Scaling up corporate philanthropy: the Salesforce model
The Stanford Social Innovation Review has an interesting piece outlining the way that Salesforce manages its philanthropy. The mission-driven technology consulting shop I used to run was a certified Salesforce shop, so I know a bit about how all this works, but this article helped me understand just how deliberate Salesforce about setting up its particular approach to philanthropy. I think it’s worth understanding this approach as a potential model for other large technology providers.
Essentially, what distinguishes the Salesforce Foundation from other foundations is that it resells Salesforce software to the nonprofit sector. It generates revenue from those sales, revenue that is then used to serve the sector in a variety of ways that are detailed in this article. One of the more interesting aspects of the way it invests that money is the foundation’s in-house technology team (many of whom are former members of my old team, by the way). This team innovates in ways that help solve problems that are particular to the nonprofit sector.
This model is not without its detractors, of course. Some would argue that Salesforce is simply using the foundation as a way to sell software at a discount to the nonprofit sector. It now generates some $20 million a year in nonprofit revenues on software that arguably has little incremental cost (note: I take issue with that argument: the ops costs and support costs for delivering this kind of software as service are significant).
So, yes, it’s not a black-or-white, slam-dunk, this is the right solution answer, but I actually support what the foundation is doing. Why? Because it addresses the number one problem I have with traditional approaches to philanthropy: eventually demand for it outstrips supply and you can’t scale. I ran into that problem over and over again in the organization I used to run. It’s a huge problem. And an approach like this helps solve that. The key, of course, is having other mechanisms in place that sales and revenues don’t put the cart in front of the horse, and that you keep the mission front and center at all times.
#philanthropy #socialenterprise #salesforce #nonprofits #technology