The 50 bicycles were wheeled into a conference room, one-by-one, at the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle. Also in the room were dozens of workers from a local apparel company, who had united in the mission of assembling the bikes, which were to be donated to needy children in the Puget Sound area.

Soon after, those kids entered the ornate hall and received one of the best surprises of their young lives.

But it was the shared sense of accomplishment by the teary-eyed workers that turned out to be the hidden gift of this Corporate Social Responsibility—or CSR—team-building program.

“All these kids come in and you have grown men with tears in their eyes,” says Alan Ranzer, managing partner and co-founder of Impact 4 Good, a leading voice in the CSR movement. “What the workers say is, ‘I have never done something as rewarding.’ That translates into employees feeling good about the company that they work for because they were able to link good deeds to that company.”

The build-a-bike activity is just one of many CSR programs meeting planners are encouraging companies to pursue in order for the organizations to improve both their bottom line and their public perception. After all, a happy worker is a productive worker, industry experts say.

“CSR is the fastest growing segment of our business,” says Gary Corbin of Run Brain Run, a Portland, Ore.-based corporate event planning firm. “It has really come on strong in the last couple of years as people look to find ways to give back.

“Also, for the employees,” he adds, “it gives them a sense of belonging not only to the company but to the community.”

Don’t ‘Just Do It’
More traditional team-building methods, such as ropes courses, have been left in the dust by this emerging trend, say several corporate event planners.

“As the workforce ages, people aren’t as willing to do stuff like a rope course or zip line,” says Corbin, who has run events at locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, including some on Nike’s sprawling Beaverton, Ore. campus. “You aren’t going to see too many 50- and 60-year-olds jumping off those things.”