Marc Benioff’s technology company volunteers to reshape philanthropy model
By Danielle Lee
When Salesforce.com emerged on the technology scene in 1999 with the novel concept of offering software as an online service, the accompanying PR catchphrase was “the end of software.” Perhaps less known was the parallel mantra, coined for the newly formed Salesforce.com Foundation: “the end of philanthropy.”
“While this phrase shocked some, what we meant was an end to corporations just giving away money” and that they should “get more involved with the organizations they support,” says Salesforce.com CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff.
Benioff, under whose leadership CRM leader Salesforce.com has evolved in a decade from a disruptive idea into a public company that projects more than $1 billion in revenue in 2009, is the chief evangelizer—through books, conferences and the media—for Salesforce.com’s 1/1/1 Corporate Responsibility model.
These numbers correspond to the three ways in which the Salesforce.com Foundation contributes to the community, providing 1 percent of employee hours, 1 percent of company equity and 1 percent of its product.
“This is what we do, you can’t take it out,” says Benioff of Salesforce.com’s philanthropy model. “It’s like trying to take the blood out of the body. This is what we do every day.”
Creating a culture
Benioff created the 1/1/1 model at Salesforce.com after his experience working at software company Oracle, where he says philanthropy was less ingrained. Benioff recalls an Oracle volunteer activity at a Washington, D.C., school where only two employees showed up to transport some computers. Benioff says that forced him to call Colin Powell, then chairman of volunteer network America’s Promise, for help. In lieu of volunteers, Powell enlisted a Marine battalion to do the heavy lifting, Benioff says.
“I had learned from my experience working at my previous employer Oracle that it is extremely difficult to establish a culture of giving after the company has been formed and the culture has been set,” says Benioff. “I wanted to leverage the assets of companies in a more long-term and easily sharable way, which was something I hadn’t seen before.”
Culture-building takes tone at the top, but also a bottom-up approach.
That’s why three key players—Benioff, Salesforce.com Foundation Executive Director Suzanne DiBianca and Salesforce.com employees—are integral to making the model work.
“Our overall goal with the foundation…is to make it representative of the passion and interests of our employees versus something driven from the executive suite,” Benioff says.
DiBianca agrees. “We let go of control out of the executive office,” she says. “It’s driven by employee teams; we give them budgets, real power in where the support goes, and get to cultural goals.”
The culture established in the foundation reverberates throughout the company as a whole as Salesforce.com works on more expansive corporate social responsibility goals (see sidebar, below) with similarly high benchmarks.
“As with many things, focus can be a challenge,” Benioff says. “Because of all the resources being dedicated, it is important that organizations determine an area of focus, which in our case is around youth development, and identify the organizations most in need.”
Getting with the program
Salesforce.com Foundation’s 1/1/1 contributions are predominately funneled into education programs, including BizAcademy, an entrepreneurial workshop for high school students, led by company executives.
Benioff knows something about entrepreneurship, having founded his own entertainment software company at age 15.
Salesforce.com looks to place program participants as interns, awards college scholarships and links the students with mentors.
Recruiting employees through foundation programs is part of the model, which attracts business school graduates to Salesforce.com, says Benioff.
“The next generation workforce wants to do more than just make a paycheck,” says Benioff. “They want to do good in the world, as well.”
Similarly, DiBianca counts “doing good” as about “80 percent of the conversation” when hiring staff, noting that in a 2007 Deloitte survey, Generation Y participants cited ethics and the environment as key considerations in employment.
After new employees are hired, Salesforce.com capitalizes on this convergence of values, setting aside six paid days (or 1 percent of staff time) for employees to volunteer in the community.
Since July 2000, 85 percent of employees have collectively donated more than 80,000 community service hours, says Benioff. Employees choose where to volunteer and activities have ranged from feeding the homeless to tutoring children.
They have also volunteered in the wake of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
Monetary donations are integral in these circumstances—and to the philanthropy model—with 1 percent of Salesforce.com capital going to the foundation since the company went public in 2004. The donation of time and products, however, are intended to set Salesforce.com apart from its check-writing peers.
“Fundamentally, giving money is not enough,” says Benioff. “We have seen that nonprofits benefit the most from the synergies that come with providing all three [tenets]: volunteers and product donations, in addition to the money. That’s when you can really make a difference.”
Share and share alike
An important element of Salesforce.com’s efforts is that it shares its model with start-ups—and longer-established companies that can “retro-fit” the design—through a Salesforce Foundation website at www.sharethemodel.org.
Still, companies can’t mirror what Salesforce.com does. Benioff says companies must find what works for them and set priorities.
Nonprofits are the primary recipients of the company’s software-as-a-service product donations, the third piece of the 1/1/1 pie that currently serves 4,000 NGOs in 56 countries.
The organizations use the customizable online applications for a variety of clerical and organizational purposes, as the principal at the Bronx Lab School in New York City did to manage student information. The San Francisco Bay Area arm of the American Red Cross is another user, managing and tracking volunteers and supplies for disaster relief through a Salesforce.com application.
In another case, the San Francisco-based Project Homeless Connect is an NGO that understands the power of numbers and Salesforce.com tools to bolster donor and public support.
