Cultivating Philanthropists

It’s always interesting to see how different people approach giving. And while certain approaches are likely to make me cringe, I can certainly see the value in having different approaches.

This week’s Bloomberg magazine gives us a snapshot of someone who is creating waves in San Francisco. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, is applying a bit of positive pressure to fellow billionaires (as well as their tech companies) to step up and do more for the community. With the gentrification of the area (and related rising rents), nonprofits have been having a rough time of it (as referenced in a November Bloomberg issue: Nonprofits Can’t Afford San Francisco).

Benioff has waded right into this mire of urban transformation and socioeconomic anxiety. He’s 50 years old and 6 foot 5, with a cherubic face, thinning hair, and the tech industry’s customary inclination toward displays of arrogance and grandiosity. He also has an uncanny talent for drawing attention to deeply unsexy subjects—first it was business software, now it’s corporate philanthropy. “Our industry has a history of stinginess,” he says from one end of a 20-foot-long conference table in his colonial-style home in San Francisco. “We have done a phenomenal job creating value for the world through our technology, but we are not really an industry known for giving that wealth back.”

Encouraging others to give is a noble calling. it’s Benioff’s approach that may seem a little arrogant and at times pushy:

Benioff seems to enjoy badgering his fellow billionaires about their philanthropic priorities. He says he recently lunched with Nobel Prize-winning stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka in Kyoto. Yamanaka told him that Hiroshi Mikitani, the co-founder and CEO of Japanese Internet giant Rakuten, presented him an award for his research that didn’t include any significant financial support. Benioff fired off an e-mail to Mikitani on the spot, saying he would give $5 million to Yamanaka’s lab at UCSF if Mikitani matched.

Regardless of how we feel about his approach, it works. And frankly, I wish we could replicate his enthusiasm and support for giving in more communities. Too many times I think, rather than focusing on growing givers, we tend to focus on growing donors just for our organizations.

But it gets complicated – professional fundraisers are typically evaluated for how much money they bring in to their organizations. Even community foundations, while looking at the overall good of the community, also need to be concerned with making ends meet.

Who would be the right group to advance this type of agenda?

Do you have an advocate for giving in your community? Or a model that could be replicated elsewhere? Please share – I’d love to hear about it!

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