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Disrupting Corporate Philanthropy

Three best moves and three biggest lessons—Marc Benioff reflects on more than a decade of work at the Salesforce.com Foundation.

SSIR x Bridgespan: Giving That Gets Results SSIR x Bridgespan: Giving That Gets Results Giving That Gets Results is an eight-week series of voices from the vanguard of giving. Philanthropists and foundation executives share how they are adapting their strategies, aiming for results, and measuring their impact to learn and improve. #givesmart

What I like most about technology is that the only constant is change. This is also true for philanthropy.

When we first started salesforce.com in 1999, we set aside 1 percent of our equity, 1 percent of employee time, and 1 percent of our product to create a foundation. We call this the 1/1/1 model of integrated corporate philanthropy, and it has become an integral part of our company’s culture. As the business has grown, so have the contributions made by our foundation. We now have more than 100 dedicated employees at the Salesforce.com Foundation; we have contributed more than 500,000 hours of community service, provided free or deeply discounted product to 20,000 nonprofits, and donated $50 million in grants. Perhaps what is most exciting is that other companies have adopted this new model for corporate philanthropy: Google put parts of the 1/1/1 model into practice to create a $2 billion foundation. Workday, Zynga, Yelp, and others have also followed our lead.

We are constantly accelerating, changing course, and discovering new places to explore, and we have learned a lot about what works and what does not along the way. Following are our three best moves and three biggest lessons—what we did right from the start and where we needed to make adjustments to increase our impact.

Where we got it right:

Integrate philanthropy into the company culture. With the 1/1/1 model, every employee starts his or her first day working as a volunteer on a community service project as part of our new hire orientation program, and this spirit of service carries through his or her career at salesforce.com. We integrate philanthropy into our business planning process, performance reviews, team meetings, and customer events. Our foundation employees sit with other salesforce.com employees; they are one team, and this integration yields tremendous results—our volunteer rates are at 80 percent, more than triple the national average. Also, more than half of our employees take advantage of our matching program for charitable donations.

Build systems for measurement. The first app we built on our platform was designed to measure everything related to our foundation’s performance. We track volunteer hours and the percent of volunteerism by department and manager. The app also measures metrics for our product and grant donation programs. We even use it to track outcomes for our youth programs, including the number of student internships, scholarships, graduation rates, and job placements our partnerships with YearUP and College Track enable. This app has been so effective at helping us evaluate and achieve goals that we have made it available to others via our AppExchange, salesforce.com’s marketplace for business apps.

Align philanthropy with company expertise. We provide the opportunity for our highly skilled employees to provide on-the-job technology training and mentor youth in our communities. Teaching young people about technology—something we do through such trainings as well as our contributions to tech centers, entrepreneurship programs, and public schools—helps develop the next generation of leaders. The sobering fact: As a country, we lag far behind other developed nations in educating our children in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). China has 46.7 percent of college graduates with STEM degrees, whereas the United States has only 5.6 percent. We want to see that number change.

Lessons we learned along the way:

Build a model that scales. Product donation has always been an important part of our model. We offer the first 10 licenses of Salesforce for free to any nonprofit organization, and sell any additional licenses at an 80 percent discount. Originally, the company managed this process and collected that revenue, but to scale our foundation and better serve our nonprofit customers, we transitioned to an earned-income social enterprise model. Now, we take the revenue from nonprofit sales (we didn’t change the cost for users; we still give the first 10 licenses for free and still offer any additional licenses at an 80 percent discount) and invest it back into sector-specific product enhancements, new training, programs, and grants expansion. As a result of this change, we project that we can more than double the amount of grants we deliver during our second decade.

Focus equals impact. It can be incredibly difficult to gauge measurable impact through philanthropy. Initially we gave smaller gifts to many organizations, but we found that these projects were difficult to manage. We also supported a broad range of causes. After testing a number of education, jobs, and health care projects, we now concentrate more deeply in fewer areas and bring our full 1/1/1 model to bear. We focus on communities where groups of employees are concentrated so that we can easily combine our grants with volunteers and technology for greater impact. In San Francisco, we are deeply involved with the city’s public middle schools, where we just gave a $2.7 million initial grant to support technology, training, and STEM education. In just the first six months of this program, we have given more than 1,500 volunteer hours to mentor and tutor students in after school programs.

Your impact is far greater than your individual contributions. Philanthropy isn’t just about big gifts from a single company—it is about the power of engaging others to make an impact on a specific issue. In the beginning, we focused largely on what salesforce.com could contribute to the community, but we could only get so far acting alone. We learned that we could amplify our results by engaging our entire network of employees, customers, partners and suppliers.   For example, we launched a Power of Us program to extend our 1/1/1 model to our ecosystem of cloud computing partners by facilitating discounted contributions of apps relevant to our nonprofit customers. At Dreamforce, our annual user conference, we encourage guests to participate in on-site volunteer opportunities such as creating earthquake preparedness kits for the American Red Cross and building bikes for Bay Area children in need with Playworks. Together, we can provide nonprofits with the resources they need to advance their missions.

People often overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade. That is true in philanthropy too. I look forward to seeing what we do—and fail at next year—and how the adjustments we make will result in even greater success.

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COMMENTS

  • BY Howard Brodwin

    ON November 27, 2013 09:15 AM

    Good read, and I really like the 1/1/1 model and how it’s been applied and adjusted over time. Would love to see more companies adopt this type of approach.

    One curious observation about Salesforce.com though…
    They recently abandoned the “social enterprise” tagline from their marketing and admitted it was a wrong move. They were using it in a completely different connotation than what is commonly used in the “nonprofit earned income/social impact” space. I believe it was more as a marketing message to suggest that their enterprise software was a social tool.

    It just strikes me as odd that company and CEO who seem to grasp what a social enterprise is and how the models work to solve social issues, could have chosen to twist the phrase to mean something else for their own benefit. Or maybe it speaks to the point that “social enterprise” is still so loosely defined that it’s hard for many to grasp it’s true meaning.

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