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Give Back, Get Back: Giving Back Is the New Face of Incentives

Posted on 12 September 2009

For many years, incentives and, in particular, incentive travel have been viewed as highly desirable rewards throughout the worldwide business community. In addition to the satisfaction of winning recognition for outstanding effort, an attendee couldn’t help but be excited and impressed with a trip to Monte Carlo or London. High-level service, a luxury property, plenty of accompanying “wow” factors and bragging rights could more than compensate for the hard work and dedication it took to be included in the top echelon.


A New Year, A New Face


2009 is set to show us a different face of incentives. With the onset of the global economic meltdown, rising unemployment figures, stock markets with yo-yo-like graph lines and the highly-publicized—and criticized—AIG debacle, the incentive travel industry is reeling. Every day, we hear of friends and colleagues laid off, long-standing companies closing their doors and clients incurring substantial sums in hotel, air and ground cancellation penalties rather than being seen traveling on an incentive program. The general public perception of incentives seems to be that they are inextricably linked to greed, excess and disregard for shareholders.


Change is definitely here and there are plenty of signposts to show us which way we are heading. New President Barack Obama is calling on all Americans to volunteer their time with service to their community, and the nation as a whole. Stories of giving back to communities are surfacing, more prominently and frequently—unusually, Super Bowl 2009 television spots included several companies promoting philanthropy.


Bill Gates is concentrating his considerable resources on micro-philanthropy. According to a recent article in the New York Times, he says that “The key thing is to pick a cause, whether it’s crops or diseases or great high schools. Pick one and get some more in-depth knowledge. If possible, travel to see the problems firsthand, then pick an organization to support with donations or volunteer time.”


Faced as we are with cancelled programs, diminished budgets and the current public perception of the incentive industry, these examples will not immediately impact our industry. I believe, however, that the effects from them will seep quickly into the business consciousness and bring about the “tipping point” that Malcolm Gladwell in his 2002 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, defines as “That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” This is going to lead to a demand for creative, meaningful and effective social responsibility or sustainable incentive activities.


When clients understand that they can combine employee recognition with giving back, be in alignment with their company’s missions and values, and improve ROI/ROE at the same time, they will be looking for the most effective ways to do that. We have a great opportunity to help them create and implement programs that address all these components—and, in so doing, change the face of our industry. With the emerging new awareness that America is trying on for size, the incentive industry has a great window of opportunity. We have the chance to become visionaries and leaders; by giving client companies the resources to recognize their employees we can partner with them to simultaneously move forward the prevailing national message and the movement towards inclusion, service and community. Sounds like a pretty effective “wow” factor to me!


Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSRs. She is based in Southern California and is a 2009 Board Member of SITE-SoCal. Her website is, and she can be reached at

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