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December 2005 - Feature Article 1

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FEATURE ARTICLE 1

Inbound VolunTourism: The Evolution Of A Service Legacy

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The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has been delivering service to destinations as a part of its annual meetings for more than a decade. Here's what's new with these pioneers of Business VolunTourism...

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has a rich history of giving back. The organization started the Network for the Needy (NFTN) in 1990. Fifteen years later, PCMA is embarking on a new project called Service In Sync. In order to better understand the progress from those early years, I asked the manager of the Service In Sync event to share with us PCMA’s journey to the present.

Sarah Corradino took over the helm of PCMA’s Network for the Needy program earlier this year. Here is what she had to say in response to my queries:

David: Sarah, can you tell us about Service in Sync? What life path brought you to be in charge of this new initiative?

Sarah:

Our members in the meetings and convention industry are very passionate about giving back to the communities that have made them successful. PCMA’s 1 st Annual Service in Sync event was developed in order to provide all PCMA members across the United States and Canada with the opportunity to engage in a “hands on” community service project on the same day; the event took place on November 2 nd. Project highlights included: making care packages for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, volunteering at food banks, serving meals to the elderly and cancer patients, building a bike path at a children’s home, and making USO care packages for those serving in the military. Click here for pictures and press release.

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Before joining PCMA, I spent two years in the US Peace Corps as a community development volunteer; so the transition to managing community service programs at PCMA was a good fit. I also studied public service management in graduate school which provided a solid foundation for working with volunteers.

David: PCMA founded the Network for the Needy (NFTN) as a means to recycle leftover food from conventions. Can you tell us a little more about this development?

Sarah: PCMA’s activities and members revolve around the meetings & hospitality industry. Since food is such a large part of this industry, and there’s usually leftover food at meeting events, PCMA simply wanted to make sure it was being put to good use instead of ending up in a dumpster. More importantly, PCMA prides itself on delivering the most innovative education in the meetings industry so NFTN was a natural gateway to extend this education in order to include the practice of donating food from meetings and convention events.

David: In what year did PCMA shift from the donation of food to incorporate more of a voluntary service model in conjunction with their annual meeting and what led to the transition?

Sarah: It happened almost immediately! PCMA’s larger Chapters started organizing projects in their local communities and the spirit of service simply caught on. PCMA recognized that members placed a high value on coming together and networking for the sake of helping the community and started to include community service events at the PCMA Annual Meeting.

David: Service In Sync is not the only voluntary service program that PCMA developed. Can you give us details and a chronological history of the other programs leading to the development of Service In Sync?

Sarah: In 1994 PCMA held their first Party With a Purpose —a huge networking event at the PCMA Annual Meeting that donates a portion of the proceeds to a charity in the Annual Meeting host city. Around the same time, PCMA started Hospitality Helping Hands where over 100 Annual Meeting attendees step out of the convention center and into a neighborhood in the host city to participate in a community beautification project.

In the late 90’s PCMA started to encourage the donation of trade show and convention products by collaborating with Gifts in Kind International. PCMA also began organizing collection drives at their Annual Meeting because it was a quick and simple way to involve all members in contributing to a community service initiative.

Last year, Network for the Needy Committee members expressed an interest in having a “day of service”, where all PCMA members could participate in a “hands on” community service project, seeing that the Annual Meeting Hospitality Helping Hands event sells out quickly every year. In 2005, Service in Sync came to fruition. PCMA is confident that each year the event will grow to include more members and industry professionals.

David: How does PCMA support its members in establishing these types of programs within the structure of their respective chapters, operations, and activities?

Sarah: PCMA promotes Chapter activities through both print and electronic news both before and after Chapter events. This increases participation and allows Chapters to exchange ideas and best practices. Members also have access to a “community service” tool kit which provides resources for building awareness and assessing outcomes of Chapter community service events.

David: What types of evaluative measures and tools does PCMA utilize to determine the impact of these programs on member participants, PCMA itself, and the destinations that are served through PCMA efforts?

Sarah: PCMA asks each Chapter that participates in a community service activity to report their outcomes in terms of money donated, time volunteered, food sorted, etc. Members are also asked to provide ‘best practices’ for organizing specific types of events so the information can be shared among PCMA’s 16 Chapters.

David: What have been some of the internal benefits that PCMA has realized as a result of expanding the Network for the Needy program to include a more direct, “hands-on” approach?

Sarah: PCMA’s commitment to community service initiatives has raised awareness of PCMA among industry professionals and the general public. Internally, this awareness can draw new membership and sponsorship dollars. Members actually arrive at the PCMA Annual Meeting a day early to participate in Hospitality Helping Hands; it generates a lot of excitement among PCMA members and also serves as a unique networking opportunity.

David: Have you developed VolunTourism programs for guests/spouses of PCMA delegates?

Sarah: No, our Hospitality Helping Hands event during the PCMA Annual Meeting sells out quickly and right now we don’t have the capacity to accommodate non-members.

David: In closing, what words of wisdom, based on your experience with PCMA, could you provide to meeting professionals, convention managers, or event planners that want to incorporate voluntary service in conjunction with their meetings, conventions, and events?

Sarah: Anytime there are people meeting in the same place at the same time for the same cause, an enormous potential exists to organize a community service activity. To begin planning, speak with your convention or hotel partners and they in turn will put you in contact with a local charity that can communicate the host city’s needs. Projects can be as simple as organizing a collection drive or as intricate as fixing up a community center. These “beautification” projects are typically what volunteers enjoy the most because they produce tangible results and make for great networking events. If you’re pressed for planning time, it’s best to have the charity do the organizing.

Volunteering at a food bank is fun, fast paced, and easy to arrange because the food bank manages the activity from the time you walk in the door, to the time you leave; Habitat for Humanity is also a good option. Regardless of what you arrange, be certain that the project is truly “needy”—thus the importance of site visits, and that your volunteers will be busy from start to finish; nobody likes leaving a volunteer project with a feeling that they didn’t get to contribute. Last but not least, be sure to promote your efforts and outcomes. This builds awareness and recognizes those who volunteered or sponsored the project and will make them want to donate their time or resources at the next event.

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