The following is a conversation between Suzanne DiBianca, Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Officer of Salesforce,  and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: When people asked me who was going to be on the show this Sunday, and I told them Salesforce, the almost universal response was, “Cool!” Now, I don’t hear that that often…not about a guest on the show or, frankly, about much of anything else I might ever be doing.

One of the things that has helped make Salesforce cool is that they had philanthropy baked into the business model from the day they opened their doors. And the architect of that, along with their CEO, has been Suzanne DiBianca, the Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and the Chief Philanthropy Officer of Salesforce, who is with us now.

Good evening, Suzanne.  And welcome to The Business of Giving.

Suzanne: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Denver: For those who might not be familiar with Salesforce beyond the name, tell us about what the company does.

Suzanne: The Company is the world leader in intelligent customer relationship management enterprise software.

Start early; Start young; Bake it into the DNA of the company.  And as you build your business, really look at how you can create a company that not only delivers customer value but values all stakeholders.

Denver: It’s so interesting that it is mentioned that philanthropy is one of the founding tenets of the company. Now, most entrepreneurs are just concerned about making their organization a going concern.  But this was really rare– to do this early, and particularly back in 2000. What was the genesis of this? And what has been the impact of integrating philanthropy into the business model right from the very outset?

Suzanne: When we started the company, we really had a principle that we sort of called the three-legged stool, which was a new software model… new model for technology which essentially was software delivered in the Cloud. Today, it’s ubiquitous; in 2000, unheard of. We were still getting CDs in the mail from AOL and others.

The first tenet of our founding was around a new technology model. The second was around a new business model, which was subscription-based and pay-as-you-go; also unheard of at the time in software.  And we really took on the magazine model where you pay if you’re satisfied and if you’re enjoying it. So, the new business model was really around subscription-based software, and the third real key to the leg of the stool was the new philanthropy model.  And it was: Start early; Start young; Bake it into the DNA of the company. And as you build your business, really look at how you can create a company that not only delivers customer value, but values all stakeholders.

Denver: An initiative  that Salesforce has pioneered, and which has really caught the imagination of so many companies, particularly startups as you alluded to, is this 1-1-1 model– some of the concepts borrowed from your good neighbors out there. What is the 1-1-1 model?

Suzanne: The 1-1-1 model is 1% of time, equity, and products delivered back to the community. As you said, we’ve learned from the best. CISCO had an incredible product donation program; Hasbro, incredible volunteer program; eBay, on the equity side. What we’ve realized is that all companies, no matter what you do or what size you are, have these assets. They all have people. They all have products. They all have resources to some level. So, we really decided to smash them all together, take a really integrated approach, and deliver that message forward so that any company, any CEO could really figure out:  Given their unique assets, how they could put them to good work in the world.

Denver: Now, when you first started the company and you had your IPO, did you have a foundation set up? Did you have money in that foundation right from the outset?

Suzanne: Yeah, we did. We had a foundation set up very early on, separate legal entity, and we actually sold some shares on the pre-IPO market as a way to generate cash before our IPO.  And then as a result of our IPO, we had a lot of cash that we were able to then give back in the form of grants.

Denver: You said that 1% of the time of the employees can be dedicated as volunteer work to organizations. How many days a year is that?  And how many of your employees partake in that program?

Suzanne: We have an incredible participation rate, where it’s about 85% of our employees participate. It’s unheard of. I think the national average is around 20%. Two reasons for that. The first is that, it’s part of our new-hire orientation program. So, when you start with Salesforce, you get your laptop, you get your company messages, and then you’re sent off to a soup kitchen or to do something good in the world.

We really want to make sure that our values come forward really quickly, and you understand: We hope that it’s a core part of your time with us as an employee. So, partly, that’s why our participation rate is so high is because we really bake it in on the first day of work. Secondly, the time that we give, if you actually do the Math, it’s 2% of work time. So, it’s six paid days, and if people hit their max hours, they unlock more grant dollars that they can use for matches. So, it’s a real incentive to get out, whether you’re on the board of directors, whether you’re a mentor, or whether you’re just out in the parks and cleaning it up on a lovely day with your team; all of that matters.

Denver: Everything is aligned.

Suzanne: Everything is aligned.

Denver: As a vehicle to encourage other companies to commit to this formula, you helped to found an organization called Pledge 1%. How many companies have joined in this effort by taking that pledge?

