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February 10, 2017
Planning & Strategy  |  5 min read

Want to Engage Millennials? You Need to Have a Mission Beyond Making Money

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James A. Martin

Still think that millennials only want to post Instagram photos of their food? If so, you’re making a huge business mistake.

The reality is, millennials are on a mission. They want to change the world. And if you want them to be your customers, you need to change the world, too. Or a little part of it, at least.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) prefer to do business with companies that give back, research shows. They want to feel good about where their dollars go; and they like it when businesses do the right thing for the environment, their employees, animals, or other important causes.

So, if you’re trying to attract the lucrative—and large—millennial demographic, your company needs a mission, too, beyond making money.

Millennials love it when companies give back

Millennials are more likely than Generation Xers and baby boomers “to say it matters if American businesses give back to society,” according to an August 2016 poll conducted for Fortune magazine.

In another 2016 survey from Deloitte Digital, 87 percent of millennials said they believe “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.”

Millennials aren’t asking businesses to do something they aren’t doing themselves. Eighty percent of millennials are active in their communities beyond work, and nearly 50 percent say that “changing the world for the better” is a top goal, Forbes research shows.

Related Article:

3 ways to "do the right thing"

What should you do to court millennials looking for businesses that give back—without being obnoxious about it?

1. Set realistic goals

You probably can’t, for example, give all your employees a day off every month to volunteer. But maybe you can give them one afternoon off per quarter for volunteer work or organize an all-day event twice a year in which teams donate time to a nonprofit. Or, perhaps encourage group participation in fundraising walks. Maybe all of the above?

The key: Brainstorm with co-workers and employees to come up with meaningful ways to give back as a company, and/or as individuals and teams. And don’t overcommit.

If you need inspiration, check out BuzzFeed’s list of 22 companies—many of which are small businesses—that give back in some way. One shining example is specialty gum/mint brand Project 7’s mission. For each purchase made, Project 7 donates equivalent funds to nonprofits focused on saving the environment, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, and more.

2. Focus

There’s no shortage of nonprofits, so you’ll need to decide which one(s) to support. Think about those whose efforts align with your team’s talents, skills, and knowledge. An example is ShelfGenie, a small Colorado-based company that designs and installs glide-out shelves and has donated expertise and products to Homes for Our Troops, which adapts homes for disabled veterans.

3. Show, don’t tell

Encourage team members to share their nonprofit work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or LinkedIn. Add images and videos to these posts for deeper engagement. Not only does this show your company giving back; it will indicate that your employees are engaged and happy—a double bonus, in the eyes of many millennials.

Use social media to ask followers which causes are important to them. Or, offer free products or services to customers who participate in your fundraising efforts.

The point is: Don’t simply tell followers that you support a cause; show them your support in action, and invite them to get involved, too. And be creative, as shoemaker TOMS did with this video that illustrates how sales of its Apple Watch bands benefit people in Africa.

Do it for the right reasons

If you’re giving back simply because you think it’ll be good business, don’t bother. Millennials value authenticity and transparency; they crave “authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions,” says The Huffington Post. If it appears that your company’s charitable efforts are really about helping your business versus helping others, you’ll do more harm than good.


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