How to Host a Corporate Celebration That Pays Itself Forward

An expert meetings guru explains how a few special elements can create memories that last long after attendees go home.

Your corporate and partner gathering to unveil the new product line is a hit. Attendees return to their offices, positive surveys come in, and you move on to the next project. But how do you inspire participants to reflect on the event—the people they met, the inspiration they derived, the takeaways—long after they’ve turned in their expense reports?

According to Lindsey Rosenthal of Events for Good, an event-planning company that combines memorable experiences with successful fundraising campaigns, as more and more companies prize corporate social responsibility in their bylaws, planners are finding innovative ways to make a meeting bigger than what happens in the ballroom.

“This separates you in terms of your business,” Rosenthal says, “and gives your attendees the opportunity to give back.”

You don’t typically think about warm fuzzies when you’re planning an event, but Rosenthal says that’s exactly what she aims for. “When you have warm fuzzies, that creates a memory,” she says. “The planner’s job is being the facilitator—creating the environment for attendees to do that.”

In a University of California, Berkeley, study, scientists found that not only do emotional events create much stronger memories than daily experiences, but also completely new cells that become activated in response to emotional input. This means events that stimulate our emotions—like volunteering—have significant impact on how we remember things.

3 Ways to Incorporate Social Responsibility

A City of London study about the benefits of corporate volunteering showed that engaging in charitable work also benefits employees—which, in turn, is good for business. The study found that volunteering improves individuals’ communications skills, performance goals, adaptability and effectiveness in different surroundings, and negotiation skills.

Rosenthal says the activity doesn’t have to be directly connected to your meeting to be effective. Here are three possibilities:

  • Create an ancillary event: Want to promote teambuilding? Have your attendees work together building bikes for kids. Meeting for a few days by the coast? Plan a beach cleanup near the hotel. Not only does teambuilding pay off in productivity, but a UnitedHealthcare/VolunteerMatch study found that 92 percent of people who volunteer through their workplaces report higher rates of physical and emotional health.   
  • Choose a location in need: If it’s a toss-up between a few cities, pick one that really could use your business, because it’s another way to give attendees the opportunity to help those in need, Rosenthal suggests. “A lot of great events were put on in New Orleans following Katrina. So go to the Jersey Shore. Go to Detroit.”
  • Find a partner: Rosenthal says if you don’t have the budget or time to add a new element to an event, work with a vendor or local organization that needs exposure. Hire the local high school band for entertainment and give attendees an opportunity to donate later, extending the emotional connection months beyond your meeting.

“The biggest thing we’re all looking for is that human connection,” Rosenthal says. “The feeling of working toward a good cause, and working with other people, will stick with attendees. You are giving them the opportunity to do what—in their hearts—they already want to do.”