Salesforce Breaks the Mold by Appointing a Chief Philanthropy Officer

Salesforce, the American cloud computing company, has continually pushed the envelope of what it means for a corporation to be involved in the community. They are the initiators of Pledge 1%, an international corporate charitable giving initiative by which members pledge to donate a minimum of 1% of their profits, product or time. So far, 38 countries and more than 1,300 companies are participating.

Changing the Corporate Philanthropy Paradigm

The traditional paradigm of corporate giving is one where performance is contingent on ability. Donations are a percentage of earnings, based upon net profits which are subject to economic conditions and product success. This means that during downturns in a company’s performance or the general economy, a company may choose to withhold or severely curtail its philanthropic giving.
Suzanne DiBianca, co-founder and former President of Salesforce Foundation, who helped to launch the 1% Initiative, is on a mission to change all of this. Last April, she was appointed chief philanthropy officer and executive vice president of corporate relations for Salesforce which provides her with the perfect platform to lead Salesforce into the next dimension of corporate responsibility.

Integrated Philanthropy

DiBianca says the goal of Salesforce is to integrate philanthropic giving into the corporation’s activities regardless of performance or the state of the economy. She is a pioneer of the concept of “integrated philanthropy” which means that a company’s philanthropy is aligned with its core strengths and competencies. In other words, it is not just about giving money, but recognizing that a company’s products, time, and technologies are equally important. Salesforce initiated the 1-1-1 model whereby it gives away 1% of its time, 1% of its product and 1% of its profit.

Over the past 15 years, Salesforce has built up an enormous philanthropic apparatus, making donations of $137 million to the company’s two core project areas and providing discounted or free services to more than 30,000 education and nonprofit institutions. Among its recipients are Genesys Works and YearUp, two nonprofits focused on professional training as a means of socio-economic empowerment, and CoderDojo and Black Girls Code, education enrichment organizations.

Salesforce’s work with YearUp, goes way beyond funding, the company also hires more than 100 of the program’s participants each year. Ultimately around 70% of the YearUp recruits become full-time employees. In addition, Salesforce employees have donated more than 1.8 million volunteer hours doing everything from building health clinics and schools to coaching little league baseball teams.

A Chief Philanthropy Officer Empowers Philanthropy

DiBianca feels that her role as chief philanthropy officer gives her a platform from which she can lead a dramatic change in the way corporations engage with the world around them, using corporate philanthropy as a channel for social change. From DiBianca’s perspective, corporations must do more than merely support concepts such as pay equity and gender equality. They should actively push for change, by supporting or opposing legislation and otherwise becoming directly involved in the policymaking process. Integrated philanthropy also means incorporating the causes of employees into the overall corporate responsibility model. Rather than individuals within the corporation pursuing social agendas on the side, the corporation can represent them and advocate on their behalf.
When a company appoints a chief philanthropy officer, philanthropy ceases to be an adjunct to its business mission and instead becomes an integral part of the corporate strategic plan. A truly radical reconstruction of the corporate responsibility model can transpire, a model in which corporate giving becomes an organic component on the same level as product development, sales, and human resources.