Suzanne DiBianca, Executive Director, Salesforce.com Foundation

Suzanne DiBianca, Executive Director, Salesforce.com Foundation

Suzanne DiBianca is the executive director of the Salesforce.com Foundation, the philanthropic arm of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com. Prior to becoming a principal in a consulting firm, where she first saw the impact corporate philanthropy could have on people's lives, she worked for five years as a nonprofit program and marketing director. Salesforce.com is a customer relationship management firm.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is the Salesforce.com Foundation's corporate philanthropy model?

Suzanne DiBianca: We use what we call a 1/1/1 model — 1 percent equity, 1 percent product, and 1 percent time. Putting that model into practice, we offer grants and monetary assistance, primarily supporting youth-development projects. We also donate Salesforce.com licenses to nonprofits so they can manage program data and focus more resources on their mission. And Salesforce.com employees receive six paid days off each year to devote to volunteer projects of their choice. We also run a program called BizAcademy, a four-day entrepreneurial workshop for underserved students from urban high schools led by Salesforce volunteers and a nonprofit partner. Any student who graduates from BizAcademy or interns at Salesforce.com can apply for a scholarship.

We recently added a fourth "1" to our model, which represents our commitment to the environment. At a company meeting, an employee, Sue Amar, asked our CEO, Marc Benioff, what our company was doing for the environment. "I don't know," he told her, "but you have six paid days to figure it out." Her vision and tenacity resulted in a renewable-energy project that she now leads. She also heads a commission to determine the direction this initiative will take in the future.

PND: Can a nonprofit approach you with a request for volunteers to help with a special event or project that it's sponsoring?

SD: Certainly. We have a full-time volunteer coordinator in each of the regions where we do business. In the United States, a Salesforce employee in San Francisco deals with all activities west of the Mississippi River, while another in New York deals with all activities east of the Mississippi. We also have volunteer coordinators in London, Singapore, and Tokyo. If a nonprofit called me and said, "I need forty people to help renovate our building," I'd tell them to send an e-mail or talk to the appropriate coordinator, who will find out whether any Salesforce employees are interested in participating.

PND: What can corporate philanthropy accomplish that perhaps private philanthropy cannot?

SD: Private philanthropists can't bring all the assets to a nonprofit that a company can. While both can donate money, a company can also bring people and product, a combination that gives it more leverage. The impact of the three components together is much more substantial than any one of them would be on its own.

PND: How does your foundation choose which nonprofits to support?

SD: We have a competitive grant process, and a team of our employees decides which nonprofits to fund. In addition, youth development agencies can apply for an annual support grant. Besides grants, any nonprofit with verifiable 501(c)(3) status can request Salesforce.com tools for free. Our product is a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, and users need logins. We make the first ten available free to nonprofits, and since most of them are small, they don't need any more than that. If they do, they can apply for a grant to get more.

I should note that our grantmaking process is carried out almost entirely through our Web site. When nonprofits call us, we usually direct them to the 1 percent product area of the site, where we run demos on our products every Tuesday morning so they will understand how to use them. Also, if nonprofits want to be on our grant notification list, they can sign up on the Web site, and when we have a new grant to offer we will alert them.

PND: What mission-related services can nonprofits receive through Salesforce.com?

SD: The benefits are unique for each nonprofit, but one thing that's probably common to many is their metrics. Nonprofits tend to be really good at providing anecdotal evidence of their achievements, but they're not very good at empirical evidence, which is helpful when applying for a grant. Traditionally, organizations have had a hard time measuring their impact. Using our tools a nonprofit can say, "I have reached 'x' number of kids, spent 'x' amount of money, and enabled 'x' number of students to go to college." Private funders are impressed when charities send grant reports that include dashboards, data, and charts that empirically detail their impact. That saves the foundations from wading through countless pages of narrative. So with our support, nonprofits have become better at measuring their success and savvier about how they use technology. Those are big achievements.

— Alice Garrard