Successful Meetings – August 13, 2007
"Incentive Travel: Motivated to Volunteer"
by Vince Alonzo
Barbara Blumhof, manager of trade shows and events for the Harrison, NY-based Citi Commercial Business Group, always thought that her incentive qualifiers didn’t like team- building events. But, last year, when she organized an activity on the lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort in Jamaica to build beehives for the nearby All Island Bee Farmers Association, a farm cooperative, she was surprised to see that 175 of her 400 attendees had given up their free time to construct the honey-collecting wooden boxes. “Had we known the event would be so successful, we would have brought materials down to build many more units,” she says. “We only built 30. We could have easily done twice that number.”
That response didn’t come as a surprise to Alan Ranzer, executive director of Impact4Good, an East Hanover, NJ-based company that organizes socially conscious teambuilding activities. Ranzer organized the beehive building event for Citigroup’s top sales people. “There is a growing interest among many incentive groups to do this. I do find that people are looking outside of the resort, and that’s something that’s kind of new and interesting,” says Ranzer.
Incentive groups go to a resort destination and find a very comfortable world inside that resort. They’re sheltered from the harsh issues that are usually right on the other side of the fence. And traditionally, that’s been the goal of incentive programs-to keep that fence right where it is. But now groups are looking for more opportunities to break down that fence symbolically and see what they can do to make the other side of it a better place for the locals. “There’s got to be a way we can help-that’s what people are saying and we’re definitely seeing a lot more interest in interacting with the host community on incentives, both domestically and internationally,” says Ranzer.
But incorporating a community-oriented charitable activity into an incentive program presents some unique challenges compared to a meeting or convention. Here are some tips on how to do it right.
The Match Game
One of the challenges on the incentive side is that the attendees have earned this reward-they’re on a great trip, they’ve worked hard to get there. You have to have something that’s not going to seem like it’s too much, shall we say, work. You need to match the program with the group. “That’s really important,” says Ranzer. “An incentive winner might not want to go and get all dirty building a house and really get hip-deep in the squalor and harsh reality of a rural area in destination. The great thing about the Citigroup program was they were able to do something on site that still gave back to the community. Know who you’re working with and know if the program is a good fit-that’s the important thing.”
The destination has to be right as well. After the success of the beehive event, there was a groundswell of interest among the Citigroup attendees to include more socially conscious activities. “This event had a tremendous impact on the attendees,” says Blumhof. “Many of them came up to me after it was over, saying they wanted to make this a regular itinerary option on all future incentive programs. They were coming to me with all kinds of suggestions for what we could do.”
But success proved a bit more elusive this year when the group went to Bermuda.
“When we went to Bermuda this year it didn’t work out, because there’s basically no poverty in Bermuda. So what we ended up doing was making a large donation to the Bermuda National Trust, a non-profit conservation organization,” she says. “It was a difficult location for charity. Could we have raked the beach? Yes we could have, but it just wouldn’t have the same impact as helping people in a way that would really make a difference in their lives.”
So Citigroup opted for the donation in the attendees’ names. Each attendee was given a brochure telling them exactly what the Bermuda National Trust does when the donation was announced to the group. “It wasn’t as dramatic as the beehive event, but it did fulfill the desire of most of the group to incorporate a socially responsible component into the program,” says Blumhof.
Do’s and Don’ts of Combining Volunteerism with Incentives
DON’T forget the attendees are winners. They earned the trip. Even when they’re giving to others, always acknowledge that it’s all about them. Right now, volunteer opportunities are optional itinerary choices in traditional incentive programs. “I don’t know of any organizations that are offering incentive qualifiers a choice between a week of volunteer work somewhere or a lavish incentive in a resort destination,” says Alan Ranzer, executive director of Impact4Good, an East Hanover, NJ-based company that organizes socially conscious teambuilding activities. “But the itinerary option is where volunteer work is thriving in incentive programs. Making it mandatory could be demotivating. Make it voluntary, but make the activity intriguing enough that people want to get involved-that’s the key to incorporating this into an incentive program.”
DO keep on top of the logistics. Find out if you need to get approval by governments if you are going to be bringing materials into the country and leaving them there. It can be a hassle if your paperwork is not in order. Barbara Blumhof, manager of trade shows and events for the Harrison, NY-based Citi Commercial Business Group, had to jump through hoops to leave a giant Jamaican flag on the island when she brought her group there for an incentive last year. “The manager of our office in Kingston wanted to keep it but we couldn’t leave it in Jamaica without paying a huge tax. So we had to ship it back to Chicago, and then ship it back to Jamaica. Anything you bring to the island that doesn’t go back with you can be a problem,” she says.
DON’T show up bearing tons of gifts. You have to be aware that you are entering another culture and you don’t want to look like you are trying to impose your culture on them. That’s not what this is about. “This is about broadening your horizons and learning about other cultures while you help the people there,” says Julia Braganza, spokesperson for the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network. “And there is a perception around the world that Americans are gluttons for material items and we don’t want to reinforce the image that we’re dumping our materialistic values on them. We want to share our culture and bring items to do that. Things that will help us tell the story of our culture.”
DO make sure everyone’s papers are in order. Most U.S. citizens still do not have passports and, with all the uncertainty surrounding the implementation date of new travel requirements for going abroad, it’s best to make sure these details are taken care of as early as possible.
DON’T schedule a program towards the end of the year, especially if you are doing a week-long Habitat for Humanity trip. This period is usually very hard for people to find the time for a trip due to the holidays and the end-of-year deadlines at work.
DO make sure everyone’s health is in order.
DON’T leave your legal department out of the loop. There are a host of liability issues and international laws that you’ll need answers to in order to avoid getting surprised once your group is in country.
DO name a “head honcho.” A lot details need to be addressed. The attendees will have many questions and that adds up to tons of information that has to be communicated in all different directions. It’s best to have one point-person to traffic it all.