Volunteer work has become an integral aspect of the meetings industry, especially as more individuals look to use business travel as an opportunity to give back to the communities they visit. In addition, many corporations and associations have adopted a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program as part of their core mission.
Volunteer projects foster team building, provide a refreshing alternative to traditional meeting activities and allow attendees to engage with the local community on a more intimate level. These endeavors can entail anything from hosting a charity dinner to beautifying the surrounding area with gardens or murals.
“It humbles you and gives you such a great feeling to take back with you,” said Tara Letort, director of group public relations at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘We’ve never done a community project before,’ and when they leave, they say, ‘It’s going to be part of our standard programming now.’”
To learn more about some of the ways planners can incorporate volunteer efforts into their meetings, we spoke with tourist organizations from New Orleans; Galveston, Texas; and Monterey, California. Here is what they had to say.
Find the Right Project for Your Group
Many cities have started listing volunteer projects and programs on their tourism website, making a priority of connecting visitors with local charities. To learn more about the best organizations to partner with, planners can get in touch with a professional from the convention and visitors bureau.
“We can actually make a connection between nonprofits and planners, recommending volunteer opportunities to groups based on number, day and time, as well as their specific mission and interests,” said Letort.
There are also many online resources that help event planners locate community service projects, such as GivingGood. On the GivingGood website, planners can click on their destination of choice, browse a list of local nonprofits and then get in touch with the business to coordinate a visit or a volunteer event.
Tie in the Local Scenery or Culture
According to Leah Cast, director of communications at the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, many meeting attendees enjoy volunteer work that corresponds to the local environment or culture. Beachfront destinations like Galveston Island often host Adopt-a-Beach programs, which involve clearing ocean debris that could be harmful to wildlife from beaches.
“Galveston is home to a third of the world’s migratory birds, so debris can be a serious hazard,” said Cast.
Due to the tide patterns in the Gulf of Mexico, a significant amount of trash washes up along the coast. Since the founding of Adopt-a-Beach in 1986, volunteers have removed more than 17,000 pounds of trash from the Texas coastline, making it one of the most successful volunteer programs in the country.
Groups could also combine volunteer efforts with enjoying the local sites, such as an Adopt-a-Beach event followed by a beach bonfire. More artistic groups may gravitate toward a beautification project, like painting murals, planting gardens or revitalizing playgrounds.
“I think that attendees take away a deeper connection to the local community,” said Cast. “When they leave, they feel good knowing that they didn’t just come and stay at their hotel; they left a valuable footprint on the destination.”