How Big Tech is Sharing for Social Good

Working at a business incubator in San Francisco, I see incredible social innovations springing up from nonprofits, start-ups, and small businesses everyday. But the truth is, the big guys down the road in Silicon Valley are setting a fierce pace by sharing their core technology, for social good.

Here’s what they’re doing to lead the field and how your social enterprise can benefit.

Cheaper Philanthropy?

For decades, corporate leaders have been dabbling in philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, with mixed results. We all know that once Corporation X earns Y amount of money, they ought to launch a foundation and start giving back. Right?

Well, luckily, we now have a strong wave of corporate intrapreneurs that understand the business case for sustainability. Instead of making money from polluting and then giving a few dollars to re-plant trees, corporate leaders are paying attention to planet, people, and profit within their business. However, finding the right recycled paper, solar-powered servers, fair trade makers, and so on, can be daunting!

Certainly companies with a well-rounded corporate social responsibility plan are to be applauded and encouraged. But all of corporate America can take a lesson from high tech leaders such as LinkedIn, eBay, Salesforce.com, and Facebook and start by maximizing their core product (and strength!) to make a positive impact.

Sharing Powerful Tools

LinkedIn is leveraging its professional networking platform to connect professionals (all 160 million of them) with nonprofits and social causes. Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact for LinkedIn, and her team are working with the companies’ developers and designers to make small platform modifications that have a big impact.

By allowing and encouraging users to list their favorite causes, nonprofits, and pro bono experience, it will be easier for nonprofit leaders to find quality support and easier for corporate hiring managers to find the best employees. Meg’s team has also developed a resource center with free tips and tricks for nonprofits and social enterprises.

eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, boasts more than 100 million active users and $68.6 billion in goods sold in 2011. In addition to running a cutting-edge foundation and engaging top-notch employees committed to green economic development and social entrepreneurship, the company is also empowering a social innovation team to utilize their marketplace as a sales platform for green, socially-responsible, and cause-driven products.

eBay’s Sustainable Commerce and Green Teams united with Patagonia to launch the Common Threads Initiative to resell used gear and keep it out of landfills. The eBay Giving Works provides an easy way for sellers to donate 10-100% of product sales to a charity of their choice. Since their launch in 2003, consumers have responded and Giving Works has sent over $250 million to US nonprofits.

Salesforce.com, a cloud computing company with a flagship Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product used by over 100,000 customers, has pioneered the 1/1/1 philanthropy model. The aim is to “donate 1% of salesforce.com’s resources to support organizations that are working to make our world a better place.” They work to share the company’s best resources: employee time, product, and equity.

How does this break down?

First of all, employees are offered six paid days a year to volunteer for causes they care about. Secondly, founding equity is given out in the form of grants to youth, technology, and employee-inspired projects. And lastly, the Salesforce CRM, the company’s core product, is donated and/or discounted for nonprofits and mission-driven companies.

Salesforce developed a special nonprofit software package and offers 10 free Enterprise Edition licenses to qualified charitable organizations. Sound like a freemium version? Well, yes. But can you blame them? With over 15,000 nonprofit customers, the company has a tremendous reputation and social organizations, large and small, are flocking to use their software for contact, fundraising, and relationship management. Salesforce.com offers sliding scale pricing for small businesses and a discount to for-profit B Corporations with a strong social and environmental commitment.

Facebook proved its worth in the social sector from the very beginning. The site has been used to share updates, photos, and information during crises such as Joplin Missouri’s recent tornado. It offers a free, easy way to organize, engage, recruit, and educate fans and followers.

Some may argue Facebook got lucky with this good press and usership. But their platform is social by nature and good things happen when we’re allowed to connect to each other.  Facebook has attracted use from 89% of all nonprofits (2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report).

Libby Leffler, Facebook’s Strategic Partner Manager noted in a recent Forbes interview, “the goal for our team is simple: provide causes and nonprofit organizations with the tools that they need to best utilize our open platform to engage with supporters and inspire advocacy.”

Facebook’s recent effort to register new organ donors in partnership with Donate Life America was a remarkable win and underlines the company’s ability to make a huge social contribution. They tweaked their platform, started spreading the word on the Facebook Timeline, and will be saving lives for a long time to come.

Moving the Dial

Whether you believe these companies are making change for positive brand management, customer engagement, new market access, or because there’s an army of activists within their ranks - these corporate leaders are making a tremendous impact and redefining corporate philanthropy.

At the same time, many corporate social innovation, social responsibility, and green teams are still understaffed and under-resourced. Each year they need to make a strong business case in order to maintain, if not increase, their internal resources.

These innovators depend on public support and customer feedback, so I encourage you to share their good work as they share theirs.

(Editor's note: Although this piece was written independently, we want to disclose that Salesforce.com donates financial support as well as CRM licenses to Shareable.)

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