In this time of isolation and hardship, the events industry is eager to support one another and feel connected. Visit Alexandria recently teamed up with CVBReps, a group of sixty CVBs/DMOS with D.C.-based offices, to host a four-day food drive benefiting hospitality workers impacted by COVID-19. The food drive aimed to bring the hospitality industry together—from meeting planners, meeting event suppliers, hoteliers and members of CVBReps—to collect food and to fill 200 bags of food that could provide a week’s worth of food. In the end, the event resulted in 2,000 donated goods and 250 bags filled, plus some $4000+ in donations to sustain the food drive’s non-profit partner, United Community.
Keep reading for tips from Carla Bascope-Hebble, Visit Alexandria’s director of group sales, for creating a successful CSR event in your community:
1. Select a Non-Profit Organization to Support Your Mission: Look for an organization that is embedded in the community and already an expert in serving your cause. This organization’s team will be a critical consultant throughout planning by indicating the greatest need(s) to maximize your impact.
Visit Alexandria and CVBReps partnered with United Community, a social services agency based in Alexandria/Fairfax County serving a lower-income population. United Community ensured success by clearly identifying the most needed items for donations and quantities to include in each bag. “Our food pantry has gone from serving 1,300 individuals a month to serving 1,300 individuals a week—many of them hospitality workers who have been furloughed or laid off,” says Alison DeCourcey, President & CEO of United Community. “We are grateful to Visit Alexandria and CVBReps for helping us meet their needs.”
2. Identify an Event Venue: The event venue should be easily accessible, ensure safety and social distancing protocols and share a passion for your mission.
For the CVB Reps Food drive, hosted in Alexandria, drive-up access for drop-off and pick-up was key. The Visit Alexandria and CVBReps team partnered with the Embassy Suites by Hilton Alexandria Old Town, a venue with prior experience hosting a similar event. The setup was ideal for storage and bagging while also allowing easy drive-up access. “A key priority of Hilton is to impact the communities we operate hotels in,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Lane Hartley. “The opportunity to partner with Visit Alexandria allowed us to assist in giving back to our neighbors and fellow hoteliers in need.”
3. Engage Your Networks: Leverage your existing networks and watch your impact multiply. Between your team and partner organizations, you’ll be surprised by the scope of your reach and the positive responses across connections near and far.
CVBReps and Visit Alexandria’s network totaled some 3,000 planners and hotels in the surrounding area. These connections led to a multi-organization effort consisting of resident donations, satellite drives at separate hotels, hotel chefs clearing their racks to donate most needed goods and monetary donations.
4. Establish a Marketing Plan: Create early buzz for your event by establishing a plan through social media channels, email marketing and grassroots phone calls. Consider setting up committees to manage social campaigns, grassroots calls to potential benefactors and access to media channels through your organization’s Communications and PR departments.
With help from in-house communications experts, the CVB Reps Food drive generated local media coverage and hosted regional news stations onsite, providing additional exposure for the event and community.
5. Create an Engaging Event Within the Event: Give people a reason to show up—with safety measures in place—by creating an “event within the event.” This allows you to provide what the events world has missed: the face-to-face interaction on which the industry thrives. Consider a day devoted to bagging donated goods, a group phonebank solicitation effort or any activity that suits your cause.
For the CVB Reps food drive, meeting planners were invited take part by helping to bag all the donated goods. Planners and hospitality individuals filled the volunteer sign-up forms in droves. The volunteers were excited to return to a hotel meeting space and see colleagues and business partners face-to-face (while masked and physically distanced) for the first time in many months. In just under two hours, more than 250 bags were filled and ready to donate.
6. Keep the Momentum Going: Measure the success of your event by the momentum it creates. By creating a high-impact and high-participation event, you’ll ensure that your event creates a ripple effect in your industry and community.
According to Liz Dane, chair of CVBReps, the food drive is more than a one-day event. The drive benefited hundreds of hotel workers and their families, collected thousands of dollars in donations to United Community and re-affirmed the desire to give back to the industry. As the holidays approach, planners asked when the next food drive would take place and how they could help.
As a member of CVB Reps, Visit Alexandria will continue to advocate for the hospitality industry, showcasing that the city’s hotels are open for business and hospitality workers are ready to safely welcome guests and meetings back.
Insider Tip: Connect with Carla Bascope-Hebble and the Visit Alexandria team to learn more about other non-profits, venues and CSR opportunities in Alexandria, VA and to make your next event a success.