Most meeting professionals are familiar with the idea of carbon offsets—environmental programs that individuals or organizations invest in to balance out the carbon footprint of their meeting, travel, or other CO2-producing activity. An entirely new kind of offset tool launched January 26 that offsets the effects of objectionable policy or legislation in a host destination.
Developed by a volunteer board and support teams, SocialOffset.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit platform with a model similar to carbon-offset programs. But rather than rectifying CO2 emissions, attendees have an opportunity to offset the travel-specific and general sales taxes paid in a host destination during a meeting with donations directed to charities that align with their values.
“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,” noted Elena Gerstmann, FASAE, CAE, cofounder and president. “SocialOffset gives everyone involved a third way. At its most basic level, SocialOffset says ‘no’ to event boycotts and ‘yes’ to making a difference in that destination.”
Once an event organizer or a destination partners with SocialOffset to host a campaign, 100 percent of the funds donated by meeting attendees are given to one or more vetted local nonprofit groups that deliver programs, services, and advocacy for racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, hunger relief, housing security, environmental sustainability, and reproductive freedom. Event organizers can choose a group to support, though individual attendees can also seek out their own causes through SocialOffset.
SocialOffset charges event organizers $500 per campaign. In addition, sponsoring partners such as destinations, convention centers, hotels, speakers, entertainers, and other supplier companies, have made investments ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to support the infrastructure and help the product evolve.
The initiative’s inaugural board of directors features leaders from the association and event industries, including Marc Beebe of IAEE; Beth Surmont of 360LiveMedia; Christie Tarantino-Dean of the Institute of Food Technologies and formerly of Association Forum of Chicagoland; Erin Fuller of MCI USA; KiKi L’Italien of Tecker International; Rhonda Payne of Flock Theory and formerly of ASAE; and James Pogue of JP Enterprises. “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,” said Gerstmann, who serves as executive director of Informs, an association for operations research and analytics professionals.