Marc Benioff on Why Entrepreneurs Should Give Money Away Now

Marc Benioff is encouraging successful entrepreneurs to start giving away their fortunes now, instead of amassing their wealth and becoming philanthropic later in life.

Easy for him to say, right? Benioff (pictured), the 48-year-old CEO and founder of Salesforce.com, has an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion.

But, while speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, Benioff argued that, by deploying a “pay as you go” strategy, he could have a greater influence on how the money is spent and seeing its impact than if he waits a few decades. The latter is what Warren Buffett has done. It wasn’t until 2006, at age 76, when Buffett began giving away much of his fortune to five charitable organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

On a personal level, Benioff and his wife Lynne, have gifted $100 million to help build a new UCSF Children’s Hospital in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

In addition to donating personally, Benioff believes in corporate and small-business philanthropy. When he started Salesforce.com in 1999, Benioff introduced the “1/1/1” model, establishing a nonprofit foundation using 1 percent of the company’s equity, 1 percent of the company’s profit in the form of product donations, and 1 percent of all of its employees’ time. Since then, the model has influenced the start of Google’s non-profit foundation, and he advocates that other businesses should consider an integrated philanthropic model, too.

The 1/1/1 model was actually quite easy to establish, he says, because at the time Salesforce.com didn’t have much in the way of employees or equity. Since then, of course, the company has grown to almost 10,000 employees and nearly $3 billion in revenue. To date, Benioff estimates that the foundation has given away $40 million in grants, its employees have contributed 400,000 hours of community service, and provided its product for free or at a discount to 16,000 non-profits.

Benioff singled out Chuck Feeney, the founder of DFS stores, as a role model. Feeney, 81, has given away $7.5 billion of his fortune over his lifetime. In the process, he’s contributed to efforts to end the death penalty in various states in the U.S., offer health coverage for uninsured children, and provide HIV/AIDS relief South Africa.

“While the amount of money Feeney will have given away will be less than one-sixth of Buffett’s total donations, the amounts and targets all have had Feeney’s direct input,” Benioff says. “When it comes down to it, philanthropy isn’t just about big gifts; it’s about participation. It’s about the grace that comes from working together, the grace that connects us, and that connects everything together.”

With the holidays around the corner, now is a good time to begin thinking about a charitable giving strategy. Need more inspiration and reasons to be philanthropic? Check out these tips for getting started and involving employees.

About Ellen Lee

Ellen Lee is a business and technology freelance writer in San Francisco. Reach out to her at ellenleeonline@gmail.com.
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