Most companies have some type of corporate responsibility program, and meeting planners are increasingly asked to incorporate charitable activities into meetings and incentive programs. Choosing an activity can be a challenge, given the need to match the program to the corporate script, the meeting theme, and most important, the participating attendees.

Last October, Mountain View, Calif.–based Symantec hosted 2,400 sales engineers and technical partners from around the world at a training event in Las Vegas. Ashely Muntan, event marketing manager, and Michelle West, marketing events specialist, planners of the event, needed a giveback activity that would allow for networking and teambuilding, that could compete with the other entertainment options in Vegas, and that would help to tell the story of the meeting, which was themed “Get Geared Up.”

“We didn’t want to keep them cooped up in the ballroom all night, but we did need to feed them, and we wanted to create a giveback opportunity,” Muntan says. “Engineers want to build things. They want to touch things. So we asked, ‘What could they tangibly do that would also allow networking?’”

Working with Alan Ranzer, managing partner of Impact 4 Good, a Washington, D.C.–based firm that facilitates community service projects at meetings, they came up with a multi-station dinner-hour event. Attendees could engage with the project at whatever level they wanted—or not at all.

The event theme, “Get Geared Up for the Future,” determined the atmospherics: futuristic music and black-and-white sci-fi movie video loops. The project was a customized version of Impact 4 Good’s Go Green Racing solar-car event. At one station, participants created 1,500 packages of parts for working model solar cars. Another station allowed the engineers to actually build the model cars. And finally, there was the “Solar Championship”—a chance for those who built cars to race them against each other. (Attendees directed flashlights toward the cars’ solar receptors to power them.) All cars and car-part packages were donated to local Boys and Girls Clubs. The event was a hit. “The best practice is to set participants up for success and to have them actually do something,” Muntan says. “That’s where you get the sense of pride.”

Giving Back at Financial Services Meetings on the Rise

Alan Ranzer of Impact 4 Good says giveback projects are “more popular now than ever” in the financial services industry.

“Financial and insurance companies got hit hard by the AIG effect. Now they are leaders, in my opinion, in creating giveback programs.” During his breakout session at the 2010 Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Association Annual Conference, he notes, “I asked what attendees were doing and we didn’t have enough time to get through everyone because they were doing so much.

“The best way to choose a giveback program is to make it personal—to find causes that clients care about most, and ensure that the event gives back to them, no matter what industry the client is from. Insurance and financial meeting planners make that link. They get it.” For those who haven’t done giveback programs, Ranzer emphasizes that you need not go off site for hours. Attendees can make a difference during a coffee break, packing bags for victims of a natural disaster or sorting items for a local food pantry.

He also offers a note of caution: Know the limits of your beneficiaries. “Often we have big-hearted people with great ideas who expect the recipient organization to plan everything. The organizations want your help, but they don’t have planners on staff.”