A Tech Company Extends its Commitment to Traditional Public Schools to a New Hub

photo:  Phil's Mommy/shutterstock

photo:  Phil's Mommy/shutterstock

About a year ago, Salesforce opened a new tower in Indianapolis. The city is slated to be the company’s largest hub outside San Francisco. With the new location, Salesforce is continuing CEO Marc Benioff’s philosophy for corporate giving and commitment to working with local public schools.

Salesforce.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, recently announced a $500,000 gift to Indianapolis Public Schools. The gift will fund a new information and technology academy within one of the district’s high schools, and provide general support for college and career readiness.

True to form, the gift builds on employee volunteer hours in the district. Salesforce pioneered the 1-1-1 model for corporate giving, which commits 1 percent of a company’s equity, 1 percent of its products and 1 percent of  its employees’ time to charitable causes. More than 90 percent of Salesforce employees in Indiana volunteer at the school district, according to the company.

Salesforce moved to Indianapolis only last year, and in a lot of ways, this grant can be seen as a continuation of the work its been doing around its headquarters in San Francisco.  

“We’re only getting started. As a San Francisco-based company, six years ago, we wanted to pilot our program with the San Francisco Unified School District. Two years ago, we expanded to Oakland. And the Indiana Public Schools grant is the latest expansion of our education initiatives,” a spokesperson from Salesforce.org said.

To get an idea of where work in Indianapolis is heading, it’s helpful to look how it compares to the philanthropic work the company backs in San Francisco and Oakland. In 2017, the company funneled $12.2 million into the San Francisco and Oakland unified school districts.

Relatively speaking, $500,000 might not seem like much, but it fits with Salesforce’s  pattern, which is to start small, evaluate outcomes, and then scale up when it sees the results it wants. The company’s work with Bay Area school districts started in 2013 with a $2.7 million grant to the San Francisco Unified School District. Each year, Salesforce increased grant amounts, and later expanded to include the Oakland public school district.

It’s also worth noting that Salesforce’s work in Indianapolis continues its commitment to working with public school districts. That's a contrast to much recent education philanthropy that has tended to focus on charter schools or nonprofit education groups. Years of big gifts to traditional public schools that didn’t seem to move the needle pushed many philanthropists to favor charters instead. However, despite big investments in such schools, the vast majority of U.S. students still attend traditional public schools and a growing number of donors are focusing on improving how such schools operate. Salesforce is a case in point.

An emphasis on STEM is another carryover from Salesforce’s work in the Bay Area, where the company put money toward a district-wide computer science curriculum. STEM is a common focus among tech funders. Google, for one, has partnered with Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code in the past. While tech money obviously benefits schools and other partner organizations, investing in STEM education is also good for tech companies. A tech-savvy workforce means a bigger pool of potential employees.

That’s likely one factor Salesforce is considering. The company pledged to invest in the local workforce when it moved to Indiana. Salesforce is slated to add 800 new jobs in the next five years, and plans to train 500 apprentices locally. A local population with a strong STEM grounding makes that promise easier to fulfill. A $500,000 grant alone won’t achieve that, but this gift is likely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Salesforce’s plans for the Indianapolis public school district.