Suzanne: Pledge 1% is an initiative started by Salesforce,  Atlassian– one of the companies that we worked with pre-IPO, and also a small company called Rally Software out of Boulder, Colorado, and we just came together as an experiment to see if we put some structure around this 1-1-1 idea for other companies, how many would execute?

And with very little marketing and a very small staff, and under a three-year period, we’re now at about 5,000 companies in 98 countries.  And we’ve unlocked about a quarter of a billion dollars in that new philanthropy dollars, and over a billion we believe in product donations. So, it’s been an incredible ride, and I think that people that are starting companies today really understand that this is a core vehicle for attracting great talent, and that their businesses can do more in the world than just sell widgets.

I think that the value is in the culture… When you can align with customers on value, your relationship with them over time is super solid and can continue to grow.

Denver: Picking up on that a little bit. Is there a quantifiable, real, end value to these companies for doing this?

Suzanne: I think that the value is in the culture. The value is in the employee attraction and retention rates. Lastly also, largely in the customer relationships. When you can align with customers on value, your relationship with them over time is super solid and can continue to grow.

Denver: And you’re hoping this becomes a new normal. You’d love to see Pledge 1% go away and just have this the way everybody does business when they started up a company.

Suzanne: That’s right. We’ve been working on what we call the front end of the funnel, which is with a lot of the angel investors and also with the attorneys and the founders. It’s much easier to give a percentage of your company away when you own 100% and then you’re left with 99%. Much harder when you’re diluted through a bunch of venture investment dollars, and you’re sort of closing in on your series CRD rounds. So, we’ve been really focused in on really early in the funnel, including it into term sheets in some cases, and then to founding documents and others.  

Denver: Salesforce is being used by more and more nonprofit organizations, of course, on the fundraising end of things,  but increasingly for impact and evaluation of the organization’s programs.  Starting with the latter: How are those tools being utilized for that kind of work?

Suzanne: We have over 30,000 nonprofits that are using Salesforce technology for free or at a discounted rate; all nonprofits get Salesforce. If you’re a C3 or C3-equivalent globally, you get 10 licenses for free of Salesforce. If you look at the bell curve of nonprofits in this country, most of them have operating budgets of less than $1 million.

Majority of percentage of the customers are fully donated. Fundraising, very analogous to sales management, so that is about how 50% of the customers are using Salesforce; and we have a product that makes it much easier now out of the box to turn that on. Program and evaluation also because it’s a really customizable platform. Just one example in that would be the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross is managing volunteers. In some cases, they’re managing distribution of cots and resources, so that they can look after natural disasters to see how many volunteers they have mobilized, how many people gave blood, how many people gave other items, how many blankets were used.  It actually really is a great way for them also to coordinate with their donors and their volunteers in a real-time way.

Denver: That’s fantastic. Also, the impact they are working, what they’re doing, and what they could be doing better. So, it works on all different counts.

As far as the fundraising is concerned, you have now teamed up with the United Way and have launched a new app called Philanthropy Cloud.

What would that do for corporate employees?

Suzanne: Thank you for the question. .org is very excited about this, as are we all in the company. United Way, great institution, sorting out for themselves: who they can be in the future, how to modernize their own operations, connect with younger donors. One void we really saw in the market was this idea of having  a mobile passport for an individual as a community servant.

For many many years, United Way has had a lot of corporate partnerships, and they are really looking at: how can they connect their corporations with great volunteerism locally, how can they begin to understand profiles of people so they can spoon feed them opportunities. It’s really a great partnership.

We’re really going to be starting around volunteerism and giving where you can, in partnership with United Way and Salesforce, if your corporation is a member of Philanthropy Cloud, you can really much more easily find volunteer opportunities that are suited to you, that are in your geography, that are in your areas of interest.  And if you really think about it… like a LinkedIn for philanthropy, sort of the ultimate mission, and really could take that profile with you.

…we do believe that part of working at Salesforce is getting trained in who you can be as a citizen philanthropist throughout your career. So, we want to empower people around that.

Denver: That’s fantastic. Let’s turn to the grand makings side of the house. You were the Executive Director of the foundation, and now you’re on the corporate side as the Chief of Philanthropy, you described your grant-making as a pyramid.

Why don’t you walk us through that pyramid?

Suzanne: The pyramid in the way that it works today really is in two parts. We had a middle layer around technology innovation, which is now bled into both ends.  But if you think about the bottom of the pyramid, these are what we call citizen philanthropy grants, and these are grants for our employees. They include everything from matching gifts, to team grants, to what we call champion grants– which are people that are in the top volunteerism rank.