In its mission to transition the homeless from the streets, PHC’s use of Salesforce.com’s data tracking services and donations have helped the NGO serve almost 24,000 clients—12 percent of which are now permanently housed—since September 2004, says Director Judith Klain.
Following the model, Salesforce.com also contributes employee time to the organization.
As with all volunteer assistance, the foundation tracks these contributions and goals through annual “V2MOM” (Values, Visions, Methods, Obstacles and Measurement) reports in which employees outline their individual and company volunteer plans and expectations.
Nonprofit grantees also benefit from a Salesforce.com partnership with Google. The company works with Google to align its on-demand products with Google AdWords, a service that allows companies to purchase online ads based on Google keyword searches. Through the alliance, some of this targeted marketing is available to nonprofit grantees at no charge.
Salesforce.com’s share-the-model message is rooted in its own early practices: Other corporate philanthropy successes helped shape the model’s original design.
“We researched a number of corporate philanthropy models across different industries and from that research built a new model, which we felt combined the best of the best,” says Benioff. “Hasbro has a phenomenal employee volunteering program. Cisco has been a leader in the technology industry in providing product donations to underserved communities, and eBay was one of the pioneers in providing equity in the company to fund their philanthropic goals.”
In turn, companies like Google, LiveOps and BlueWolf have adopted the Salesforce.com model, and Benioff’s two books, “The Business of Changing the World: 20 Great Leaders on Strategic Corporate Philanthropy” and “Compassionate Capitalism: How Corporations Can Make Doing Good an Integral
Part of Doing Well,” encourage other companies to do the same.
“I talk to a lot of CEOs and many tell me that they are already engaging in one or two of the three tenets of the model. Either their employees volunteer in a program, or they give products away to those in need,” says Benioff. “Even though there is much more commitment in this area today then there was five years ago, I don’t know that the business community is really aware of the power of an integrated model yet.”
Oracle, he said during his keynote address at the CRO Summer Conference in San Francisco June 18, recently announced a volunteer goal of 25,000 hours of employee service. Benioff took issue with the depth of the program, given Oracle’s 80,000-member workforce.
“That would be 15 minutes [per employee],” Benioff said. “That’s a very quick trip to the food bank.”
Salesforce.com’s commitment is what attracted Alana Kadden, now an account executive at Salesforce.com, to the company.
“If I was going to work for a company, I wanted one that represented the values I have,” says Kadden. “That was coming from the top down at Salesforce.”
In February, Kadden and Benioff attended a Jewish Community Federation Business Leadership Council event and Benioff invited Kadden onstage to share her experiences about the integrated program.
“It’s demonstrating that he cares about what each person is doing even though he can’t necessarily be involved in all our projects,” Kadden says. “When I got up with Marc on stage… it was my first opportunity to personally say to Marc, ‘Thanks for this opportunity.’”
The blended model of work and volunteering can be a “tricky balance” for employees, Kadden says, but the flexibility of different projects and time frames levels out priorities.
Meanwhile, internal Vounteerforce software aids staff in tracking the available activities.
“There are two kinds of employees: One is excited and passionate about the model before they get here,” Kadden says. “If not, they are turned onto the model when they get here.”
Benioff’s program has garnered media attention beyond his speaking engagements and books. CRO named him CEO of the Year for Mid-Market Companies for 2008.
“He’s amazing, a great inspiration,” says DiBianca. “Not only with a radical and powerful vision, but he puts resources behind it to make it real; integrating the philanthropy message, and [he] lines up everyone.”
Now that philanthropy is becoming a higher—and more integrated—priority in the corporate world, Benioff finds his offensive-minded campaign occasionally playing defense.
“What really irks me is the negativity that sometimes comes out when a company reveals something positive it is doing,” says Benioff. “I don’t think companies should act responsibly simply for good PR; those add-on type programs aren’t sustainable.
“However,” he adds, “making an effort to do good is the first step.”
While Salesforce.com’s corporate philanthropy model has earned it praise, the company is still working on more general CSR integration, specifically in the environmental space.
Salesforce.com refers to an emerging push to reduce its carbon footprint as the “fourth 1” in its 1/1/1 design. Sue Amar, now Sustainability Program Manager, was instrumental in advocating an assessment of the company’s green policies, or lack thereof.
During a company meeting in 2006, Amar “said, ‘we want to be a responsible company, but haven’t aligned to do that for the earth or sustainability,’” Salesforce.com employee Alana Kadden recalls. “She is an incredible human being. She led a task force to make sweeping changes.”
Salesforce.com thus recognizes the broad scope of CSR.
“CSR is more than just philanthropy,” says Foundation Executive Director Suzanne DiBianca. “Functions live in the company. We get employees to use paid time to implement some of their ideas.”
Amar’s paid time at the company led to her new position and initiatives, which include “earthforce,” a program to green company offices and purchase carbon offsets based on the company’s greenhouse gas emissions for the previous year, Salesforce.com said.
These projects tie in to the foundation, with employee volunteer hours and funding targeting environmental programs outside of the company, as well.
“The sustainability program manager…is an extended member of the Salesforce.com Foundation team,” CEO Marc Benioff says, “joining all key strategy sessions and meetings. The Salesforce.com Foundation and our Senior Vice President of Human Resources work very closely together around our diversity and ethics issues, and so forth.