Orlando Organizes Corporate Visitors To Volunteer

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April 5, 2011; Source: Orlando Sentinel | The 3 million people who come to Orlando, Fla. each year for corporate events, conferences, and conventions leave their mark on the local economy with their spending on hospitality and other goods and services. But according to the Orlando Sentinel, many of the companies and organizations that pick the city as their meeting site are also providing a boon to nonprofits by teaming up with local groups on community-service projects during their stay.

"If you're trying to build employee teamwork – instead of doing a ropes course or having a softball game, why not go to a nonprofit and do something that's meaningful to the nonprofit, meaningful to the company and meaningful to the community?" said Chris Allen, executive director of Hands On Orlando, a nonprofit that orchestrates group volunteer projects. "We've had 2,500 people volunteer with us so far this year – everybody from French Telecom to G.E."

For example, when they weren't in company meetings last month, the Sentinel reports that the 2,000 managers of Aaron's Inc., a lease-to-own retailer, "boxed and shipped 1,200 care packages for U.S. military troops, assembled and delivered 6,600 packaged meals for kids from low-income families, built 155 bikes and 48 bookshelves for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, donated 4,000 children's books and gave 600 pints of blood."

Robin Loudermilk, Aaron's CEO, said managers voted on the charities they wanted to help, adding that since his firm's business is focused on families, "that's who we want to give back to."

How do nonprofits feel about the offers of help? "Frankly, we wouldn't be able to operate without them," said Kara Dhuse, communications manager at Give Kids The World in Kissimmee.

A resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, Give Kids relies on volunteers to fill 1,500 shifts every week. To help ensure that the volunteer services offered by visiting business groups are put to the best use – and the time to set up a community service project doesn't have the unintended consequence of creating a strain on nonprofits – the newspaper reports that groups such as Hands On Orlando, the Heart of Florida United Way and KaBOOM! "often act as intermediaries, making sure all supplies and tools are on hand and matching the volunteers with a project they'll find rewarding."—Bruce Trachtenberg