Customers want to buy from companies that do good. We all know this. But despite the hype surrounding millennials and their buying habits, this is not a new trend. Charity is important for all your customers In fact, according to YouGov, 79% of millennials and 78% of Generation X say that they prefer to buy from companies that do good in the world. As this makes up everyone under the age of 50, if you’re ignoring charity, you’re ignoring the majority of your customers. Philanthropy and social responsibility are at the heart of many successful businesses. Often, this stems from an appreciation of the power and importance of community engagement. Andrew Nisbet, founder of Nisbets, says: “Often, the very success of our businesses goes hand in hand with the support, encouragement and hard work of our local communities.” In marketing terms, philanthropy can be a very powerful tool. You often read a lot about what non-profits can learn from entrepreneurs, but there are also things that entrepreneurs can take from non-profits; this is not a one-way street. Here are just four benefits of giving back. #1. Philanthropy gives you a partner who can extend your reach Growing a startup can be lonely. It can also be difficult to build awareness and get yourself in front of your customers. Philanthropy gives you a partner who instantly extends your marketing reach. But the key to using your philanthropy to deliver extended reach lies in choosing the right charity partner. It’s no good just teaming up with your favourite good cause; when you’re a startup, to get the best results, it has to be a charity that resonates with your target audience. Or a charity that helps solve issues that affect both the company and their customers. For example, UK retailer Marks & Spencer has a long history of supporting community charities that tackle poverty and exclusion. This is not by accident. They need strong successful local communities to grow their business in the towns and cities where they have stores. As a member of the company’s founding family, David Sieff, said: “Healthy high streets need healthy backstreets.” By partnering with local charities, Marks & Spencer gets extra opportunities to market in the community; they improve the social and financial health of the people who use their stores, and they extend their reach. #2. Philanthropy gives you extra inspiration for marketing messages Marketing messages are slippery things. By the time you’ve identified your target audience and explored what’s going on inside their head, you’re often so exhausted that the message itself falls flat. It may feel like you can never get your message to hit. You may have gone to where your customers hang out online and in real life. You may even have the data to back up your marketing strategy. This is where philanthropy can help. Charities are asking for free donations in a world where fewer people want to hand over their hard-earned cash. So, working with them is an eye opener and can inspire you into new ways of thinking about how to approach your target audience. To survive, charities have to break the rules and commit 100% to their messaging. That means they can help entrepreneurs cut through the noise to see only the things that really matter. Take some of the most hard-hitting messages of recent years, for example, UNICEF Sweden’s 2013 message that got to the heart of our social media culture: “Likes don’t save lives. Money does.” Or WaterAid’s 2010 message: “Dig toilets, not graves”. It’s this kind of thinking that you can use to create effective charity campaigns together. It will inspire your own messaging in the future. #3. Philanthropy helps you build a good reputation that you can market Despite what you might think, your reputation is not passive, it’s also active and evolving. A good reputation is powerful and it can save you from all kinds of challenges and problems in the future. But it’s something that can’t be left alone; it needs constant attention to be effective. This is where philanthropy comes in. Let’s face it, giant publicly quoted corporations don’t do philanthropy out of the goodness of their heart. They might have done in the early days, when their founders were young. But once they get shareholders and dividends and all the rest, they do philanthropy because it makes sound business sense. Something bad might happen: for example, a corporation gets a bad rap for the way they treat their factory workers. They can then point to all the good they do in the community. They can also point out how many lives they’re saving worldwide – and double down on marketing their philanthropic credentials. And even if this rings hollow with many, it’s factual stuff that cannot be denied. This means a large percentage of the flack is deflected and ignored by their target audience. Never underestimate the importance of philanthropy long term. #4. Philanthropy creates free marketing opportunities Finally, teaming up with a charity is news. No matter how small you are, you’re going to get free media coverage. Even if that’s only in the sector press or your local newspaper, it all counts. But it gives you something else; it give you an opportunity to create social media campaigns that draw the eye of the national media. Today, the media needs an unending stream of content. And that’s something you can exploit. If you’re clever, you can create an online campaign that hits the zeitgeist and the sky is the limit. Charities are becoming experts at this. Remember the #NoMakeUpSelfie? That was the charity Cancer Research and raised millions. And the Ice Bucket Challenge, that was ALS Association, the charity for research into Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Charity partnerships can create outstandingly successful marketing campaigns such as the Bigger Issues campaign created by Unilever/Lynx and the charity CALM which highlighted the issue of male suicide. If you can channel this kind of thinking, these kinds of partnerships and creative thinking can take your brand to the next level and beyond for free. Philanthropy is more than just giving some money to a good cause. It’s a fantastic marketing opportunity, and every entrepreneur needs to take it seriously if they want to succeed long term.