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Social Responsibility: A Good Cause and the Venue Effect




By Selena Fragassi

 

Depending on where you book your meeting or event, some venues might see dollar signs and others will see opportunity.

At Keep Memory Alive Event Center in Las Vegas, for example, event organizers look forward to building up their calendar because each dollar raised means more funding and research to curing brain disorders.



“All the event proceeds from any event we have—weddings, social celebrations, corporate events, meetings, fundraisers—every dollar goes back to the to Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health,” says Director of Event Sales and Marketing Margaret Tuitele. “It’s the building right next to us that provides treatment, research, and state-of-the-art prevention studies for patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. And in Vegas that’s a big differentiator. The entire strip is filled with casinos with convention space and ballrooms, but the money raised goes back to the casinos. So, a lot of companies come to us because they like knowing their event is giving back.”

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was started by Larry Ruvo, senior managing partner of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits Nevada, who wanted a way to memorialize his father after he passed away from Alzheimer’s 25 years ago and provide funding for critical research that could lead to a cure. The Keep Memory Alive Foundation was founded and, in 2010, it reached another landmark when Ruvo was able to enlist famed architect Frank Gehry to build the organization’s stunning Event Center, an abstractly shaped “stainless steel canopy” with 199 windows. It can accommodate 450 seated or 700 standing with additional space in the outdoor gardens for 1,500 guests.

“We’ve done a lot of corporate events and honed in on the conventions that have come to town,” says Tuitele, referencing a list of past clients that have included Samsung, Petsmart, and Volvo. The tax-exempt Event Center also hosted an MSNBC Presidential Town Hall Debate between former candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “But we also do really well with social celebrations. We’ve done very lavish Indian weddings and had our first gay wedding this year,” she adds. Many times the reason given for choosing the venue is that someone in the family has been affected by the work that the Lou Ruvo Center is doing.

“We had a wedding where the bride’s grandparent had dementia. Part of the reception included the traditional money dance, and the bride and groom told everyone the extra money they collected would be going back to the Event Center. Corporations, too, have not only held events here but also bought a brick or tile on the wall and unveiled it in their meeting to show attendees they are giving back. It really checks off that corporate social responsibility box while elevating the event experience.”

LENDING A GLOBAL HAND

At Carter Hall Conference Center, set in the Shenandoah Valley in Millwood, Virginia, there is a similar mission of service that planners and groups can contribute to with bookings. The venue is owned and operated by Project HOPE, an international nonprofit that provides health education, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief in more than 30 countries. Most recently in the States, they helped rescue and rebuild in areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Isabella, and Maria.



“With the programs we build, we don’t just go in and respond to a disaster and then leave. Project HOPE is committed to the long-term. We might even be in a country for up to a couple of years at a time depending on the need and situation,” says Senior Manager of Facilities and Conference Services Jennifer Liesener.

Located on over 80 acres of beautiful countryside, the 18th Century estate, including the Manor House and several dependencies serve as the conference center and offer hotel-like accommodations. The property was gifted to Project HOPE, which was founded in 1958 by Dr. William B. Walsh, a medical officer aboard a Naval Destroyer Ship who was so impacted by the poor health conditions he saw around the world, he wanted to make a difference. Walsh and and other associates were given authorization by President Eisenhower to purchase the USS Consolation for $150 in 1958, and transformed the ship into the SS HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere), and set sail around the globe to provide education and medication to those in need.

“We try to stick with the mission of Project HOPE as much as possible with the groups that come to our venue, there has to be some sort of education or training involved,” says Liesener, noting that they don’t book events like weddings or reunions. Repeat clients include Save The Children, the American Bird Conservancy, and humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross. “One of the great things is that groups have exclusive use of the campus. We don’t double book, and we offer an affordable complete meeting package.” Carter Hall is also unique in offering a no obligation hold; dates can be held until another group is interested and then there’s a 24-hour first right of refusal offered. “Beyond our services,” adds Liesener, “I think most planners like that this is not only a great venue but the money is going to a good cause at the same time.”

