A new library in Siem Reap, Cambodia, donated by Room to Read

After several difficult years of program cuts, corporate social responsibility is not only back on incentive agendas but growing as companies discover the benefits. A recent white paper published by the Incentive Marketing Association’s Performance Improvement Council found that increasing numbers of incentive travel programs are successfully incorporating CSR activities that aid the community being visited. In addition, the paper cited examples of how, once companies introduce CSR, the efforts tend to grow. “It becomes an institution, with everyone from the CEO on down supporting it,” said Scott Siewart, vice president of sales, USMotivation.

That was the case for ING’s Director, Conventions and Conference Planning Jana Stern, who had always included some CSR initiatives in her incentive programs, such as asking participants to bring a donation for an orphanage, or toiletries for the Ronald McDonald House. But this year, for a program in South Africa, she incorporated a benefit for a local nonprofit called MonkeyBiz, which was founded by a pair of artists to help local women who live in extreme poverty earn money by making beaded gift items.

“The co-founders decided that if they could provide materials to these women, and a channel to sell their crafts, it would be an opportunity for them to earn money while still staying home, which was part of their culture,” she explains.

On the first night in Cape Town, qualifiers received a small beaded key chain and a card describing the organization, which could be turned in for one beaded gift. “We set up the lobby with all the beaded purses, animals, and dolls, and also had two of the women from the organization beading and chatting with the group. There were more than enough items for each couple to get one item, but they also had the opportunity to purchase more, and they did!”

Stern says the response from attendees has been very positive. “And once you do it once, you have to keep going! It will build momentum.”

At Cisco, the Chairman’s Club incentive, which recently won a 2012 Crystal Award from Site for its CSR efforts, started a CSR event that involves using bean bag chairs for the final-night concert and then donating the chairs to local preschools and shelters after the close of the program. The donations were made on behalf of the Chairman’s Club winners and hosts.

“I had the pleasure of delivering the donations, and it was one of the most fulfilling and uplifting days in my career. We plan to do something similar this year,” says Ken Welch, senior manager, rewards and recognition at Cisco.

At Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Dan Young reports they have added another charity, Room to Read, around its Peak Performers incentive conference, which already donates to three nonprofits. During last year’s conference, Room to Read’s founder, John Wood, was a keynote speaker and many attendees asked that his organization—which promotes literacy and gender equality in education—be included in future CSR efforts.

The $110,000 goal ($100,000 to be raised by participants and $10,000 committed by President and CEO Brad Hewitt) will include at least $50,000 to Room to Read to help build a large school dedicated to Thrivent Financial, and the rest to the other nonprofits.

Thrivent also funds a service trip for its top financial reps to do a service project trip instead of attending their incentive conference. “Our field staff loves all these options,” Young says.

More information on CSR programs.