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Food, Sex, Drugs And Money: How Charity Stimulates Your Business And Your Brain

By September 21, 2011July 5th, 2014Marketing Insights & Strategy
Food, Sex, Drugs And Money: How Charity Stimulates Your Business And Your Brain

A client of mine will soon be featured on a national magazine’s website. She works hard and considers her business a personal calling. She even launched an online portal to match other people who do what she does with customers around the world.

How did she get national publicity? I know the magazine’s editor, but the real reason was that my client owns another website that helps active military and military wives obtain support during their pregnancies from specialized volunteers.

This service, Operation Special Delivery, made a powerful human interest story. The national story was not about her business per se, but about something she’s doing that’s inspired by her business.

Philanthropy is pleasurable. Skeptical? Brain researchers put subjects into a brain scanner, or fMRI machine, and discovered that their brains’ reward centers lit up when they imagined giving money to charity.

From the study: “The mesolimbic system regulates overall reward reinforcement and prediction and is activated by a host of stimuli, including food, sex, drugs and money.” (I thought that last part made a more exciting title than the one the authors chose: “Human fronto–mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation,” (

If you’re unconvinced by the last paragraph, consider that philanthropy will give you lots of positive word of mouth, the best form of publicity. Referrals from trusted sources are more valuable than advertisements, a killer website, a Facebook page or a news story. They’re all important, of course, but word of mouth remains king.

If you partner with a non-profit (disclosure: I sit on the board of a local homeless shelter) you or your employees may want to provide your product or service pro bono, volunteer at or sponsor a fundraiser, serve on its boards or committees, or simply donate cash.

In return, the non-profit will typically grant exposure to their donors and supporters in the form of recognition on their website, newsletter and other marketing materials, invitations to their events, their volunteers’ labor, and so on.

Businesses and non-profits can help each other in numerous ways. The BlueClaws Single A baseball team has a foundation, BlueClaws Charities, that partners with more than 30 non-profits. At each game, a representative from a different charity gets to throw the ceremonial first pitch and to staff a self-promotional booth in the stadium where foot traffic is constant.

The charity sells tickets for the team and keeps a fraction of each one sold. The charity also supplies volunteers to help out at the concession stands at one game a year, for which it gets a percentage of concession revenue.

The BlueClaws provides a board member for one year. While each non-profit gains exposure to thousands of baseball fans through its programs, on its website and in the stadium itself, the team gets free exposure to each non-profits’ network of supporters throughout the season.

Before partnering with anyone, I recommend finding a good fit with what your do or how you want to be seen. Vet its financials through Ideally, it’s directly related to your business, but it doesn’t have to be. A chiropractor I know offers free treatments to military veterans. A dentist treats uninsured patients at a clinic.  Each person you help has friends and family who are potential customers of your business.

Let your convictions guide you. Your fronto–mesolimbic networks will thank you.