Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pioneered what he calls an “integrated philanthropic model” in his company’s early days, giving away equity and goods, and enabling employees to take 1.8 million volunteer hours to date. Benioff, along with Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO of Scott Farquhar, Rally, and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, spun off the initiative in 2014 as Pledge 1%. The nonprofit challenges early-stage startups to bake in philanthropy from the beginning, rather than thinking about it at a later stage or post-IPO, as has been traditionally the case.
Pledge 1% has only three staff members, but it can genuinely claim to be birthing a movement. In 2016, it added 850 pledges, where startups committed to give 1% of equity, product, profit, or time, or combinations to charity. That was more than double its 2015 tally, taking its total to more than 1,300 companies, including Harry’s, General Assembly, Twilio, and Yahoo. Australian software juggernaut Atlassian alone has donated more than $6 million to the education-focused charity Room to Read. At the same time, 180 entrepreneurs have become “ambassadors,” helping spread the message to more countries (40 and counting) and more types of businesses.
CEO Amy Lesnick says the ultimate goal is to make early-stage philanthropy a natural part of setting up a company, and for Pledge 1% to become irrelevant. “In 15 years, we might not even exist,” she says. “[Early-stage philanthropy] will be as common as setting aside equity for future employees.”