Empty Suitcase Campaign: A Turnkey Way to Give Back

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CSR, corporate social responsibility
Simply order the bags from the portal and distribute them to attendees (they are foldable and slip easily into mailers), with a letter explaining the program and asking them to fill the bags with the needed items.

Imagine the impact that a suitcase of eyeglasses could have in an area so remote and impoverished that people have no access to eye doctors. A single pair—of just the right strength—could change the life of a person with blurry vision, giving them the chance to work and participate fully in life again.

That’s exactly what Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder of SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network) and Colleen Abernethy, owner of Platinum DMC Collection, experienced during a trip to Nepal in 2013. “We heard of a doctor there who offers an annual eye clinic in a remote area and needed used prescription eyeglasses,” says Suckow. “Through Colleen’s connection with the Lion’s Club in Minnesota, we brought a suitcase filled with over 200 pairs with us. The feeling that overcame us we met him and left with that empty suitcase was so gratifying that we wanted to expand on it.”

Out of that day, the idea for The Empty Suitcase Campaign was born.

The new portal, which was compiled with the help of local DMCs, features a list of dozens of destinations around the globe and everyday items that are in need by nonprofits there. The turnkey platform makes it easy for planners to organize donations at their meeting or incentive destination when they can’t fit a CSR program into their event. Or they can use it to supplement an activity they are already planning, like a visit to a school, with donations of needed supplies.

“It can challenging to fit an element of giving back into an already packed two- or three-day program,” says Barbara Scofidio, editor at Prevue magazine and one of the campaign’s founders. “Sometimes even a half day spent volunteering at a local school or playground is just too much time.”

All it takes is 3 steps: 1) Planners contact the DMC to make the arrangements with the nonprofit; 2) They order the bags, emblazoned with the Empty Suitcase logo, from the portal; and 3) They distribute the bags to attendees before the event (they are foldable and slip easily into mailers), with a letter, downloadable from the portal, explaining the program and asking them to fill the bags with the needed items and bring them on the trip.

The simple black carry-on bags (at a cost of $4.50 per bag) are generously being provided by Joel Wochner of promotional products company CSE at cost, and were the brainchild of Doug Chorpenning, founder of Wet Paint Group another co-founder of the initiative. “Keeping it simple is important, so having an easy resource to order the bags was critical. But if planners want to use their own source, that’s absolutely fine. This just makes it really easy to implement if you don’t have a lot of time or money in the budget for something more elaborate.”

Imagine the possibilities

Scofidio hopes the campaign will encourage those busy planners who haven’t had time to include an element of CSR in their programs to do so. “In various industry surveys, we’re always expecting the number of companies including CSR efforts in their events to grow but that’s not always been the case—often because planners don’t have the time or support. This will make it easy for them.“

She urges planners to send in their success stories for the web site, and DMCs to reach out to local nonprofits so they can broaden the list of options for giving. ”It’s good business for the DMCs, too. And imagine if planners across our industry embraced this idea and made it a standard for their meetings and incentives,” she says. “The impact would be just incredible.”


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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.