Salesforce Donated $ 100 Million To Bay Area Schools In Less Than A Decade


It was a bold philanthropic commitment.

Salesforce founder Marc Benioff said in 2013 he would donate $ 100 million within 10 years to San Francisco and other local colleges to boost technology and help deliver everything the classrooms needed.

Back in the day, few education philanthropists had such attention span, often jumping from project to project, and so for some teachers and administrators, that amount of money and long-term commitment made sense. like a chimera.

That first year, Benioff started with $ 2.5 million through the Salesforce Foundation. Then $ 5 million the following year and more each year after, adding Oakland Middle Schools to the list of recipients six years ago.

This year, nine years after the first grants, Benioff and his foundation have crossed the $ 100 million mark and have no intention of unplugging.

“It’s been nine years, but it’s only been nine years,” said Ebony Beckwith, CEO of the Salesforce Foundation and head of corporate philanthropy. “School districts still need us.

Beckwith said he has seen an increase in test scores in districts – a measure of success – but the funding is also aimed at exposing students to computers, coding, art, music or others. opportunities they would not have without the funding.

“It’s not about giving for the sake of giving,” she added. “It’s giving in order to have an impact.

This year, San Francisco and Oakland will each receive $ 7.5 million, which includes funding for math, computer and other college programs, as well as the now annual grants of $ 100,000 to be spent at will for each college principal.

Administrators call it “miracle money”.

“We make the principal the CEO of their school and we give them these dollars to innovate, as we would expect Marc to do,” Beckwith said. “It tells them we trust them.”

The funding supported the purchase of a television production studio at Denman Middle School in San Francisco and manufacturing labs, coding classes and book clubs in others. School principals bought curved furniture to create collaborative classrooms and redeveloped playgrounds.

At Westlake Middle School in Oakland, the money pays for the people.

The grant helps support a computer teacher, a math and science teacher for newcomer students, as well as academic mentors to work with small groups of students, as well as an elective math course, with five or six students in each class, all hovering close to proficiency, Principal Maya Taylor said.

Students demand the course, rejecting other electives like art and music for individual attention, Taylor added.

“We couldn’t have had any of these things,” she said. “It’s important to have as many support people as possible on campus.

Benioff’s approach is relatively rare in educational philanthropy.

He’s one of a long list of tech titans – including Netflix’s Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Lauren Powell Jobs and Reed Hastings – who have embarked on education reform efforts in recent years.

Often, such funding is tied to the benefactor’s favorite project, such as small schools, small class sizes, teacher training, or secondary school revamp.

Unlike his counterparts, Benioff took a more passive approach, inviting all college principals to his home or office every year to find out how they were spending the money and what they needed.

In one case, a principal said dental health issues impacted learning and yet students couldn’t always get to a dentist. Benioff bought a dental chair and materials to set up a dental clinic at the school.

“It’s really important for me to listen to the kids, to listen to the principals, to listen to the teachers,” he said in 2016. “I have to have relationships with these people or I can’t. doing my work as a philanthropist, as a chef.

His philosophy was non-disruptive, trusting people on the ground and in classrooms to get to know their communities and their children, he said.

Benioff liked to say that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10.

The money was the easy part. When Benioff started his business, he committed 1% of equity, 1% of profits in product donations, and 1% of employee time to the Salesforce charity.

“It was extremely easy for us at the time because we had no employees, we had no profit and we had no equity,” Benioff said in 2012.

As of 2020, the Foundation, fueled by the company’s $ 21 billion in annual profits, had more than $ 300 million in the bank, supporting a wide range of national and international philanthropic efforts.

Last year, the foundation responded to distance learning needs during the pandemic in San Francisco, helping to provide students with 35,000 laptops, 11,500 Wi-Fi hotspots and 30,000 learning kits. .

This year, the association is giving $ 19 million to five school districts: San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Indianapolis and New York.

The annual donation also includes significant volunteer time from Salesforce employees, who receive paid time off to work in schools, representing nearly 53,000 hours in San Francisco and Oakland over the past nine years.

In the early years, district-wide funding focused on technology, math, and computing, including purchasing Chromebooks and updating Internet access. Later, the grants began to fund a wide range of programs, including services for refugee or recent immigrant students in Oakland as well as the recruitment and retention of teachers.

“Once we had enough devices, we turned to supporting students in other ways, paying for staff, additional music, additional art and computer teachers,” said Armen Sedrakian, principal of Lawton Alternative K-8 School in San Francisco. “Really, in San Francisco we’re very lucky to have this.”

Without Salesforce funding, the school would have part-time music and art teachers just over half the time. With the money, he has two full-time art and music teachers.

Yet even after nine years of giving, it’s kind of like an unexpected birthday present when the six-figure unconditional check for every college arrives, Sedrakian said.

“It is a very pleasant surprise that there is a philanthropist like Mr. Benioff who kept his word and stayed for the long haul,” he said, adding that any wealthy donor can donate money. to a cause. “It’s the long term that makes the difference.

Jill Tucker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jilltucker

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