Like so much else in meetings, it seems, the secret to a successful community service project lies in this word: engagement.
“We wanted people to make a connection to the local community. We wanted people to leave here knowing they weren’t just making a donation, but were connected to the community,” said Ira Almeas, president of Impact 4 Good in West Orange, New Jersey. His company organized a charitable drive for the poor families of Casa San Juan Diego, a shelter in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was the corporate social responsibility (CSR) element of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) Invitational at Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort in June.
Attendees brought clothing and school supplies to the Invitational, and also gave cash to pay for canned goods that would be donated to the shelter. The donated cans — 1,200 of them — eventually formed a tall pyramid rising from the floor of the meeting hall. Participants were given note cards on which to write personal notes to the families of Casa San Juan Diego, and several volunteers from the shelter came to the Invitational to meet their benefactors.
It was all about making an emotional connection, Almeas said. “We wanted the IRF attendees to feel like they were contributing.” It was much more meaningful than just giving a can of food or some coloring books to an unseen recipient.
These recipients sent their appreciation quickly. “We fondly appreciate the donation,” wrote Father Juvencio Gonzalez, the shelter’s director, in a letter to Invitational attendees, “since we serve every day about 150 breakfasts for children, mothers and homeless.”
Gonzalez said private donations like those from the IRF are important to the shelter. “Casa San Juan Diego has no official support but only from the donations of friends and visitors,” he wrote. “All kinds of donation are important for us.”
Casa San Juan Diego provides food, clothing and temporary shelter to children and families, but also works on long-term needs such as nutrition education, job training and family education. “The primary focus of the shelter is to care for children,” said Almeas. The center serves the whole family, from unemployed parents to single mothers who need child-care help while working. “All of these people as well as the homeless population in the community rely on the generosity of Casa San Juan Diego.”
Almeas’ company is “a socially conscious team building company with a unique twist: all of our activities give back to the community.” It has brought meeting attendees together by having them work in support of philanthropic causes including education, the military, economic development and the environment.
The program for Casa San Juan Diego was a perfect match for the IRF, said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the organization:
“Corporate Social Responsibility projects are a core part of IRF culture. Not only through research do we see CSR as a key component of successful incentive travel programs, but from our own individual experiences we know how meaningful it can be to connect through a place by serving its people.
“We look for projects that support some aspect of our host city’s people directly and individually. Casa San Juan Diego is an amazing mission that serves hundreds of children and families in the area daily. It’s a great organization that we were happy to support.”