How to do good and well

I warn you in advance this post is fucking boring.

Unless you are interested in corporate  philanthropy. But then I guess you have a lot of other problems to think about.

So, recently I read “Compassionate Capitalism” a book from Marc Benioff and Karen Southwick to learn a bit more about corporate philanthropy.

I didn’t know shit about the topic. And I think beside being a freat marketing manifesto of Salesforce there were actually a few interesting things.

These are the ones who stuck with me about corporate philanthropy:

  1. Experience bad philanthropy models – it seems the harder you fall the better
  2. Align philanthropic activities to your company values 
  3. Make philanthropy part of your company identity
  4. Attract people who fit this identity
  5. Give autonomy and reward efforts

I am going to use Salesforce (of course) as an example of the simple framework.

Experience bad philanthropy models

Many of Salesforce executives joined the company from Oracle Corporation where they had experimented how starting a philanthropic program requires more than just putting a fuck load of cash behind it.

Marc Benioff, CEO of and at the time SVP of Oracle, received form Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison a budget of $100 million to jump start the company’s philanthropic efforts.

And everything went bananas.

One could ask why. Considering Benioff was a superstar and Ellison is known for not giving up stuff easily.  In the words of Benioff many years later: “it simply was not part of the company culture to do philanthropy”.

Benioff later on realized that:

“There’s no reason why your business, your personal philanthropy and your corporate philanthropy can’t be integrated. On the contrary: if you can get all the wood behind one arrow, that’s how you’re going to increase your impact.”

Align your philanthropic activities to your company values

As Salesforce core value is “service”, Benioff came up with the idea to serve their customers with the best online customer relationship management software and their communities with a range of social impact activities.

They align around “service”. I liked it cause it is very simple.

Make philanthropy part of your company identity 

In 2000, just one year after founding Salesforce, Benioff started Foundation to coordinate the company efforts around grants, donations and employee activities to serve the communities.

Salesforce foundation received 1% of equity, an unusual move which generated a vast pool of resources when the company IPO’ed in 2004 at a valuation of around $1.1B. Even more today that is valued above $10bn.

This 1% equity gives a strong moral message about what the company cares about and how philanthropy is rooted in Salesforce identity.

This is skin in the game

Attract people who fit your company identity

The executives hires know they will be asked about community involvement during their interviews. Salesforce is knows for screening candidates based on their philanthropic values.

At the same time new hires actively reach out to Salesforce because of its social impact mission. Steve Cakebread who was interviewed directly by Benioff reminds:

“When you make the idea of philanthropy part of your interviewing and hiring you get a group of people who are coming to work for more than just the paycheck – It’s a selling point”.

Give smart people autonomy and reward for efforts

Salesforce allows employees to use 1% of their time to volunteer on whatever they want to.

Trust is the greatest source of motivation. And 80% of the employees use these 6 paid days a year. 

But things don’t end there.

Employees have incentives to volunteer.

Not only your volunteering projects are a standard KPI tracked by the company but employees are also awarded for their volunteering efforts: the company matches any employees’ donation and offers cash prizes to any employee who reaches more than 40 hours of volunteering to donate to a charity of her choice.

Employee are trained on how to volunteer.

First week orientation includes half a day of service work at one of the many nonprofits that Salesforce has provided free products to. In fact, through a dedicated program called Power of Us Salesforce offers 10 free accounts to any nonprofit organization and sells additional accounts at 80% discount. Then, it takes all the profits from the sales and invests them back in improving that specific product for those specific nonprofit needs.

Salesforce allows employees flexibility in the organizations they want to support but at the same time there are some areas where they feel they can make a bigger impact: one of these areas is local schools STEM education. Salesforce provides start-up capital and free services to build technology centers in schools.

Is this a Win-Win Strategy?

I don’t think there is any doubt that involving employees in philanthropic activities is a win-win strategy for a company.

Can 6 days a year impact the company performance negatively?

I don’t know. But looking at Salesforce numbers one could say the opposite.

But 6 days of every employee compounded can definitely impact the community positively.

And I would argue Salesforce employees benefit too.

The time off provides employees with space to reflect and zoom out from day to day routines, to rediscover other aspects of their life beyond their job, to create social bonding with colleagues, to hone their leadership skills and to think outside of the box.

I am sure we will see more and more of these examples in the future.


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