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Philanthropy

Talk Is Cheap: Salesforce Philanthropy Exec Urges Companies to Put Resources Behind Their Words

Responding to climate change has become a non-negotiable for employees. In fact, 94% of tech workers say that tech companies are highly obligated to address the issue. As companies respond by ramping up sustainability commitments, they must go beyond greenwashing and move from words to action. 

Salesforce recently announced that it is acting on a $100 million commitment to address climate change, gifting the first $11 million in donations. To learn how this climate-focused philanthropic effort fits into Salesforce’s larger giving strategy, we sat down with Naomi Morenzoni, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy, who gave us the inside track.

Q. How have you seen corporate philanthropy change throughout your career?

The biggest change I’ve seen is deeper accountability to all stakeholders. There’s an understanding that business needs and community needs are not mutually exclusive — and there’s opportunity for both to accelerate impact.

There are expectations from our employees, partners, and customers that we show up in a real and meaningful way. It’s not enough to put out a statement that says we stand in solidarity. We have to put resources behind our words. And we have to deliver. 

Recently, we’ve also been focused on how philanthropy can accelerate our climate commitments. Last year, we announced our new Ecosystem Restoration & Climate Justice Fund, which will invest a total of $100 million over 10 years toward key climate initiatives. We just deployed our first round of donations to 12 nonprofits to enhance natural carbon sinks, protect biodiversity, and create green jobs.

Q. How is Salesforce’s philanthropy strategy evolving to meet the current environment?

We are living in a world of constant crisis. Salesforce has been committed to giving back since its founding, but as the world around us has changed, we’ve evolved our Philanthropy model too.

We continue to adapt our approach by learning what our communities need in this moment. This starts with listening to our partners. We have to partner with those closest to the issues to understand the role philanthropy can play in supporting communities.  

Meeting the moment does not just mean responding to crises as they unfold. Our philanthropy strategy is increasingly focused on supporting upstream solutions. We invest in proactive initiatives that can help communities better prepare and respond to disasters when they happen. 

Q. How does Philanthropy partner with other teams across Salesforce?

As our giving strategy has evolved, there’s also been a real recognition that philanthropy alone is not going to solve the challenges that our communities face. We have to look across our business and think about all the levers we can pull to make an impact. 

We like to think of this as “Philanthropy+,” acknowledging that it’s philanthropy plus our partners. It’s philanthropy plus product, philanthropy plus sustainability, plus purchasing, plus policy. It’s every team, every business unit, and every leader working together.

As we think about our Philanthropy focus areas — Education and Economic Opportunity, Community and Climate Resilience, and Racial Equality and Justice — it’s really about bringing the full power of Salesforce to the issues we’re trying to solve. 

Q. How does Salesforce’s Climate Fund represent the company’s collaborative and upstream approach to philanthropy?

The Climate Fund was created through a close partnership between Salesforce’s Philanthropy and Sustainability teams. We’re thinking about our unique role in supporting the race to net zero and how to use our philanthropic donations as a strategic climate financing tool. 

Philanthropic donations provide risk tolerant capital. Knowing that about half of nature-based solution projects fail, philanthropy can play a distinct role in supporting early stage innovations that have immense potential. We aim to use our philanthropic dollars to invest in locally-led innovation and support projects with multiple impacts — building climate solutions while also investing in livelihoods. 

Q. What’s an example of this approach?

One powerful example of this is our work with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore the shoreline of a coastal community in Texas. 

This community is historically marginalized and regularly faces hurricane threats. In fact, when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, over 80% of the homes in this community were damaged by flooding from the incredibly heavy rainfall. The initiative we’re funding is supporting a community-led project to identify areas where restoring coastal habitats will mitigate storm-caused flooding. At the same time, the project is building local capacity, improving local habitat and biodiversity, and strengthening the local economy through job creation.

Q. How can leaders engage employees in giving back? 

Philanthropy strategies need both a bottom-up and top-down approach. This means listening to employees about how they want to show up in their communities and empowering them to donate and volunteer in ways that are meaningful for them. 

Employees need to understand what the company is doing to give back. It’s not simply good enough to say “we’re going to donate here” or “we’re going to make a commitment here.” You need to continue to engage employees, listen to feedback, and understand where you can pivot and where there are opportunities that we haven’t seen.

You also have to have senior leaders committed to driving impact and strategically activating teams across the company. One way to do this is by forming task forces, bringing together experts from across the company to identify levers to pull with the most impact and then act. This creates an aligned and focused strategy so that the business can continue to run while we support our communities.

Q. How does Salesforce partner with other companies around giving back?

We’re always thinking about ways that we can collectively solve challenges in our communities. A great example of this is Pledge 1%. I was one of the founding team members in 2014 when we had a goal to have 500 companies pledge 1% of product, equity, or employee time. I remember thinking at the time, “how are we ever going to get 500 companies to do this?” 

Fast forward and now more than 15,000 companies have taken the pledge and collectively mobilized $2 billion. 

It’s inspiring to see how other companies are not only baking philanthropy into their core business, but also coming together as coalitions. For example, when India was experiencing huge COVID spikes, the Pledge 1% community and our other Salesforce partners mobilized $35 million to support the immediate needs on the ground. This is the power of bringing organizations together to drive impact at scale.

Learn more about Salesforce’s Ecosystem Restoration and Advance Climate Justice Fund.

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