Benioff sits on stage with a mic across from another man
Marc Benioff is interviewed by Adam Lashinsky at the Day of Philanthropy.

Fresh off Prop. C victory, Benioff rallies philanthropists to be ‘light among nations’

During his remarks before a largely Jewish audience of 650 at the Day of Philanthropy, keynote speaker Marc Benioff recited lines from a prayer.

The prayer of St. Francis.

“It is in giving that one receives,” quoted the Jewish founder and co-CEO of Salesforce. “Let me not seek to be loved as much as to love.”

This particular Catholic prayer made sense, in that the city where Benioff was born and raised, and where he built his $7.5 billion company and its towering downtown headquarters, was named for the 13th-century saint.

The prayer also exemplifies Benioff’s career-long dedication to personal and corporate philanthropy. Over the years, he has given hundreds of millions of dollars to UCSF Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital Oakland (both now named for him).

Sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and held Nov. 13, the annual Day of Philanthropy brings together community leaders to ponder best practices in targeted giving, nonprofits and how to make the world a better place.

Benioff, 54, decked in jeans, sports coat and snazzy sneakers, sat in conversation with Fortune magazine executive editor Adam Lashinsky. Boasting a personal net worth of some $6.7 billion (according to Forbes), Benioff said philanthropy was part of his business plan from Day One.

“The day we started, we said we would put 1 percent of our equity into supporting nonprofits,” he recalled. “Twenty years later, we’ve given away a quarter of a billion dollars, 3.5 million hours of [employee] volunteerism, and we make our product available to 40,000 nonprofits for free.”

Salesforce this year was ranked as the No. 1 best place to work, according to Fortune.

The business of business is to improve the state of the world.

Benioff is credited with pioneering what is called the 1-1-1 model of philanthropy, meaning 1 percent each of equity, employee hours and product are pumped back into the local community.

He said that concept evolved in part due to his distaste for the old model of philanthropy, which he described as “I’m going to make all this money, and at the end of my life, I’m going to give it all away. That never happens.”

He also derided the old saw that the business of business is business. Instead, Benioff said, “The business of business is to improve the state of the world.”

Most recently, that meant working on the local level to pass Proposition C, a 0.5 percent tax on S.F.-based companies with revenue above $50 million to fund programs for the homeless and help alleviate the crisis. The measure passed by 61 percent in the Nov. 6 election.

“Only 26 companies [will be taxed at] more than $1 million,” Benioff said. “[Salesforce] will pay $10 to $11 million a year — well worth it if it mitigates the crisis.”

Between personal and corporate giving, Benioff said he has donated some $50 million to Bay Area public schools over the years. He urged his audience to get more involved in lifting up schools and hospitals.

Following up on the rumor mill, Lashinsky asked Benioff if he has any plans to run for office, given his increasingly high profile. Benioff answered categorically that he will never run for office, and instead issued a challenge.

“Every time I’m asked about social issues people say, ‘You sound like a politician.’ That’s the sad part. Who in this room stands apart from public schools and public hospitals?” he asked.

“You already have everything you need,” Benioff told the crowd. “When we talk about being a light unto the nations, we’re supposed to demonstrate that through our giving.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.