Salesforce’s mission to revolutionise corporate philanthropy


Salesforce founded the 1-1-1 model of integrated corporate philanthropy. Can you describe what that is?

Imagine if every single person in every single organisation in the world gave just 1%. What a change and impact you could make. So when Marc Benioff decided to set up, he knew that he wanted a completely different way of integrating philanthropy. He was determined to place philanthropy at the heart of the culture of the organisation.

So one of the three pillars he founded Salesforce on was this revolutionary idea of the 1-1-1 model: giving 1% of Salesforce’s product, 1% of its equity and 1% of its employees’ time to philanthropic causes and the non-profit sector.

Fast-forward 17 years and that model has been so successful that we’ve actually now started to really evolve it. We found that the success we’ve had with this incredibly innovative model created a whole new structure of its own. So we are now a separate entity in our own right – a social enterprise non-profit. We still have our three key pillars but we’ve evolved those as well, so it’s not just our products anymore but our technology. And it’s not just our time anymore, it’s our people.

It’s been an incredible evolution over 17 years that has now led us to being a technology provider to non-profits, with 29,000 non-profits having benefited from our technology. That’s not just our licences – we give every non-profit ten Salesforce licences as a donation – but also the Salesforce technology, ecosystem and knowledge. That equates to about a $250 million technology donation each year.

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We are a self-sustaining foundation and receive no financial benefits from We generate our own revenue and profit to cover our overheads, and then every single penny of profit that is left over we reinvest back into the non-profit community. To date, we’ve reinvested almost $130 million back into some amazing causes, predominantly in education and workforce development.

We’ve done that with the support and help of our people, who have committed 1.6 million volunteer hours through offering their expertise, knowledge and skills to support the non-profit community in many different ways, from traditional volunteering to going into non-profit organisations that don’t have an IT department and helping them set up their technology solutions, as well as mentoring, working in schools and supporting young people. It has evolved into the most incredible organisation.

Just over a year ago, Marc Benioff added $3 million to the pay of Salesforce’s female workers after analysing company pay by gender and discovering discrepancies. What impact did this have on the culture of the organisation?

I think that we are really seeing a change in how employees are viewing their workplaces. We know that as the millennial generation is coming from university into the workforce, the one thing that they are all participating in, in some form or another, is giving back. It really is, at the moment, a renaissance of giving.

We’re seeing staggering numbers of young people wanting to support and give back. That’s not just in Salesforce but many organisations and society as a whole. In organisations like Salesforce, what makes us different is that we give our employees the opportunity to embrace the desire to give back.

Over time, as we grew, one of our big concerns was how to sustain employee engagement. When you’re an organisation like Salesforce and have a lot of new employees coming on-board, how do you keep and maintain the culture that you developed right from the beginning? I’ve seen exponential growth at Salesforce over the past three and a half years since I came on-board, and from the word ‘go’ that was one of the questions that we had. In June 2015, we celebrated our millionth volunteer hour, which took us 15-odd years to achieve. And yet, between then and now we’ve added another 600,000 volunteer hours to our total. We’ve increased our employee engagement in the past year from 82% to 85%.

People want to have a job that they love and that they can really achieve something in. But at the same time, they need to have a sense of personal fulfilment, and many people are finding that through supporting and helping others. This is so intrinsic to our culture – it gives people the ability to find that sense of fulfilment that they’re looking for.

I really don’t think it is any accident that Salesforce has this incredible culture of giving back and philanthropy, and we are time and time again among the organisations named as the best places to work globally. It really does enable a culture of thriving, well-being and personal achievement from a holistic perspective.

How much of a priority is diversity in your day-to-day work at

It’s incredibly important. At, we have three key mission areas we focus on for our strategic programming: education, workforce development, and technology and innovation. All three of those, even technology and innovation, have a very heavy focus on diversity, to the point where we actually call it out in our mission. We aim to have at least 50% of females participating in our programmes, especially around education and workforce development.

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Diversity isn’t just ensuring females enter the workplace; it’s giving every single person the opportunity to be in the workplace and to be educated and to take advantage of the opportunities that technology can deliver. One of the key issues we’re working on at the minute is enabling people to learn how to code. We know that 80% of all jobs are going to have a technology touchpoint over the next five years. We all know the terrible statistics around skills gaps, and so we have a huge drive to get young people into coding. But as well as getting young females into coding, we’ve also been working with a number of organisations on getting the visually impaired into coding. Many of these statistics around the lack of diversity in technology for the visually impaired community are incredibly frightening. Something like 80% of all visually impaired young people are unemployed. We wanted to develop a programme that not only enabled young, visually impaired children to learn code – to give them the opportunities – but also to enable them to widen their social opportunities too.

As technology is becoming more and more automated, some of the jobs that are going first are those that were previously fulfilled by visually impaired young people, so we’re trying to offer some of those people access to technology opportunities and learning. We also strive to remind the developer community that they cannot just continue to develop applications and solutions for the sighted community – they have to remember the visually impaired, the hearing impaired and accessibility.

If we don’t have true accessibility, we’re never going to have true diversity within the technology ecosystem. So for us, diversity is enabling the whole of society to access technology, building programmes that really support true diversity and giving everybody an equal opportunity to access technology.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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