones-of the meetings industry," says Sally Platt, associate director, convention sales, for the San Antonio CVB, and one of the project organizers. The association benefits, as well, from the positive publicity such a project generates.
Planning a community service day is similar to managing any special event. Figure about a year's lead time, organizers suggest. To find a suitable charity, ask committee members for ideas, or contact the CVB or city agencies. Platt's first challenge was finding a charity that could accommodate the 80 participants she expected. Most of the groups she called, such as orphanages and battered women's shelters, could handle only ten to 20 people. She is glad to be working with Habitat for Humanity, but adds, "we had no choice."
Such challenges can produce creative solutions. For the community service day at the upcoming Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference in San Francisco, organizers had hoped to help a church to build a homeless shelter. But the project was scheduled for Sunday morning-a time when the church holds services. The committee went back to the drawing board and brainstormed, says Rick Weaver, associate director, sales and marketing, Radisson Miyako Hotel, and chair of the association's social awareness/environmental committee. The result is the Building Bridges project. Participants will take a group of at-risk children from the Compass Family Home For Children to the Exploratorium for a fun and educational experience-an alternative to the more usual building project.
Whatever project you choose, make sure it is well-organized so that participants enjoy themselves and return for next year's program. At ASAE Boston 1996's community service day, City Year, a national organization dedicated to helping young adults, supervised participants as they renovated a vacant house designated to become a Boys' and Girls' Club.
Although she said everyone really enjoyed helping, Lorri Lee, director of public relations for ASAE, offered insight into some of the problems planners should try to avoid. The biggest surprise was "[the organizers] didn't accurately portray how much work there was," Lee says. "There was an awful lot." The group also hadn't brought enough supplies; participants had to wait while staff found more paint and paint brushes. On the upside, Lee adds, the ambitious participants accomplished much more than the organizers expected.
* Get everything in writing.
* Make sure the group provides enough staff, supplies, and direction for participants.
* Prepare an alternative activity for bad weather.
* Select an easily accessible location.
* Arrange transportation and meals for participants, provided by the charity and/or project sponsors.
When Kathleen Ratcliffe prepared to become 1996-97 president of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), she promised the 14,000-plus members that she would keep them "ahead of the curve." As president, the 13-year hospitality industry veteran, whose full-time position is vice president, sales and marketing, for the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association, recognizes that "the curve changes daily."
Being more open to new ideas from the membership is key to tracking the curve, Ratcliffe says. As members at local, regional, and national forums define and convey their needs, MPI will provide training to meet them, most recently in such areas as new technologies, greater globalization of meetings, more use of incentive programs, and increased emphasis on senior-level adult education.
The "curve" in Ratcliffe's home city of Baltimore is the increasing shortage of hotel meeting space and the resulting seller's market. But Ratcliffe says that hotel chains are buying and building again, seeking sites in most major and many secondary cities, and the growth, she predicts, will be in hotels with 800 to 1,200 rooms, not smaller properties in the suburbs.
What may be MPI's most useful tool, Ratcliffe says, is the increasing implementation of its(Return On Investment) program. A step-by-step video and accompanying workbook, sponsored by Marriott Hotels and Continental Airlines through the MPI Foundation, give meeting planners modules that they can use to show their organizations how much more they get-in dollars and learning-out of a meeting that is professionally managed and delivered. Two new modules are under development.
In other MPI news, its online network, MPINet, on CompuServe, has been joined by a World Wide Web page at http://www.mpiweb.org. It will provide up-to-date information, including industry news, educational opportunities, and bookstore items for sale.