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What Marc Benioff Taught Me about Philanthropy

It’s never too early or too late to build philanthropy into your business model

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BY Maynard Webb - 15 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Think your company is too small to think about giving back? Think again.

Especially when you're starting out, caring about others less fortunate than you says a lot about the kind of company you are trying to build. I've witnessed the wonders of doing so.

As a part of eBay going public, founder Pierre Omidyar and first full-time employee and president Jeff Skoll created the eBay Foundation, which helped establish a strong culture of giving back. Salesforce was inspired by the eBay Foundation and looked to the eBay model when it started its own philanthropic initiative in 1999. Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff built on this idea and extended it. From day one, he implemented a 1-1-1 model, dedicating 1 percent of equity, 1 percent of employee time, and 1 percent of product to nonprofits and educational institutions.

The result is incredible: Salesforce technology has powered more than 32,000 nonprofit and education institutions; Salesforce and its philanthropic entities have provided more than $168 million in grants; and Salesforce employees have logged more than 2.3 million volunteer hours to improve communities around the world.

Seeing all of this inspired me; when I was recruited to be the CEO of LiveOps, I insisted that implementing the 1-1-1 model was one of the criteria for me taking the job. It mattered: Our employees felt proud of this work and most candidates coming through the recruiting process remarked on how it differentiated our company.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. You don't have enough equity to give away 1 percent. You don't know if it will even be worth anything. You're managing cash burn tightly, and you don't have cash to give. You expect big things out of your team and they don't have time to spend on this.

The good news? This is all possible. Case in point: Salesforce Ventures, the company's investment arm, encourages its portfolio companies to make giving back part of their business model from the start, and dozens of their portfolio companies, including Appirio, Box, DocuSign, Demandbase, and InsideSales have adopted the 1-1-1 model through the Pledge 1 percent initiative.

What should you do to get going?

Start small. Participate in a charity drive around the holidays to collect food, toys, etc. Celebrate how much you have raised or given.

Let your people "own" it and develop it. Give employees the freedom to spend up to two to five days a year on the nonprofit of their choice. Being able to make their own decisions about where to invest their time makes it meaningful to them and they'll support it.

Use philanthropy to unite the company. Consider doing team-building exercises around helping a favorite charity.

None of the practices above will end up costing that much, but you and your team will find that giving back to others is rewarding and well worth the effort. Of course, if you want to dive in deeper, you can. But be mindful about what you can maintain; people can feel so strongly about this that dialing anything back can lower morale. If you're ready to go all-in and create a comprehensive plan from the start, the Pledge 1% website will be a great resource.

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