Next Up for a Pioneer in Corporate Philanthropy: Transforming Workplace Giving

 photo:  g-stockstudio/shutterstock

photo:  g-stockstudio/shutterstock

Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, has been known to say that “the business of business is to improve the state of the world.” That statement might raise eyebrows in some quarters, but Benioff seems to stand by it. Salesforce, along with its nonprofit arm Salesforce.org, has led Silicon Valley’s charge toward more integrated models of corporate philanthropy. 

When Benioff founded the company back in 1999, he promised to “bake in” philanthropy from the get-go. Pledging 1 percent of equity, 1 percent of product, and 1 percent of employee time to charity, Salesforce set the stage for the 1+1+1 giving model embodied in Pledge 1%. Spurred in part by millennial techies who don’t want to compartmentalize business and social good, Pledge 1% has caught fire lately. Over 1,500 firms have adopted the model.

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This year, Salesforce is rolling out the next stage in its compassionate capitalism game plan. Dubbed Philanthropy Cloud, it’s a “social giving platform” that riffs off the company’s widely used customer relationship management products to make employee giving more personalized, networked, and generally interesting.

The interest factor is key. While philanthropy among the rich is growing these days, giving from ordinary Americans is on the decline. There are a number of reasons for that, including secularization and stagnant incomes. But it doesn’t help that many employee giving programs seem so lackluster. In the age of crowdfunding, social media, and, yes, Netflix, personalization is paramount. So is a sense of engagement that goes beyond a routine paycheck deduction.

According to Salesforce, Philanthropy Cloud will let employees take charge of their giving experience by “donating and requesting matching gifts; setting year-round goals; mapping individual philanthropy goals against friends, team and corporate goals; organizing and tracking volunteer hours; and assessing total personal, community and company impact.” Several companies are currently piloting the platform, and it's set to debut this summer.

It’s hardly surprising to see Salesforce partner with United Way to set up Philanthropy Cloud. United Way may have a reputation as middleman of choice for the old style of employee giving, but its president and CEO Brian Gallagher seems eager to embrace the new. As he put it for a FastCompany piece on Philanthropy Cloud, “We are living in an age of individuals, not institutions.”

That’s a telling statement, and it underscores the practical fact that their companies are often the only institutions employees engage with on a regular basis. That’s why folks like Gallagher—and philanthropy-oriented businesspeople like Benioff—are committed to building those sought-after “cultures of giving” in the workplace. 

At the same time, Philanthropy Cloud also lets users cultivate their personal brands. Its interface pairs companywide campaigns and employer-matched donations, for instance, with a personal profile that users can take with them when they switch jobs. Another intriguing feature will let users track how their contributions impact the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, a theme we’ve seen before from Salesforce.

This new platform comes at a time when corporate philanthropy as a whole is becoming more strategic. Companies are abandoning piecemeal charity for campaigns that draw on their assets and expertise, and also coincide snugly with the quest for profit. Pledge 1% and the 1+1+1 model certainly fit that bill, and whether it’s through impact investing, employee volunteering, or tools like Philanthropy Cloud, Salesforce has led the way. And so have even larger tech firms like Google (an early Pledge 1% convert) and Microsoft, via giving campaigns that often involve their own products.

Beyond Silicon Valley, the financial sector has also eagerly embraced this approach. We’ve written about banks like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and others drawing on their extensive assets to build opportunity for youth, jobseekers, and small business—in ways that grow their own businesses even further. So while corporate giving might be getting more dynamic and interesting, even for the employees, it still is never too far removed from these companies’ primary mission. Philanthropy Cloud, for example, won’t be free.

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