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Corporate giving finds a home in the tradeshow industry

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can take on many forms. It can show up in the green products a company creates. It can surface when a retailer refuses to buy products made from unethical labor practices. Or, it can also appear as a donation for research into illness or disease.

The motivations for CSR can also come in many shapes. Some business owners feel they need to give something back to the community that has helped them become successful. Others believe that a healthy society means a more profitable bottom line for their company. And some just want to look good in the public’s eye.

But every once in a while, CSR gets into the very DNA of a company and becomes a belief that is not only fed by management, it is sustained by the employees.

Two such companies that have taken CSR out of the mission statement and put it into their very culture are Convention Data Services (CDS) and Hill & Partners.


CDS employees presented a check for $27,000 last year to the National Marine Life Center.

CDS, a lead management and event marketing provider, has a long tradition of CSR that dates back to 2007. Earlier this year, the company gave its efforts a name when it created the Corporate Giving Program. The program benefits a broad range of non-profit organizations.

“We feel very strongly that it is our duty to participate in our community and industry and we are dedicated to making a difference through volunteering,” said John Kimball, president and CEO of CDS. “Our focus is on supporting causes in our community or industry and those in which our employees are involved.”

The Corporate Giving Program at CDS is run by a Corporate Giving Committee of eight employees, who rotate on a yearly basis. This committee determines which causes are accepted into the program.

“The feedback we have received from our employees is that this program gives them a sense of purpose and that it makes them proud to work for a company that demonstrates that it cares,” said Kimball.


Employees at Hill & Partners have contributed to three Habitat for Humanity homes.

For Hill and Partners, a team of branded-environment specialists, the South Shore Habitat for Humanity has been the beneficiary of its corporate giving since 2010.

“Attending the home dedication for our second Habitat project in Marshfield was fantastic, energizing and unforgettable,” said Michael McMahon, president and CEO of Hill & Partners. “During those moments, in the middle of a crowd of 60 or 70 people, all lines between volunteer and recipient completely disappeared. The realization that a community of people, through organization and commitment, had collectively transformed someone’s life experience was absolutely overwhelming.”

Even though McMahon has been working with Habitat for Humanity since long before 2010, he said that it is the high level of participation from his employees that really drives the involvement with the non-profit.

“Our culture has evolved into an authentic representation of the people who have chosen to join our organization,” said McMahon. “These people are natural contributors. During that first (project), many members of our team experienced the spirit-lifting reward that comes from doing for others.”

Although CDS also works with Habitat for Humanity, the National Marine Life Center (NMLC) has been the biggest beneficiary of its corporate giving. CDS has donated more than $100,000 to the NMLC, a non-profit group developing facilities to aid stranded and injured marine wildlife. This was a special cause of the late founder of CDS, Doug Fletcher.

“We began by organizing a golf tournament in his honor with all of the proceeds going to support the NMLC,” said Kimball. “Last year, we presented them with a check for $27,000.”

Kimball believes that more and more companies are beginning to answer the call to corporate social responsibility and get involved in their communities.

McMahon also sees an increase in participation, but still says that the demand probably out paces the supply. He suggests that the key to balancing the situation is just about more companies and employees taking the leap.

“The meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility probably varies from organization to organization, but I imagine the benefits to individuals who have the opportunity to participate are similar and as essential as food,” said McMahon. “As my father used to say to me, ‘Son, you’ve got to do the time.’ When we have the opportunity to do the time for someone else, it doesn’t matter how we got there. We still reap the benefits of giving.”

Many other tradeshow companies have donated time, funding and resources to the cause of CSR. Here are a few recent examples:

• A high-tech but energy-friendly, single-family home was constructed by members of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters (CRCC) in Lemont, Ill. Some proceeds from the sale of the home are distributed to a local charity.

• A $25,000 donation over the next five years by the Brumark company to the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) Foundation will help assist families in need that are involved in the exhibit industry.

• American Furniture Rentals partnered with Event Pros Take Action to rebuild and completely furnish homes for two families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

• The Expo Group recently partnered for a week with non-profit relief agency GRACE to help provide lunches for more than 100 children a day when free school lunches were not available.

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