Service projects have become a staple fixture of events. But some projects can leave you wondering how effective they are, and who really benefits. This fall students in the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Sustainable Event Management Program were challenged to create a diversity of event concepts that show-and-tell the secrets to effective event CSR. This blog post provides a snapshot of their creative ideas.
Future event CSR professionals at work: BCIT event marketing students volunteering at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.
Fall in love with a cause
Find and work on an issue that moves you, because odds are it will move others, too.
The moving story of a young girl subject to bullying and racism drew Teyemtenot Thomas to develop a community event-based outreach campaign for Orange Shirt Day. Phyllis Webstad’s orange shirt has become a symbol of the need for kindness, community-building and reconciliation regarding the difficult legacy of Canada’s residential schools. Teyem’s event concept took Phyllis’ story and the message of Orange Shirt Day out of the classroom, where it has been traditionally shared, to promote understanding among new audiences through interactive experiences at public events in her community.
Tap new business opportunities
From fixing a problem to opening up new markets, you never know where opportunities for event CSR might spark.
Justine Diersch’s event concept emerged from disappointment that a fitness app she wanted to use didn’t operate in her region: "Fitness and giving back are both very prominent aspects of my life that I am always striving to do more of in a better way. Apps can be a great tool to achieve both of these, but few do it together and even fewer serve a Canadian market that speaks to personal causes close to my home.”
Charity Miles enables anyone to become a sponsored athlete by simply turning on the app, choosing a charity and pressing start whenever they head out for a bike ride, walk or run. Users earn up to 10 cents per mile for their charity, care of corporate sponsors. Justine’s event campaign outlined a plan to launch the app in Canada, by engaging Canadian charities, corporate sponsors and users in a 30 Day Challenge and Kick-off Event.
Make a human connection
Some causes are important, but difficult to engage in. Spotlighting a human connection can help promote engagement.
While some solutions to climate change tout technical and scientific solutions, Arashdeep Bopari’s project tackled the complex problem by giving it a human dimension. “We are faced with floods and droughts every year in different parts of the world as a result of global warming. My event is about ensuring sustainability for farmers by raising needed funds for rice seeds which grow in either flooded or drought-stricken conditions.” Arash’s gala dinner fundraiser connects the effects of climate change to real issues farming families are experiencing, helping us connect to the issue of climate change on a more personal level.
Ensure everyone wins
Effective event CSR experiences create equal benefits.
Ekaterina Potapova’s CSR concept was born out of frustration with food waste she sees daily at a local restaurant where she works. “My CSR project’s goal is to make people in the event industry think responsibly about food waste and realize the financial consequences of it.”
Ekaterina sketched out a plan to create a catering business that puts the problem of food waste front and centre in a variety of ways, including using imperfect, seasonal produce from local farms, practicing food donation to those in need and educating customers about waste-wise practices they can do at home. Her view is that such practices allow farmers, customers, the needy, and her business to benefit: creating win-wins across the board.
Address root problems, not just symptoms
Move past superficial efforts and focus on the cause, not just the effect.
Kristina Woo’s Sleepless Nights event challenges the concept of pledge-based sleepovers to go further in addressing root causes of homelessness. Rather than settling for a comfortable sleepover in a church or workplace that raises funds for homeless shelters, Kristina’s event adds programming that includes the homeless in the event. Direct access to skills and employability programs are provided to the homeless by service groups, with sponsors of the event sleeping over at an outdoor location to bring awareness to the problem, and real solutions.
"Developing Sleepless Night, I was fortunate to stumble across Streetohome: an organization dedicated to preventing the issue of homelessness in Vancouver. Once I had a thorough understanding of their mission and values, my strategy was to align my project to match their core principles, creating needed solutions,” states Kristina.
Make it fun
Just because charities do serious work doesn’t mean events supporting them can’t be fun.
Kateryna Gyrenko shares her take on her project, which involved introducing bike lovers in her home city to the Bamboo Bike Project: "Many serious issues exist in today's world. And there are fun and creative ways of responsibly solving global problems step by step with the help of events.” Centering on a fun race, Kateryna’s event participants work in teams to build and ride bamboo bikes in order to help address the serious problems of climate change, poverty, and unemployment. Funds are also raised to support the purchase of bamboo bikes in Ghana.
Ensure it is relevant and accessible
Hit the mark with your audience and destination by ensuring your charitable project makes relevant and accessible connections.
For Kathlene Salem, the serious problem of water access in the developing world and drought in her home city were connected and addressed through a fun water-education experience during World Water Week, including a Water Jug Walk and Do-It-Yourself Water Filtration Activity. Activities were planned in support of Charity: Water and designed to be inclusive of any skill-set. "One of the main goals of my CSR project was to engage my audience through fun and interactive activities to highlight the important issue of the water crisis. By providing appealing educational activities, it brought an element of creativity while maintaining relevance,” states Kathlene.
Pick a theme that fits
Find a charity partnership and that aligns with the theme and character of your event.
The warm, comforting feeling of hot chocolate inspired Olga Chernega to develop a CSR project for an existing Hot Chocolate Festival that encourages residents to visit local cafes to sip specialty hot chocolate. Her concept arranged for cafes to collect a small donation on each cup of hot chocolate sold to raise funds for local children in need, and supported creation of a new community Hot Chocolate event for children. “When it comes to children’s charities, they are always full of kindness and thoughtfulness, just like the feeling of hot chocolate which is the theme for this event,” Chernega adds.
Align your logistics with the cause
You can have the most brilliant CSR concept in the world, but if your logistics work against your aim it can defeat the purpose.
“The success of an event relies on multiple factors - an important one being the consideration of CSR. You can't have an event dedicated to saving the planet if you leave an irreversible footprint that screams ‘I was here’,” says Ron Sz, whose event concept highlighted how important it is for planning logistics to align with event CSR objectives. Ron’s “Save the Meese” charity trail run for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was not only directed at raising funds for species protection, but being held in a wilderness area, also adopted zero-footprint logistics. Ideas included keeping high-impact activities - like registration and food service - to areas of the site designed to be densely used, and training litter crews to ensure a “leave no trace” ethic was followed.
When I started instructing event marketing students in corporate social responsibility for events earlier this year, I felt pressured to have all the answers about what makes a good charitable project for an event. Turns out I didn’t need to worry, as their classroom CSR projects have many great tips to offer. Much like these great students do, as future event professionals!