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September 2005 - Feature Article 1

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Inbound VolunTourism: The CEO Dilemma - - Part I


SEPTEMBER 2005 - Home


So You May Know
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Stop me if you've heard this one before: "As a company we really like to support 'XYZ Charity,'" says Ms/Mr. CEO. "So we want to make sure to deliver services to this organization while we are in your destination."

I recently had a potential client come for a site visit and initial discussion with me regarding the creation and implementation of a VolunTourism event for attendees of their annual gathering. Great folks, indeed; any time a corporate group approaches me for these types of functions I become a little giddy with the prospects. An extremely ambitious group they were and definitely interested in delivering a positive social impact to the destination. One challenge, however, loomed largely over the entire conversation:

"You see, Mr. Clemmons, the CEO of our company has a 'pet charity' - one with which he has had experience serving in the past and very much appreciated. He is convinced that no matter what it takes, we should be able to work with this organization to serve your destination."

Major Dilemma!!

Story Time

I used to work for a Cause Marketing Firm in San Diego, CA. The firm was, and is still called, Catalyst Marketing. The President of the company used to tell a great story when introducing the concept of cause marketing to those that were unfamiliar with the practice of combining corporate marketing with the support of a social cause or issue.


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In the mid-'80s, the CEO of Kinney Shoes (now Foot Locker) gave a task to his PR Firm. He said that he wanted to give $1million to AIDS/HIV research and that the PR Firm had the responsibility of designing and delivering a major publicity campaign regarding the generosity and foresight of Kinney Shoes to be supporting such a cause.

If you have the power to give away $1million you also have the power to hire a pretty smart group of folks as your PR Firm. And this PR Firm was a smart group indeed.

They suggested that a little research be conducted to determine the demographics of Kinney Shoes' consumers. Here are some of the questions that they asked:

What is your life situation - how many kids do you have? what is your marital status? how many jobs do you work? what is your annual income? (And additional demographics questions.)

But in a sharp move, they also asked respondents the following question:

"What cause or issue is most important to you?"

As it turns out they discovered something unique about their clientele. Women, primarily, were their consumer group - but not just any women. These women had roughly two jobs, 2.5 kids, and no spouse. AIDS/HIV was not their big concern, CHILDCARE was!

Needless to say, Kinney Shoes embarked on a strategic partnership with 20 child care facilities and distributed $50,000 to each one to support the development of additional programming and staff hiring & training to meet the needs of communities in which Kinney Shoes had operations. In the following months, Kinney Shoes had an 18% increase in sales in the communities in which they supported these programs.

The Moral of the Story

VolunTourism should not be a hobby enjoined upon by companies to afford their employees a "feel good" experience. VolunTourism is meant to be both strategic and beneficial to all parties - especially destination residents. Philanthropy should not be an exercise in scattering dollars or voluntary service to either the "biggest organization in the village" or the one with which everyone is familiar.

Most often it is grassroots organizations that have an incredible awareness of the needs of a given community. Do the research that puts your company or association in direct contact with these entities. Ask them what the needs of the community and its residents are. They will be able to tell you with greater accuracy, via their direct contact with local issues and challenges, exactly what needs are to be addressed and where effort can be leveraged to generate tremendous results.

If you are a VolunTourism Operator or Supplier, it is your duty to assist companies and associations, especially their CEO's and key decision makers, in understanding that companies and/or associations should align the causes that they support with either their consumer base, their employee base, their stakeholders, their suppliers, or the products and services that they offer.

AS LONG AS these are in alignment with the needs of a destination and its residents, VolunTourism can be strategic. If, however, the needs of the destination do not align with these elements, then the resulting efforts will be considered as strictly philanthropic.

[Granted, in the case of relief work, like that which is required in Southeast Asia and soon will be required in the Southern U.S., the need may or may not align strategically with business practices. In this instance, the need is greater than the mutually beneficial practice of strategically aligning need with business practices via voluntary service. The need simply outweighs the potential to be strategic, so you must support the need!]

Why is this so important?!?

If you are a nonprofit organization that is developing VolunTourism activities and events for a corporation or association, you need to demonstrate the "value" in your services. There should be no question in the mind of your client as to why you should be paid for the services that you offer.

If you are a destination management company or a hotel, you are already accustomed to receiving compensation for your services. But you should also be aware of why it is necessary to pay nonprofit organizations for the elements that they provide in supporting your VolunTourism activities for clients. They are your suppliers just as any other vendor may be. The value of their contribution should be understood and held worthy of adequate compensation.

Part II

In Part II, I will provide a simple step-by-step process of how to assist a company and/or association in reviewing the various components of its business activities - consumers, employees, stakeholders, suppliers, and products/services - in order to have a selection of social challenges which can be addressed through VolunTourism projects and events.

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