A history of giving back at annual conference
The Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE) began incorporating a social responsibility component into its annual conference back in 2010. That year, conference attendees helped sort and box food for a food bank. Over the years, attendees have donated to multiple Florida-based food banks, Friends of the Palm Beach County Library System, All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, and Sneakers for September, a nonprofit that provides new sneakers for children in Orange and Osceola counties. In 2016, FSAE’s giving was personal: Conference attendees were asked to donate to the UF (University of Florida) Health Cancer Center in memory of FSAE members who had recently lost battles with cancer.
“Our members truly believe in supporting the communities that host us,” said Adrian Amos Honderick, CAE, FSAE’s marketing and communications director. “All of our charitable efforts originate in our member-led Associate Advisory Committee. They rotate the type of volunteering and giving we organize at our annual conference every few years to keep attendees interested while benefiting multiple non-profits around Florida.”
For its 2019 annual conference, FSAE wanted to bring back some of the interactivity its early charitable drives had included. “Our members like supporting organizations through interactive projects such as food packaging, but our already-busy conference schedule made it difficult to volunteer,” said Honderick. “On the other hand, simply asking for donations for a charity left them feeling disconnected from the cause. So we wanted to find a CSR-type activity that would blend hands-on interactivity with charitable giving at a scale appropriate for more than 450 attendees,” she continued.
Rethreaded creates opportunities for survivors of human trafficking
FSAE member Pete Anderson worked with the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau to establish an event partnership with Rethreaded, a Jacksonville-based clothing and gift store that employs survivors of human trafficking. Rethreaded’s mission is to renew hope, reignite dreams and release potential. Started in 2012 by entrepreneur and activist Kristin Keen, the company has employed more than 40 women in production, inventory, sales, marketing and financial administration while also providing mental health services and job training for these women. Rethreaded also distributes merchandise from like-minded businesses that employ women who have escaped the sex trade.
“At Rethreaded, the sales of our products produce a direct impact on a women’s journey to reclaiming her life. When you purchase from our pop-up shop you are creating an opportunity for a survivor of human trafficking to have access to healing, a new job, and resources that she will use to break the cycle of exploitation in her life,” said Kristin Keen, founder and president of Rethreaded.
The company is perhaps most famous for its partnership with Southwest Airlines that results in its employees upcycling materials from retired airplanes, such as seat leather and seatbelts, into handbags, wallets and travel accessories. The show Project Runway highlighted this ongoing partnership, and gave Rethreaded an even wider audience, when it featured designer Irinia Shabayeva creating clothing and handbags made from Southwest Airlines-sourced material for Rethreaded.
Rethreaded offers a program where groups can visit their production center and help prepare materials – deconstruct recycled seat leather into useable pieces or stretch t-shirts destined to become scarves, for example. But the annual conference committee determined that FSAE’s attendee group would be too large for this activity. Still wanting to support the organization and bring more awareness to the problem of modern human trafficking, they decided to invite Rethreaded to the conference in the form of a pop-up shop, and let attendees shop while supporting a worthy cause.
“Our event is 75 percent women, and for many women, shopping is a social experience,” Honderick explained. “The pop-up store was a good blend of interactivity and charity. The Rethreaded team spoke about their mission and their merchandise during our opening session, and then the pop-up opened outside the ballroom. Attendees had the opportunity to talk with the staff and support the company.”
“We were so excited to be asked to come present and host a pop-up shop at the FSAE conference,” Keen said. “We knew that it would be a great audience filled with people who we knew already cared about the world.”
FSAE members shop for good
In total, FSAE’s conference attendees purchased more than $2,300 worth of Rethreaded merchandise —nearly all the product the staff brought. Rethreaded also collected $700 in donations to advance their mission of helping human trafficking victims.
“Attendees loved it,” Honderick recalled. “Rethreaded’s products are beautiful, and everyone was excited to have the opportunity to buy something special for themselves or others while supporting a good cause. And now that they know about the company, they can continue supporting Rethreaded through their online store and by sharing about it with their friends.”
“Rethreaded received many benefits from being at the FSAE conference,” Keen said. “We were able to educate organizations all over Florida about the issue of human trafficking and give them an immediate call to action by shopping at our pop-up shop, or making a donation. After hearing about the issue and learning how Rethreaded helps survivors, the audience’s response was amazing. We had an influx of sales that will help us serve more survivors,” she continued.
Plans to continue supporting local nonprofits
Next year’s annual conference is in Orlando, and Honderick says FSAE would host another pop-up store during the event if they can find a similar Orlando-based organization to support.
“We want to keep supporting local organizations during our conference. This year proved that a pop-up shop is an effective way to do that,” she said.
However FSAE continues its social responsibility initiative, it’s certain to be a winning transaction for all involved.
Survivors of human trafficking weren’t the only beneficiaries of FSAE’s annual conference. The staff also partnered with the Sustainable Events Network, Florida & Caribbean (SENFC) and Sulzbacher organization, a homeless support network in Jacksonville, to distribute leftover food from all three days of the conference. FSAE donated 25 pans of desserts, eight pans of beef, five pans of rosemary polenta and four pans of broccoli to Sulzbacher clients.
The Sulzbacher Center serves more than 800 meals per day to men, women and children experiencing crisis homelessness.
SENFC rescues leftover food from events, conferences and other partners in the hospitality industry to avoid waste and keep food out of landfills.