Suzanne DiBianca is Chief Impact Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce, where she leads the company’s stakeholder strategy—including all corporate giving, community relations, and sustainability efforts. DiBianca was previously co-founder and president of the Salesforce Foundation and Salesforce.org. Under her leadership, Salesforce pioneered the Pledge 1% model of integrated corporate philanthropy, which dedicates 1% of Salesforce’s equity, employee time or product back into the community, which has so far generated more than $280 million, 3.8 million employee volunteer hours, and technology to 40,000 nonprofits and educational institutions around the world.
In addition, over 8,500 companies in 100 countries (including companies like Box, Yelp, Docusign, Postmates, Twilio, Okta, Harry’s and General Assembly) now participate in Pledge 1% (now its own separate non-profit run by Amy Lesnick) which in itself has donated a staggering amount; more than a $1 billion in volunteer hours, product licenses, pro bono resources and philanthropic funding–making it the B2B equivalent of the TOM’s “One-For-One” B2C model in its simplicity and scale. I caught up with DiBianca to find out more about the genesis of the program and how companies should be guided by their employee’s passions as much as strategic goals.
DiBianca talked about her role at the beginning of the company. “I joined 18 years ago. The company was about 60 people. I was actually hired to run the Foundation. So Marc Benioff had a very unique vision of creating a new kind of company, that took community service and baked it in really early on. He really was trying to create sort of a new model of business from the very beginning. In the early dayswe had no money and very little product. So, in the beginning, we were really focused on our employees and the volunteer part of it. And looking back it was the right place to start, it really became part of the hearts and minds of the people who work there.”
I asked her about how she created the genesis of the Pledge 1% model. “That was me going out and doing a review of the industry landscape to look at what people doing in this space that I really respected, like Levi’s and Cisco. eBay was, I think, the first company who put a percentage of their pre-IPO equity into a foundation and that fascinated me as it related to a business going public. The second part I looked at was the product donation programs, and Cisco was phenomenal at that. And Hasbro really stood out from the time perspective, they had an excellent employee engagement program. So we smashed them all together because what we realized was every company on the planet, no matter where you are, what you do, has those three assets.”
DiBianca elaborated on how centralizing purpose also helped. “I think what we did uniquely about it was not only smash them all together and put a brand on it that could resonate with any company, but also integrate it. At the time there were many companies that believed in philanthropy and had embedded it into their company but it was disintermediated. They would give product from one place, give their people’s time somewhere else, put their grants in a third area. There wasn’t a lot of integration on how to focus those resources for maximum impact. So when we started working in afterschool programs, for instance, we gave them product, people and funding that we directed centrally, which just made for a much better partnership and a way bigger impact,” said DiBianca.
Part of the success was picking the right partners from inception. “Google was one of the original Pledge 1% partners that really made it to scale. So they were sort of the tipping point on the equity set-aside because of their IPO. I give a lot of credit to Atlassian, who are co-founders of the Pledge 1% with us, and talked a lot about it because they saw the power of the movement. And then it really took off in our Salesforce ecosystem. We’re a platform company and we’re a big believer in our ecosystem of AppExchange marketplace partners, who then began to pick it up. These are companies like Twilio, Okta and others who have had had successful IPO’s. I think its the simplicity and the holistic model that resonates, and because it’s translatable across industry, region, and size.” When I ask her about the similarities with the TOMS One-for-One model, DiBianca points out one crucial difference. “I think the distinction is that its much less scary than a one-for-one model because you can start anywhere on the continuum. You can just start with employee time which doesn’t cost you anything, so it takes the fear out of it.”
DiBianca’s also revealed how she visualized the different areas of focus for Salesforce which allows both leveraging its massive scale but also allow customization down to an employee level. “When I draw it out for people, I draw a triangle that’s divided into three. The top is ‘strategic philanthropy.’ For us right now that means education and workforce development and the work we do around ending family homelessness. The second part of it is ‘technology innovation’, your core competency as your company, as the middle layer, like the nonprofit success pack that we built. The bottom is what I call ‘citizen philanthropy’ which is, for instance, getting behind people who lost a loved one to a disease and they want to fight for that, or someone who wants to foster animals. That is totally valid. So we tried to not put up a lot of guard rails and really let people’s passions blossom. That’s my mental model.”
From DiBianca’s perspective, everything comes down to how purpose manifests itself in the companies core values.”It’s about our core values and how they translate. And those core values are number one, trust: nothing is more important than trust. Trust with your customers, trust with your employees. The second is customer success: if our customers are not successful, we are not successful. And the third is around innovation, for human beings at work, for our product, for our lines of business….innovation is going to keep a company and a human being strong over time. Those values haven’t changed in 18 years. And recently we added ‘equality’ which has really added to the further deepening of the notion of purpose; so we believe in equality of every human being: equal access, equal rights.”
Developing Salesforce’s unique approach involved a lot of innovation and experimentation. DiBianca said, “I think what we did really, really well, was we listened to the needs of the community and we listened to our employees and their passions and we matched them up. It was not my agenda, or Marc’s agenda, it was really driven from the grassroots. For a long time, we didn’t have strategic grants, we just put our money behind our people. We’re very committed to building what we call ‘citizen philanthropists’ and ‘democratic philanthropy.’ So we took that principle and we experimented with it: we like to say in our company that ‘tactics drive strategy’ and as a former management consultant, I had a real big problem with that in the beginning. And yet I realized also (as an Italian!) ‘The Spaghetti Principle’ where you throw stuff on the wall and you see what sticks? I began to see actually made for really robust, authentic programs. When you really listened and you really experimented alongside of people, you meet people where they are.”
- Content by Afdhel Aziz, April 18, 2019
- Originally located at https://www.forbes.com/sites/afdhelaziz/2019/04/18/the-power-of-purpose-how-salesforce-and-the-pledge-1-model-is-inspiring-silicon-valley-to-do-good/#9766e40543dc
- Image credit: Jakub Mosur Photography