And we give $10,000 to them to thank them for their service and their hard work in the world. Really democratic. They can give to blood cancer, they can give to animal rights. You name it. We don’t in any way target that from an industry perspective. We know that’s really important because we do believe that part of working at Salesforce is getting trained in who you can be as a citizen philanthropist throughout your career. So, we want to empower people around that. The top, as you go up the pyramid, is really around strategic grants. The two areas that .org is very focused on today is around education and workforce development.

Suzanne DiBianca and Denver Frederick inside the studio

Denver: Speaking of workforce development, I know you partner with one of my favorite organizations, Year Up. But you also have something called Vetforce, correct?

Tell us a little bit about that.

Suzanne: We’ve learned that veterans coming home come with an incredible amount of leadership skills, teamwork skills baked into their experience in the field, in operations.  Yet it’s very hard for them to find civilian jobs often, and they don’t know how to translate those skills into current market jobs. Also, by the way, there’s an incredibly high suicide rate around returning veterans.

What we found is that is largely  based in the fact that they don’t feel a sense of community anymore and that jobs are very hard. They come with a life insurance policy, and oftentimes for some of these men and women, they feel like that for their family when they’re struggling with finding a job that that life insurance policy is more valuable to their family than it is for them hiking up a large hill around gaining new skills and starting over in a civilian career.

So, we’ve really worked hard with a lot of veteran organizations to train them in technology skills through a tool that we call Trailhead. It’s not only a technology training and certification program. It’s really a community program so that they can connect with one another. They can share ideas and opportunities, and we have a lot of our partners now in this community that are looking for great Salesforce admin that also have these leadership and teamwork skills. They come not only with certification, but a big sense of community, teamwork, and leadership that we’re then able to  place them within our customers and our partner ecosystems. So, we have about 10,000 veterans that we’ve trained up today, with a goal of tripling that in the next two years.

Denver: The company is also deeply committed, Suzanne, to the environment. In that regard, you just keep on pushing yourself to move faster and faster and faster.

What are some of your activities there and commitments you’ve made in that realm.

Suzanne: I think this is another place that business is moving faster than government. I think the capital markets; look at Tesla, look at some other examples. Especially when the country… this country pulled out of Paris. I think the business community rallied, as did often cities… it’s been great to watch.

But we realized we needed to go faster, and so we had a commitment around being a net zero company by 2050. We accelerated that by about 33 years, and we’ve been investing in all kinds of great projects. We will be renewable, fully powered by renewable energy. We’ve been investing in wind farms and solar farms. And then we’re really looking all across our business; our supply chain, how we’re investing, in various investment tools. Are we doing enough in green bonds, etc.? We’re looking a lot at real estate. We just got the Salesforce tower in San Francisco. We have towers in New York, in London, and we’re really looking at how can these buildings be best-in-class from a sustainability perspective.

Denver: All across the board.

Talk a little bit more about your impact investing as it falls under your jurisdiction. What are you looking at? What are the kind of things that you’re investing in?

Suzanne: I think you’ll see thematically with Salesforce is: we don’t like to have philanthropy off to the side. We believe that philanthropy is part of everyone’s job, and every different business that we run.  And as it relates to investing, Salesforce is the third most active corporate investor on the planet. It’s got about half a billion dollars off the balance sheet. If we were to take that venture arm and target a fund around entrepreneurs that were developing solutions in the areas of sustainability, workforce development, education, diversity, and inclusion, could we find great entrepreneurs in the enterprise software space?

Lo and behold, incredible entrepreneurs have emerged. We’ve been able to invest… It’s a $50 million fund. We’ve only been at it for less than a year, and we’ve got $15 million out the door, 11 great entrepreneurs. So far, the fund where we put a gender and equality lens on it, and it’s 70% women and minorities. So we’re really proud of that.

Denver: How does the company look at political issues? Clearly, this is a pretty dicey environment  which we’re in. You have customers of all political stripes, but by the same token, you have core principles around the company… of which equality is one. How do you think about that?  And how do you address that topic?

Suzanne: Not only do we have customers that cross the spectrum from a political affiliation, we also have employees that cross that spectrum. We stand for equality for all, and we stand for trust. These are two of our top values. We are not in the game of politics, but we do believe that all people deserve to have equal opportunity, equal access, equal pay, and equal education. It’s really those four pillars that define what we get involved in as it relates to social and governmental issues.

