Giving back to the local community has become a tradition at Financial & Insurance Conference Planners events. At FICP’s annual conference, a silent auction typically raises tens of thousands of dollars for the designated nonprofit organization. And at the FICP Education Forum, a smaller annual gathering, the association raises money through a raffle while also incorporating aservice activity into the agenda so that attendees have a more personal way to give.

This year, nearly 200 Forum attendees packed 100 boxes of food, decorated and donated 100 shopping bags, and raised more than $3,000 from a raffle, all to benefit the Lowcountry Food Bank, which distributes more than 17 million pounds of food a year among the 10 coastal counties of South Carolina. (FICP’s raffle prize was a four-night trip donated by Buy the Sea, Amstar, and American Airlines.)

Behind the Scenes
For the June program, the Education Forum design team originally looked at a nonprofit organization whose leader was a compelling keynote speaker. However, because the beneficiaries of this group’s work were not local, and making an impact locally was FICP’s primary goal, it was back to the drawing board. Chris Gilbert, a design-team member and national sales manager at Charleston Place, host of the Forum, told the team about an initiative that local chefs had started to help hungry families in greater Charleston, and this led the team to settle on hunger as the issue that FICP’s giveback activity would address.

“I learned a new term,” says Forum Chair Jana Stern, director, conventions & conference planning, at ING. “When people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they are ‘food insecure.’ In the United States, more than one out of six children live in a food-insecure household. And South Carolina ranks in the top 10 states in terms of food insecurity among children, with child hunger rates at or above 20 percent.”

Stern’s comments point up an enormous added benefit of all giveback activities: They spread awareness. And this holds true no matter how small the project—an important point, considering that meeting agendas today tend to be jampacked.

Finding the Time
“Time is the most common constraint” for organizations that do community service projects at meetings, says Alan Ranzer, managing partner, Impact 4 Good. FICP hired Ranzer to help research local nonprofits in Charleston, identify the activity, and manage the logistics of the project. “Companies can’t take a day or even four or five hours to do a traditional service activity like a park cleanup or a rec center rehab.”

In fact, he says, the trend is not toward “short and sweet” activities (two-hour projects); rather, it’s toward “even shorter and sweeter” options. “Planners are integrating the project into an existing activity—for example, a reception, a break, or the arrival day.” With that in mind, the Forum design team considered the slots in the Charleston agenda and decided to look at the evenings. One evening’s activity was a dinearound: The group would be scattered, making that an unworkable choice. Another evening involved a transfer to an outdoor reception and dinner at Wild Dunes Resort. Choosing that had its challenges as well. First, the project would have to be doable in an outdoor setting. And second, it couldn’t detract too much from the evening planned by the property, a major Forum sponsor.

The solution: FICP purchased food items to fill 100 boxes for Lowcountry Food Bank, with each box providing nearly a week’s worth of food for a family of four. Attendees arrived at the reception and had the option of walking a food “assembly line” and filling a box. Adding a creative element to the activity, FICP also provided 100 canvas shopping bags that attendees could decorate and that would be included with the food boxes.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Stern says. “Our members and event attendees are eager to give back to the communities where we meet. Seeing the work that is being done at the organizations we partner with drives us to continue this initiative. The networking and camaraderie that naturally comes from helping others is an added bonus.”

The activity met FICP’s parameters—it was quick, it was optional, and it had a significant impact on the local nonprofit, LCFB, whose food solicitor, Amy Kosar, was on hand to answer questions about the organization and its work. “Attendees’ hard work, commitment, and compassion will have a profound effect on our community,” Kosar says. “The 100 food boxes packed for children and families, as well as FICP’s financial contribution, will provide more than 30,000 meals for the many people in South Carolina who are in need.”

Keep It Simple
Ranzer of Impact 4 Good worked with LCFB to find out what exact food items would be most helpful, and in what quantities, and then Impact 4 Good staff stacked and organized the food items, labeling each with the appropriate quantities for the boxes. This made it simple for attendees to load them up.

One of the key things FICP did well with its Forum project, Ranzer says, was introduce the Lowcountry Food Bank through a four-minute video during a general session earlier in the day. “That raised the awareness among attendees of the importance of the cause,” he notes. After showing the video, Stern reviewed exactly what the attendees would be doing—packing boxes and decorating bags—if they chose to participate.

“One of the neat things about this was that you could do as much or as little as you wanted,” Stern points out, “It added an element to the meeting that we are all looking for. It can be hard, back in our own individual offices, to figure out how to add CSR activities to our events. This was an easy way to do something that was truly beneficial.”

Meeting professionals can manage these types of activities by working directly with local or national nonprofit organizations. Or, for planners without the time or resources to research charitable groups or manage the logistics of the activities they would like to do, a company like Impact 4 Good can be a good partner.

“One of my first question to any company is, ‘What are you trying to achieve?’” says Alan Ranzer. “I also ask what they care about as an organization.” Nine times out of 10, he says, the answers are right on the corporate Web site, embedded in a mission statement or list of values. That’s a great start toward identifying a beneficiary and an activity that aligns with the corporate culture.

He’ll then create a budget for the project that includes his fee, research, staffing, logistics, and materials. For more information and examples of teambuilding projects organized by philanthropic cause, visit the Impact 4 Good Web site.