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Team Building for Charity? The motives matter.

“Team Building for Charity” demands the right motives to achieve the best outcomes in our humble opinion.

It seems that linking a team building activity to a charitable / CSR cause is regaining momentum.

We saw demand for CSR linked team building activities rise sharply pre- GFC, and then fall away just as sharply post GFC (as did linking events to Green / environmental outcomes).

In the last 3 years demand seems to be coming back to the higher pre-GFC levels.

At the risk of sounding like hipsters who ‘did everything before it became fashionable’, we have actually been linking team building programmes to charity and community since 1988, so have now seen a few trends come and go.

So why is there a return in demand for team building for charity activities?

I’d really like to give you a fairytale answer and say that most organisations have been enhanced by a sense of altruism and compassion.

Those of the millennial generation (be they staff or customers) certainly seem to demand more community-minded values from their big brands.

In reality whilst some may have genuinely grown in altruism as a cultural shift, others seek to add some community credibility and charm to their brands or assuage some guilt after a major image crisis or to add content to social media / marketing publications.

Where it’s genuinely becoming a part of their culture, they tend to pick meaningful CSR projects that will add lasting value and serve as more than just a one-off (for example to commit to ongoing child or village sponsorship post event).

Where it’s just a meetings based “warm and fluffy” or PR exercise they can be a little fad driven and will pick whatever looks best in the PR shots without really working to drill down into the needs of a charity, NGO or community.

The contribution to charity vs the cost of actually staging the event ratio can also prone to be a little skewed with some.

We once saw a client donate approx Aud $2 000 worth of bikes, then with the charity rep still in the room gave about $6 000 worth of fashion sunglasses as prizes to the winning teams from the team challenge linked to the donation. This looked a little shallow and hypocritical to external observers.

Having a strong CSR motive for an event can also make people think about the realities of the country in which they hold a conference. It can compel them to look deeper at what stark contrasts might exist between their 5 Star Resort and the poor local villages from which the staff and their families might live in some destinations.

When it crosses their minds that just 25% of their gala dinner’s bar bill might save lives, provide safe housing or train several teachers it can be a sobering experience (pardon the pun).

When carefully planned, these feelings can help lead to increased awareness and advocacy of local CSR issues.

It’s a very fine line to tread though when a highly expensive per head incentive reward trip or off-site makes it pretty obvious, to those with eyes to see, that the money required to stage the experience itself often far outweighs what it’s actually doing for a community.

Whilst motives to get ‘hands-on’ and visit the charity as part of a team build can also be great, people should first take into account what they are actually offering to donate versus how many resources from a charity may get chewed up in inducting and entertaining a group of corporate folks (no matter how well-intentioned). Often better to do a linked activity that has a charity rep come and accept what is donated, unless the donation is really significant.

The thing most charity projects actually need is cash to spend just how they choose and require for any current project. It’s just harder to make cash seem warm and fluffy for those with a purely event focus.

A nice example was a client from a global engineering firm who ran a $2 500 team building game to link to a donation $12 000 to charity. They then didn’t make a big song and dance over the donation; it was just that senior leadership really had a genuine desire to make a difference.

Regrettably in the past the ones that seemed to be the most popular have been the “cute” styles (like the now ubiquitous team building bikes for kids). These are not always the ones that may actually be required by the end users. What use is a bike if you are not eating or attending school?

We have seen too many instances of clients desperately wanting to do something like a bike build because it suits their short term event driven aims, when the charities in our network may already have sheds full of them and desperately need more ‘real' and somewhat “less cute” resources.

Worse still, we don’t really agree with children / end –users being paraded before MICE guests to accept their gifts (no matter how well-intentioned) just to enhance the emotional / feel good factor at an event.

Having adult charity reps is of course fine and we encourage this (as it allows them to build their network and seek greater advocacy), but ignoring the psychological implications of dragging kids up to highlight their neediness before an assembled crowd, just seems a bit selfish.

If you want to help, by all means help (and the more the better) but do you really want to parade some poor kids before delegates to get a bit more emotional impact for the participants?

Again, making a gesture or a donation as part of a team building programme is a wonderful thing, but purity of motive also matters we feel.

Fortunately many now seem to be trying to go a little deeper in matching their contributions to real needs.

Clients with genuinely deep intentions to help will firstly ascertain what is actually most needed in a community or by a charity or an NGO, and then build something around that. A good example is cyclone proof housing for poor areas in Fiji.

We like to suggest gift items from the World Vision range for many clients as it encompasses so many genuinely needed contributions (child vaccinations, mosquito nets, solar lights, teacher training, clean water projects, agriculture products, new Mother hampers, livestock etc).

We have a CSR team building approach called “Painting a Brighter Future” which is a sophisticated cross-functional team challenge, but powerfully links to donations of such items to World Vision projects. This gets items or training that are really needed to exactly where they are needed.

I think to get CSR right, people need to first establish a genuine motive to help and find out what is genuinely needed. Then build the experience around that. Try to avoid the temptation to just gravitate to novelty and what might look cute and get the best emotional reaction from delegates.

Take an honest look at the proportion of money being used to stage the event versus how much is actually going to charity, and do a bit of soul searching on that also.

Seriously ask the question, are we doing this for them or for us? The latter has far greater meaning and value to all concerned.

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