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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 23:48 GMT
Firms can do better by doing good
VIEWPOINT
By Marc Benioff
Founder and chief executive of Salesforce.com

Marc Benioff
Corporate Social Responsibility plays an important role in staff recruitment and retention
Marc Benioff
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been accused of being at best a cynical marketing ploy, and at worst simply poor value for shareholders - but Marc Benioff argues it can be a force for good.

It's somewhat ironic that I was spending $100m on corporate philanthropic programmes when I decided that businesses weren't doing enough for their communities.

It was 1997 and I was an executive at Oracle when Larry Ellison asked me to help start the company's first major philanthropic initiative.

We donated thousands of computers to underserved schools, but our small team felt that the effort fell short of leveraging Oracle's full philanthropic potential.

I saw that corporate philanthropy was more than just writing a cheque. If we had been able to draw on Oracle's full assets - its employees, customers and partners - we could have made a much bigger contribution.

The 1-1-1 model

This is when I realised the potential for 'integrated philanthropy'.

It was clear to me that to be successful, corporate philanthropic programmes must be woven into the fabric of the organisation. And the best way to do this is to start from the beginning.

Salesforce.com employee at a school in Sri Lanka
CSR may make a firm's directors feel good to give money to local charities, but a company's responsibility should be increasing profits and adding to a nation's wealth
Madsen Pirie, Adam Smith Institute

Shortly after we started Salesforce.com we launched the Salesforce.com Foundation with 1% of company stock. As chief executive I made a commitment to donate 1% of company profits to the community (through product donations) and 1% of employee working hours to community service.

The 1-1-1 model meant that as our business grew, so would our contribution to the community.

Since opening our first after-school technology centre in July 2000 we have created more than 60 technology centres and media programmes with schools and non-profit organisations in 12 countries, including Kenya, Israel, Japan, Ireland and Singapore.

A great deal can be achieved through product donations. Today over 1,000 non-profit organisations use Salesforce to manage their programmes, among them United Way, the Red Cross, the United Nations World Food Programme and UK-based organisations like Kids Company and Freeplay Foundation.

It's not about making money

But the biggest contributor is our workforce. About 85% of our employees are active in philanthropy.

Valerie Wolloch helping at the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged
Helping the aged in New York

People are here to do more than just make money - they want to make the world a better place.

All new employees spend a half-day volunteering as part of their two-day induction to reinforce the importance of philanthropy to our business.

Our chairman in charge of sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has pledged to personally give over 350,000 over the next 10 years to Teach First, a UK-based organisation that empowers and supports teachers working in challenging inner city schools.

In 2002 one of our finance employees in Dublin applied for a grant to set up a technology suite and internet access at St Martin's Girls' School in Kibagare slum outside Nairobi, Kenya.

The school provides a first class education to girls from the slums, many of whom are orphaned. Three years later, the girls who were the first to benefit have successfully completed school and we are now helping to fund their university education as well as extending the program to employees and partners who are now funding five other university students and 15 girls at the school.

Recruitment tool

We recently held our annual user conference in San Francisco and having the majority of our employees, customers and partners together in one place provided a great opportunity for direct community action. Over 100 volunteers from our community helped to transform a run-down plot of land into a safe children's playground.

Anika Keswanit of Salesforce.com in Trang, Thailand
Teaching computer skills in Thailand

Not only do we help our community, but CSR also helps our business, playing an important role in staff recruitment and retention.

As we strive to recruit the best talent in a fiercely competitive environment, we feel that the Foundation is a key differentiating factor, marking us out as an example of best practice business leadership.

The integrated nature of our CSR activity means that our employees have long-term relationships with the charities we support. Needless to say, this plays a part in staff retention as employees have this additional commitment and a personal interest in certain projects.

Google follows Salesforce.com's model

In the summer of 2004 we witnessed the true financial power of our integrated model.

The Salesforce.com initial public offering raised more than $12m for the foundation. It also proved the capability of pre-IPO companies to make a positive difference, if only they can make an early financial commitment to equity.

In fact, Google followed Salesforce.com's lead and put 1% of its equity aside.

Building the foundation from an intellectual idea to a practical reality that has served over 100,000 people in need has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I have received the most remarkable opportunity to lead an organisation that makes 'doing good' an integral part of doing well.

Marc Benioff is the founder, chairman and chief executive of on-demand software services firm Salesforce.com, and author of "The Business of Changing the World" and "Compassionate Capitalism".




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