Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

New Social Offset Tool Launched

While the passage of controversial state laws affecting meetings held in that state is nothing new, it has become ubiquitous in today’s environment now that politics has crept into just about every facet of American life. From a high-profile sporting organization cancelling its events in North Carolina for two years after that state passed laws considered unfriendly to LGBTQ+ folks, to the Cannes Film Festival banning Russian state delegates in 2022 in reaction to that country’s war on Ukraine, bans and boycotts have been one way groups have chosen to express their disagreement with controversial governmental actions.

The perceived need to express disagreement by boycotting only grew last summer when the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade. Whatever their personal beliefs on the topic, almost half of respondents in a Northstar Meetings Group survey said that state abortion legislation would influence their site-selection decisions, including avoiding meeting in states that banned abortion, to keep their group’s decisions in line with the values of their attendees.

However, while bans and boycotts on the event organizer’s part may help assuage potential attendee concerns — and keep those attendees from boycotting the event themselves, hurting attendance — many argue that cancelling an event due to political actions in that destination are ineffective at best, and can actually hurt the very people who the organization intends to support, especially those who work in the hospitality sector.

Enter SocialOffset, a nonprofit platform that allows meeting attendees to align their values and their spending — similar to the way carbon offset programs are designed to enable organizations and attendees to offset the damage to the environment caused by travel to and attending a meeting by making direct contributions to environmental-supporting causes.

During its startup phase last year, SocialOffset conducted a pilot project in Tennessee as some of its founders were preparing to attend the ASAE Annual Conference in Nashville in August 2022. According to an article on the SocialOffset website, association executive and SocialOffset Cofounder and President Elena Gerstmann said “The goal of this project is to help associations, as they have faced a lot of heat if they continue to hold meetings in states with restrictive laws that target people’s ability to access healthcare.” In that case, ASAE attendees were given the opportunity to offset the city and state sales and occupancy taxes with a contribution to an organization that helps women in that state gain access to health care services.

Now has completed its startup phase and shifted to operations by hosting its first official campaign in January.

“Nonprofit and association boards are energized by the opportunity to relaunch events in a post-Covid environment,” said Gerstmann. “At the same time, attendees can be conflicted between needing to engage with their professional and industry networks and not wanting to support states that have enacted restrictive legislation targeted at specific groups. SocialOffset gives everyone involved a third way. At its most basic level, SocialOffset says ‘no’ to event boycotts and ‘yes’ to making a difference.”

How it works: Once an event organizer or a destination partners with SocialOffset to host their offsetting campaign, 100% of the funds donated by meeting attendees are donated to one or more vetted, local nonprofits that deliver programs, services and advocacy for racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, hunger relief, housing security, environmental sustainability and reproductive freedom.

To help cover the cost of operating, SocialOffset charges event organizers $500 per campaign. Additional support comes from destinations, convention centers, hotels, speakers, entertainers and other supplier companies that make annual investments ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on company type and size.

Among the destinations that immediately got on board as Founding Partners and provided financial support were Visit Salt Lake, Visit Austin and Visit Seattle. Other industry service providers that provided pro bono support include Tenenbaum Law Group LLC, WiredBrains, Association Chat and Flock Theory.

The SocialOffset inaugural board of directors includes Marc Beebe, Treasurer; Beth Surmont, Secretary; Christie Tarantino-Dean; Erin Fuller; KiKi L’Italien; Rhonda Payne; and James Pogue. “When you have a board composed of association and industry rock stars, things happen with both speed and excellence,” said Gerstmann. She added, “This team immediately saw the urgency to create a solution and worked tirelessly over the past few months to get SocialOffset established, funded and launched.”

See the Spring Issue of MeetingMentor, coming in March, for more discussion on what some call the “weaponization of travel” and how planners can take steps to avoid boycotts without alienating attendees and other interested parties.

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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