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NelsonG

The tech of giving back: An interview with Salesforce’s Chief Philanthropy Officer

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Since its founding two decades ago, Salesforce has pioneered the Pledge 1% model of giving back one percent of equity, product, profit, and employee time to charity.

As EVP, Marketing and Chief Philanthropy Officer for Salesforce, Ebony Beckwith is in charge of identifying those service opportunities for more than 40,000 employees while also managing the Salesforce Foundation, which administers millions of dollars in community grants and programs supporting efforts that include workforce education, disaster relief and K-12 education.

Extra Crunch recently interviewed Beckwith about Salesforce’s ongoing efforts to create a culture that gives back and how Salesforce’s use of both a foundation and a fully-integrated business unit dedicated to nonprofits sets it apart from other corporate philanthropy efforts.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ebony Frelix Beckwith Salesforce

Photo: courtesy Salesforce

Creating a culture of giving back

Extra Crunch: I want to start with what Salesforce is perhaps best known for: the 1% model. So can you talk about what it means and how it’s evolved over the years?

Ebony Beckwith: So literally the 1% model stands for ‘one, one, one:’ 1% of time, 1% of equity, and 1% of our products. Mark came up with this model based on the work he was doing at his previous company and how he really wanted to marry kind of philanthropy and doing good.

He’ll say, “doing well and doing good go hand in hand. You can do both.” [That’s why] when Mark and the founders started this company twenty years ago, they built giving back into our DNA as a core value.

They were betting on the success of our company before we had anything. You know one percent of employee time when you only have seven employees and not that much. But now we have over 40,000 employees, so one percent of their time is a lot. 

How has that model changed over the years?

Obviously, it’s become more formalized. My team and I are responsible for engaging our 40,000 employees to give back in the community in ways that are meaningful for them where they live and work. It’s part of the corporate culture. People know that [when] they come here, it’s part of the job expectation; [they’re] given seven paid days off to volunteer.

But our team is so small and we can’t get to every single employee. So we have a lot of programs and incentives for them to just really feel good about giving back. We match our employees dollar for dollar up to $5,000 to give back to the causes that they care about. [With] one program, Circle the Schools, our executives adopt a school in their local area, meet with the principal of the school and really work with them as community members to find out what’s needed. We have over 120 now.

Can you talk a little bit about about your identity? Do you see yourself as a philanthropy? As a nonprofit? As a company that services nonprofits?

The model has evolved over time. As of July 1st, Salesforce.org is a full vertical business unit within Salesforce. That is a dedicated social impact team working to serve nonprofits and higher ed and education institutions with our technology. 

At the same time, I am CEO of the Salesforce Foundation, which is the 501(c)(3) where we do all of our strategic grant making. We have a separate board that oversees [it and] a separate strategy. We’ll give away $30 million in grants this year.

[That’s also] where the employee giving programs like volunteer time off and employee matching are.

How do you decide on philanthropic areas?

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