Diversity and Inclusion

SocialOffset Offers an Alternative to Destination Boycotts

Hands outstretched with change in them as an alternative to boycotts

Skift Take

This nonprofit provides a socially conscious alternative to destination boycotts when local laws are not aligned with a group’s values.

Next year’s US presidential election will add more contention and to an already polarized country. There are debates over reproductive rights. Immigration. Racial equality. And LGBTQ+ equity — all impacting the locales of meetings and conventions, adding to the possibility of boycotts.

Additionally, as the US gets more divided, destination boycotts become more of a possibility. Furthermore, many in the industry ask if such boycotts work. Does not bringing your group to a particular city ignite legislative change? Or are you just hurting frontline workers?

“We are concerned that divisiveness is going to get worse as we enter a political year and that events will again be used as a weapon in the debate,” said David Peckinpaugh, president and CEO of Maritz.

Maritz is looking at SocialOffset, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides socially conscious alternatives to event and destination boycotts for its clients and their attendees. 

SocialOffset enables a charitable donation to offset tax dollars spent in a destination with values that may differ from those of attendees. One hundred percent of all donations go to the cause selected. It works much like carbon offsetting.

“In today’s world, boycotts are not moving the needle,” said Elena Gerstmann, Ph.D., FASAE, CAE, executive director at INFORMS, an international association for professionals in analytics and operations research and founder of SocialOffset.

The Concept of Social Offsetting

Stuck in an airport in Dallas in 2019, the only option for food was Chick-fil-A. A company whose owners have donated to anti-LGBTQ+ groups. Given her analytical mind, Gerstmann attempted to calculate how much profit the company collected from her sandwich. She decided to give that amount to a pro-LGBTQ+ charity. 

Back home in New Jersey, she shared what happened with her wife, Beth Surmont, CMP, FASAE, CAE, an event planner. The idea for SocialOffset took root a few years later when Surmont was to attend SXSW. She had second thoughts when the Texas court allowed gender-affirming care to be investigated as child abuse.

This experience, coupled with being at ASAE‘s Annual Meeting in Nashville, a state with a near-absolute ban on abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they knew they had to do something. SocialOffset was born.

Viable Alternative to Destination Boycotts

“We must validate the feelings of our attendees and exhibitors. When they’re asked to go to a location that doesn’t align with their values, we can’t just sweep that under the rug. We can’t say we signed this contract five years ago and will lose millions if we cancel,” said Gerstmann. “SocialOffset allows them to attend the conference and support a local charity.”

Founding partners of SocialOffset include Visit Austin, Visit Seattle, Nashville Music City, and Visit Baltimore. To date, SocialOffset has created 37 campaigns that have raised more than $15,000.

“Here in Baltimore, we truly believe that the destination is only as healthy as your community. The more we can connect with local organizations to address the ongoing challenges within our individual communities, the more we can work to solve the greater issues taking place in cities across the nation,” said Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore

The ASIS Case Study

Peter O’Neil, the CEO of ASIS International, a global community of security practitioners, held this year’s Global Security Exchange (GSX) on September 11-13 in Dallas. There were 18,000 in attendance, of which 22% were international.

“We sometimes have meetings in cities that may not align with the values of our members,” said Peter O’Neil, CEO of ASIS International. “SocialOffset helps our organization that relies on live meetings do so in a socially responsible way.”

A website was created with the SocialOffset, GSX, and Visit Dallas logos on top. It states, “ASIS has partnered with SocialOffset.org to offer meeting attendees the opportunity to contribute to local organizations in Dallas that make a difference in people’s lives.”

ASIS has worked with SocialOffset to select five vetted charities. They support racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, hunger relief, housing security, and environmental sustainability in Dallas. In addition, there is an option to donate to the ASIS North Texas Chapter’s longtime preferred charity, New Friends, New Life.

“From our viewpoint, as people who believe in the value of in-person meetings and doing good in the world, we hope more cities and conferences partner with SocialOffset,” said Surmont.

Photo credit: Katt Yukawa / Unsplash