Integrated Philanthropy in Startups: Few and Far Between

Driving home from a couple meetings today (yes, I am licensed driver, beware) I heard on NPR an underwriter that was a foundation with the mission “Creating ideas to solve society’s problems.” Translation: we can do whatever the hell we want with our grant money. I could relate because as I work to get the Comcate Foundation up off the ground I’ve struggled to define its mission in broad language for IRS purposes. Salesforce.com and my friend Marc Benioff, their CEO, have inspired me to pursue integrated corporate philanthropy. The salesforce.com Foundation is the Company’s “secret weapon” says Marc. When I first heard about it, and before I knew Marc, I thought, “yeah, a nice PR angle.” I’ve matured to understand that the Salesforce Foundation is at the core of the Company’s culture and at the core of the Company’s success.

In Marc’s book he outlines his 1% philosophy – 1% of employee time, company profits, and pre-IPO company equity is donated to the Foundation. He contrasts this philosophy to when he was at Oracle and Larry Ellison told him “Here’s a $100 million go start a foundation.” Most of his case studies are about big companies.

As the Comcate Foundation becomes a real entity with two clear but broad goals – one is focused on furthering the goals of the corporation while the other is pure charity, a fair balance I think – I wonder why I can’t find other start-ups who can serve as models. It’s much harder to set aside that 1% equity when the company is young, before it has “made it.” In a quick search to find other integrated philanthropy efforts in start up software companies, I came across one company that had an “environmental policy.” For a company that didn’t seem to have any impact on the environment whatsoever, I was intrigued. When I clicked on it, the policy was, in essence: “We know we have nothing to do with the environment but we do vow to turn off the lights when we leave the room.” I’m sure the officers there have checked the “give a little get a lot back” box and moved on.

This post is not meant to be a “I’m so high and holy” message. Far from it. I’m really wondering why isn’t this more popular with true start-ups…before they’re successful. And why aren’t influencers who work with lots of start-ups making this more a priority? The salesforce.com Foundation is a testament that this is a win win for all.

3 Responses to Integrated Philanthropy in Startups: Few and Far Between

  1. Brad Feld says:

    One of my companies – Rally Software was started by Ryan Martens with a similar philanthropic philosophy. Take a look at Rally’s Community Involvement page for another example.

  2. Will Pate says:

    Small companies can be philanthropic during the start-up stage by contributing in a manner scaled to their size. Also, partnering with other companies helps.

    For instance, my small company partnerned with a local company to co-sponsor a frisbee-golf tournament for charity. It’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do myself, because of time contsraints.

  3. Colleen says:

    The Entrepreneurs Foundation was established to encourage just that sort of thing in start-ups! During the tech boom I believe the idea was that companies would set aside a certain amount of pre-IPO stock to establish a corporate giving fund.

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