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A couple months ago, many bloggers participated in the Embedded Philanthropy Blog Series and responded to the statement: "Embedded philanthropy is transforming business as usual for the public good." Although there were differing views on the concept (also referred to as embedded giving), one thing is certain: it is here to stay. It's increasingly a part of our daily transactions. Kari Saratovsky said in her contributed post: "we can wear 'good,' shop 'good,' drive 'good'..." Now, we can also sleep good (pun intended), because of organizations like Hotels that Help (HTH).
Hotels that Help is a customer-giving charitable donation program that focuses on hotels, inns, and similar transient lodging establishments (e.g. campsites, RV parks). It helps these companies quickly and easily implement an embedded giving program, where customers can donate to a charity at the point of their lodging stay transaction. Some bloggers in the Embedded Philanthropy series questioned the value of such programs, including Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, who asked, Does It Matter? After speaking with Jim Abrams, President of HTH and retired CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, I think it does matter, and HTH is a model that shows how CSR programs such as this really transform how business is done and make a positive impact for companies and their communities. Our discussion is below.
Sokunthea: We really value programs that make giving an easy part of people's everyday lives at the Foundation. What makes HTH's program unique?
Jim: HTH is similar in purpose and philosophy to customer-giving charitable donations you might have seen in grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses (e.g. "Would you like to add $1 to your grocery bill today to help fight breast cancer?"). There are some other hotel-specific programs that ask guests to contribute a small amount of money to help support charities, for example, Sage Hospitality (based in Denver) has such a program, as does Starwood in Europe. But HTH is, to my knowledge, the only one intended to be initiated in all hotels and other transient lodging businesses throughout the country, and not be just for the hotels in a particular company. It is our goal to have it become a norm for the lodging industry and hoteliers to all have a program of this type in operation. And unlike some similar programs, HTH operates at absolutely no cost to the hotel and has no strings attached in terms of selecting charities to support and how to operate. Simply stated, our sole mission is to make hotels aware of the tremendous value of this kind of program - for their bottom line, for their employees, for the charities they chose to support, and for their communities - and to give the hotels, in a turn-key condition, everything they need, free of charge, to start their respective programs. There is nothing in it for HTH or anyone associated with it; we just want to help hotels do good things. Given the number of hotel rooms in the country, and assuming even a 50% occupancy rate each night, this represents over $800 million in new money to local charities each year!
Watch this brief video for more details:
Sokunthea: Wow, $800 million to local charities each year. That’s an amazing market to tap into, but it depends on the hotels’ commitment to such a program. How are you able to engage them and how is this program valuable for their bottom lines, employees, charities, and communities?
Jim: A guest-giving charitable contribution program makes tremendous sense on a number of different levels for any hotel:
- It is a way for the hotel to leverage its guests' good will (which comes from enjoying a pleasant stay in the hotel). Guests are provided an opportunity to entrust the hotel, which they have just enjoyed, with a small amount of money to support a worthy cause which the hotel has vetted and is recommending. In this day of social consciousness and voluntourism, this is a great way to build name recognition and brand loyalty, which will result in repeat and word-of-mouth business.
- This costs the hotel virtually nothing. The dollars contributed are from the guest and we provide everything a hotel needs on a turn-key basis. Our website is very robust and comprehensive. A hotel can go to the website and do everything it needs to get its program up and running without ever contacting us. If a hotel wants assistance or needs help, however, HTH is happy to provide it. For example, it is obviously very important to the success of the program that hotels notify their guests early and frequently about the fact that $1/night will be added to the bill, unless the guest chooses to opt out, and that the money goes to help a specific charity. We provide hotels electronically, free of charge, with the tent cards, room key jackets, door hangers, and other notification devices they need for this purpose.
- Employee morale is enhanced, which leads to greater retention and less recruitment cost and hassles. We suggest that a hotel ask its employees to be part of the decision-making process to select the hotel's charity. We also suggest that line-level staff get to take the check each month to the chosen charity.
- The hotel has the opportunity for wonderful PR and exposure.
- The hotel's image in the community and with local decision makers is enhanced.
- And most importantly, a worthy cause that helps support the hotel’s social safety net is receiving new dollars each month! Each hotel picks its own charity, often it they are small, local charities that are part of the social safety net (e.g. homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and the like) in their community.
Sokunthea: This seems to make a lot of sense for hotels to select local charities to contribute to local charities and support the social safety net in local communities. What are the possibilities here?
Jim: We leave the choice of which charity to support completely up to each hotel. We suggest the following guidelines:
- Pick a 501(c)(3).
- Do some research about what it does and what it accomplishes (we provide resources for hotels in doing this research).
- Everyone will get the greatest "bang for the buck" if the hotel picks a smaller, local charity, because the impact of the contributions from the hotel's guests will be more significant on a relative basis.
- We urge hotels to think first about social safety net charities, because they can provide the most immediate, day-to-day support to those who need it the most, and these are the charities which are facing the greatest challenges today. That said, if a hotel wants to give to an entirely different kind of cause, that is fine with HTH.
Sokunthea: This really is an interesting model. Actually, where did the idea for HTH come from?
Jim: HTH is the outgrowth of work started by Dave Levenson in the 1990s, when he became involved with a homeless shelter near a major resort in Hawai'i. Dave concluded that if guests at the resort knew there was a homeless shelter nearby, they would be happy to add a small amount of money to their bills when they checked out to help the shelter. More recently, Dave was fortunate to work with Chip Conley, who is the founder and Chairman of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which operates numerous hotels in California. Chip let Dave try different scenarios of guest-giving programs in his hotels, such as a "round up" mechanism, where the staff suggested guests round up their final bills (e.g. from $189 to an even $200), an "opt-in" program, where the guest was asked to agree to have a specified amount (e.g. $1) added to his/her bill each night, and an "opt-out" program, where a set amount is added to the guest's bill each night. In each case, the hotel gives all of the money it collects to a charity that it has selected. After much research and experimentation, HTH decided on the opt-out program as its default guest-giving mechanism of choice. But if a hotel wants to use one of the other mechanisms (round up or opt-in), that is fine with us.
Sokunthea: What are your future plans for HTH and how can an hotelier get involved?
Jim: We are currently in the process of rolling this program out in California and plan to take it nationwide. We are meeting with state and local hotel/lodging associations, as well as with individual hotel chains, management companies, and hoteliers. We met recently with the board of the Hawai'i Hotel & Lodging Association and with key lodging industry people in Las Vegas. We intend that this type of program will be the norm throughout the lodging industry in America. To learn more or get involved, go to our website, hotelsthathelp.org, which provides a comprehensive review of exactly how the program works and how easy it is for hotels to get their own individual programs up and running; or you can contact me at 916-425-8476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.