Salesforce and Atlassian team up to help startups give back

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Donating 1%, Silicon Valley style

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Cloud CRM provider Salesforce has long distinguished itself from other Silicon Valley heavyweights by refusing to move its corporate headquarters and offices from San Francisco itself, even as titans like Google, Facebook and Yahoo sprawl their offices all over the East Bay and the Peninsula that sits to the south.

Yeah, rent is cheaper there, with San Francisco's legendarily horrible real estate market a major line item for any company trying to make it in the city. But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is a native son, and has long maintained that his company can do the most good for the community by staying put. That philosophy is reflected in Salesforce's much-ballyhooed 1-1-1 model for corporate philanthropy, which has promised that Salesforce puts 1% of "product, equity and time" into charitable causes since is founding in 1999.

Fifteen years later, the Salesforce Foundation, in partnership with Aussie developer tool vendor Atlassian and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, is today introducing the "Pledge 1%" program -- a push for Silicon Valley companies, venture capitalists, executives, and influencers to get with the 1-1-1 program with a goal of 500 pledges before this time next year.

A key part of Pledge 1% is a resource center that aims to help early-stage startups integrate that 1-1-1 giving model into their businesses before they get all big and sinister, with dastardly schemes and maniacal laughter and dramatic lightning and whatnot. 

"We believe that if you create a simple pattern, people will participate," said Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, which has followed the 1-1-1 model for some time. 

Corporate philanthropy is nothing new, after all -- you can't throw a hot dog in New York City without hitting an institution that's received a giant novelty check with the family name Rockefeller on it. For its part, Salesforce says it's given more than $73 million in grants to charitable organizations, and makes a special, custom version of its core software available to nonprofits for free. 

But for early stage startups, the issue is that they might want to give back to the community, but don't know how -- or feel like they don't have much to offer. A pre-revenue startup usually has a lot of debt and not a lot of money in the bank, after all.

"When you set aside 1 percent of your company, it's 1 percent of nothing," said Suzanne DiBianca, president of the Salesforce Foundation. 

That's where Pledge 1% comes in. Rather than help them disperse their non-existent money, DiBianca said, the Foundation wants to help startups give over 1% of their equity to charitable causes. It costs them nothing now, and can add up to huge sums for charity later, say, when their company sells to Microsoft or IPOs at a valuation of $1 billion.

It's not even that hard, she said. Thanks to the assistance of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, DiBianca said that Pledge 1% can offer a "turnkey" solution that makes it easy for startups to include philanthropy in the corporate charters, with the Entrepreneurs Foundation providing all the go-between hustle to get the paperwork sorted. Simons and DiBianca urge startups to get, um, started, because it's never too late.

This news comes on so-called #GivingTuesday 2014, a hashtagged global celebration of charitable causes. The goal of the Pledge 1% is to get 500 signees by #GivingTuesday 2015 -- and it's already well on its way, with startups and titans like  Cotap, Foundry Group, Google, InsideSales.com, Optimizely, Rally Software and Yelp already on board. Meanwhile, startup accelerator TechStars, angel fund SV Angel, and charitable giving consultants B Corp and UpGlobal have all signed on to urge the young companies in their care to pledge. 

"The earlier [you start giving back], the better," DiBlanca says. "But it doesn't mean you missed the boat."

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