SUPPORTING THE YOUTH OF AMERICA

Meeting and event proceeds at the National 4-H Conference Center outside Washington, D.C. in Chevy Chase, Maryland, also are used for a good cause, directly supporting the 4-H youth development movement, “to build a world in which youth and adults learn, grow, and work together as catalysts for positive change.” Programs are implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through 110 Land Grand Universities and 3,100 local extension offices across the country.

“The National 4-H Conference Center has been around since 1959. National 4-H has been around since 1902 and is the largest youth development organization in the U.S. with nearly 6 million youth impacted every year,” says Christa K. Priesing, vice president, conference center manager, noting that nearly 80 percent of the curated programming at the conference center is focused on important STEM-based topics, encouraging children to pursue opportunities in science, tech, and math. Most notably, National 4-H Conference Center, hosts the Department of Energy Science Bowl every year and the conference center is known for curating eighth grade trips to D.C. for millions of students.

With the conference center, planners can find an affordable option in the heart of one of the nation’s most in-demand cities. The venue offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space including a 525-seat auditorium. “We were originally built as an educational facility so we have a number of smaller, flexible rooms, plus complete A/V, full catering, and a cafeteria open for all meals,” says Priesing. “There’s also the chance for educational tours and workshops.”

The cost savings are substantial, she adds, providing yet another benefit. “Because of our special exemption, planners also don’t have to pay the occupancy tax which in D.C. can range from six to eight percent, depending on what side of the river you are sitting on so that’s a great advantage. …Plus, everything is going back to the greater good and not to some big corporate conglomerate, which I think groups appreciate.”

CONSCIOUS OF COMMUNITY

Alnoba, in Kensington, New Hampshire, is another venue where “inspiration meets action.” The venue is closely aligned with the Lewis Family Foundation that focuses on four pillars, including leadership, conservation, the arts, and wellness. According to their mission statement, the foundation “created Alnoba to develop strong leaders and strong communities, help protect our wild places, support local farmers and promote healthy living, awaken reflection and creativity through art, and foster mindfulness.”

That’s done through a few different ways, says Director of Social Mission Angela Greene. “Our space, which opened in 2016, is a little over 400 acres and was built with the hopes of providing more leadership training opportunities, not just to nonprofits but to businesses and organizations. We have a ropes course, aerial park, and plenty of areas meant for reflection, mindfulness, and reconnecting with the earth. We are also as mindful of the land as possible,” she continues. “A lot of investment was made in the spirit of conservation. In the meeting house for example we have timber that is more than 200 years old, and we work with organizations to preserve farmland and walking trails as well as creating space for communities that are not being overdeveloped.” Alnoba also has a challenging mission of being completely waste-free by the year 2020.

All of the proceeds from meetings at Alnoba (which can accommodate up to 500 people) support the Lewis Family Foundation’s work with national and local nonpro´Čüts, youth organizations, and the greater Kensington community. Some of the groups they partner with include College Works and Bigger Than My Block to promote education and increase college graduation rates in the Boston area as well as the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport, Massachusetts to provide scholarships. Alnoba also has started to offer yoga and meditation retreats, including an outdoor and unplugged series for kids to reconnect them with nature.



“We really try to look for the underdogs and support them because they are doing great work that should be recognized and supported,” says Greene, echoing the sentiment of the other interviewees that contributing to the greater good always pays off in the end.

Get Connected

Alnoba
Kensington, NH
UniqueVenues.com/Alnoba
(603) 418.7408

Carter Hall Conference Center
Millwood, VA
UniqueVenues.com/carterhall
(540) 837.9550

Keep Memory Alive Event Center
Las Vegas, NV
UniqueVenues.com/KeepMemoryAliveEventCenter
(702) 331.7043

National 4-H Conference Center
Chevy Chase, MD
UniqueVenues.com/4-H-Conference-Center
(301) 961.2687
 
Talk to a Venue Specialist: 1-877-244-6110