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Four Questions for a Winning Event CSR Project

By Shawna McKinley
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Puppy cuddling and bike building are very nice, but do they create a better event? And if they did, how would you know?

CSR for Event Planning

Event professionals embed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects into events for altruistic reasons: to give back without the expectation to get in return. However CSR projects that consider only the beneficiary or the donor can fall short of expectations, and be short-lived. So do embed a give-back aspect into your event because you want to create real benefit for others, and ask these questions to ensure it also delivers event and sponsor brand-value.

Does It Build Trust?

Today it seems there is a ribbon or a wristband for everything. Company causes and days of service have become part of a license to operate, and many events are following suit. This proliferation of cause-oriented marketing makes some attendees a bit cynical, so pursue event CSR efforts that are sincere and transparent. Seek, measure and share feedback from the recipient about benefits created, as well as the costs.

Ensure the project is not a burden on their operations and creates a lasting legacy. Take care to execute logistics for the activity mindfully, in a way that aligns with your intention and protects you from becoming the target of criticism. This includes things as basic as making sure your shoreline clean-up provides reusable bottles for refreshments, instead of disposable ones.

Measure this by: Participant testimonials, beneficiary feedback, evaluations and reports, and consumer report indexes (i.e. most trust-worthy brands).

CSRKitsStart

Does It Engage Participants Beyond the Event?

A brief, event-specific volunteer project can do good things. A CSR project that extends beyond one onsite experience can do great things! This is particularly important to consider if you do multiple events.

Can you choose a cause or a charity that can apply to many events, thereby increasing potential benefit over time? Look for a service objective that is fairly universal--such as improving literacy or health--so it is relevant wherever you go.

Consider aligning with a group that has local chapter networks to achieve your service aims in different locations. Also brainstorm how your project can be socialized during the experience so that the message is amplified beyond your onsite audience. Create a project-specific hashtag for tweets, videos and photos that can be extended if the project is repeated at other events or is part of a broader consumer program.

Measure the by: Number of volunteers, actions, and service hours, financial contributions and social media reach.

CSRSocial

Does It Meaningfully Contribute?

Strategic CSR projects can help elevate your event experience from functional to truly meaningful. This relies on two conditions:

1) making an authentic and real contribution to solving a problem that improves quality of life for beneficiaries and
2) providing feedback to participants about the difference this makes. This feedback loop enhances attendees’ sense of connection to something greater than themselves and your event: the feeling they’ve used their time, skills and involvement in your experience to contribute something worthwhile to the world around them.

This feeling affirms their self-worth and their choice to attend and actively participate in the event and your organization.

Measure this by: Beneficiary evaluations and reports, attendee evaluations.

CSRNote

Does It Result in People Caring About my Event, too?

Achieving real benefit for others through an event CSR project is the top priority, but can the goodwill created also help attach people to your event and brand? Unless the purpose of your event is a cause unto itself, odds are that a CSR project is a footnote to the main event.

But even as a side-show, a well-designed project can contribute a sense of attachment and connection to your event that promotes positive word-of-mouth, market differentiation, new and repeat attendance, and year-round engagement in your brand. It may not be the reason people care about and attend your event, but it makes them a fan of what you do and how you do it. This feeling of social good and connection can help to improve event viability and strengthen brand.

Measure this by: Social media engagement, media tracking, attendance, sponsorship support.

CSRKitsFin

In Conclusion

Most people know a successful event CSR project by the sparkle it leaves in the air. That lingering warm-fuzzy feeling that is both fleeting and whimsical. But it’s not all magic. When engineered thoughtfully, strategic CSR projects fulfill a real social need while helping attach event participants to each other, your sponsors, your event and your brand. What questions do you ask to ensure this feeling is intentionally designed and not a happy accident?

about the author

Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon-conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants.She is an accomplished sustainability consultant, event planner, author, and instructor. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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