Nonprofit Repurposes Canceled Meeting to Recognize Local COVID Heroes

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Repurpose cancelled meeting

Cancelled meetings aren’t always bad news. When one nonprofit cancelled its upcoming board meeting due to COVID concerns, it decided to recognize local essential workers rather than just pay the cancellation penalty.

The American Benefits Council was all set to hold its Fall 2021 Policy Board meeting Oct. 13-14 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. Then, as has happened over the past 18 months or so to all kinds of meeting and event organizers, COVID-19 got in the way. With business travel still limited amidst concerns about a surging delta variant, ABC decided to cancel the meeting.

So far, this is an all-too-familiar cancelled-meeting story. But what happened next is being hailed by all who heard about it on the Facebook National Meeting Planners Group and on the Meetings Community (MeCo) Google Group and listservwith superlatives, with several calling it “the best idea ever.”

Sondra Lynnette Williams, Manager, Member and Staff Engagement with the American Benefits Council

Instead of just writing a check to pay the penalty fee for the cancelled meeting and calling it a day, the nonprofit Council, whose more than 440 members are primarily large U.S. employers and organizations that provide benefit program services to employers of all sizes, decided to repurpose the meeting into a recognition of local essential heroes, said Sondra Lynnette Williams, Manager, Member and Staff Engagement with the Council.

ABC invited local first responders, medical professionals, homeless advocates and teachers for an overnight stay and dinner at the swanky hotel. To meeting its food and beverage minimum requirements, the Council also will be providing box lunches to local organizations that do community outreach.

The only new wrinkle to the planning process in turning the cancelled meeting into a local heroes recognition event was “identifying the essential workers who have endeavored to make the best of horrible circumstances,” Williams said, adding, “The response by the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City was very positive. They were delighted that we chose to repurpose.”

The feeling is mutual. “We’re excited to partner with the American Benefits Council and to be able to honor these heroes who have been unbelievably dedicated to our local community,” said Jessica Gross, Director of Sales & Marketing with Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. “With the shifting landscape of business travel, we love the opportunity to pivot and rethink our cancellation policy, when possible.”

In addition to providing a welcome thank you to local essential workers, an important benefit of repurposing the board meeting is that it allows the hotel staff to continue working. “This is vital as COVID continues to negatively and disproportionately impact the hospitality industry,” Williams said.

While repurposing a cancelled meeting may be unusual, it’s not unheard of for an organization to seize the opportunity to help where it can. Stewart Mann, CEO and founder of teambuilding provider Wild Rooster Events, recalls a time the hotel where a corporate social responsibility teambuilding event his company was running suddenly had 10 rooms open up. “I asked the client if the charity being served by the CSR event could invite families to use the rooms and they said yes! It was awesome. The CSR event went great, and the charity and client were so thrilled to hold a ‘double philanthropy’ event.”

Might this repurposing by ABC turn the occasional good idea into a new meetings industry trend? “It would be great if this option could work for other groups,” Williams said. “Bringing some much-needed positive recognition to those who have worked so hard to help others at this pivotal moment in history is one of the biggest wins in my 25 years as a meeting planner.”

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