I talked about pulling out of the Paris agreement. We essentially just went faster with our own programs as a result, versus taking any major political point of view about it. As it relates to LGBT rights, we did go to bat on that one, related to some laws that have been introduced. Largely, just because we believe that everyone deserves to be treated equally, no matter your religious affiliation, no matter your sexual orientation. We really listen to our employees and what they believe, and we really follow their passion.

Denver: We had Shamina Singh, who is the president of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, on the program a couple of months ago, and she spoke about the Data Divide, a concern that they have that there’s a gulf between data– the way it’s used in business– and the way it’s used in the social sector.  And they started something called Data Philanthropy.

I know that Salesforce is on the frontlines of that effort; but how serious do you think it is… this Data Divide?  And what would nonprofits need to do?

Suzanne: The Data Divide is real. It’s also an overall… it’s a current iteration of the starving of infrastructure investments that nonprofits have always struggled with.  And I think that now, because everything, so many things can be delivered on a mobile device as it relates to social services and transparency, and tracking the issues that you serve, and the biggest thing that I’m seeing right now is even that people are gathering data, they don’t quite know what to do with it. I’ve been working a lot in the area of artificial intelligence.

We have a great product, Einstein, and we’re really working to make our CRM smarter for our customers… So, that they can gain insights on these massive data stores in a way that can really drive their programs further… But it’s real. It’s hard to hire data scientists as an NGO when the competitive pay rates for those people are massive. It’s not a new problem in the nonprofit sector, but I think the divide is getting wider.

Denver: And I think what you said that at the very outset of that, in terms of the starvation cycle… is that technology has always been looked upon as overhead for nonprofits.  And that has to change.

Suzanne: That’s right, and I think it is changing. In fact, I was with an executive director of a large NGO the other day, and we’re talking about a proposal they had on serving; they do international development work and built a really cool app on an android device, and are able to get much better real time data. They were talking about how to position the proposal from a technology perspective, and I said:  “Don’t make it a technology proposal. Make it a program proposal.”

Denver: Good advice.

Suzanne: And then, put the technology within it.

I really believe that philanthropy had a critical role in that because also, it got people out of their own swim lanes.

Denver: As we’ve have said, you were one of the first companies that philanthropy was integrated into the business model.

Tell us a little bit more about what is the corporate culture like at Salesforce.  And what do you think the impact of philanthropy has been on that culture?

Suzanne: I think the impact of philanthropy has been massive on our culture because you’re really able to both bring your whole self to work, but also gain some perspective about where your life is compared to others. It brings us a sense of humility. Massive sense of gratitude and generosity. We are a culture that is founded on our values around equality and trust and leadership and teamwork. So, I really believe that philanthropy had a critical role in that because also, it got people out of their own swim lanes.  So that early on, when you’re out at a volunteer event, you’re meeting people in engineering and marketing, and finance, and able to work together in different capacities when you go back to the office; in a way, that has you coming from a relationship that was grounded in something good in the world.

Denver: Let me close with this, Suzanne. I want to go back to the beginning of our conversation and the 1-1-1 model… because that’s a pretty neat idea, but it sounds a little daunting; it sounds a little complicated. Sure, a company like Salesforce can do it. But it just sounds a little bit beyond maybe the average startup. Try to dispel that for us, if you could.

Suzanne: It’s very easy as an early-stage founder to just take a small percentage of your equity and put it aside for the community, so that when you’re in the liquidity event in the future, it’s there. You don’t have to do anything other than move it early on through a very simple form. You can find out more about that on We’ve got all these warrant transfer agreements and a whole bunch of policy statements up there that you can repurpose in your own organization.  But it’s a very easy thing to do as a startup founder, and it’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has regretted doing it.

Denver: It’s hard to do when you’re out 10 years. You have a completely different effect when you do it from the day you open up your doors.

Suzanne: That’s right.

Denver: Well, Suzanne DiBianca, the Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Officer of Salesforce, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening.

If anyone listening wants to learn more about Salesforce’s programs and products for nonprofits, where can they go to get that information?

Suzanne: Absolutely, you should visit which will tell you everything about how to get started on the platform… and our strategic grants and our volunteer opportunities.

Denver: For the 1% Pledge, it’s Thanks, Suzanne. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Suzanne: Thanks, it was a delight being here.

Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.

Denver Frederick and Suzanne DiBianca


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