Why would you want to start a corporate Foundation? 5 things to consider …

[By Julie Trell]

Recently, several former salesforce colleagues and friends — who have either started their own startup or joined one — have reached out to me with similar requests; “I loved the integrated philanthropy culture at Salesforce. We want to start a foundation at company X. How do we do it?” To all those who have reached out and any others interested, here are some thoughts and resources for anyone considering starting a corporate philanthropy program.

Five things to think about for starting your Foundation.

  1. The Why. Ask yourself why do you want to start a foundation. It’s always good practice to stop any think about the WHY of any projects you do at your company in order to get buy in and understanding from your team. The “why” should lead to vision of your foundation. What is your purpose? Is it because everyone else is doing it? Is it for marketing? Is it because you were told to do it? Are you feeling guilty? Check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire” as he does a great job talking through the “why”. This question alone can help tell your story and engage committed people to help achieve your vision.
    The “How” to set up your Foundation is secondary — deciding if you should set up a separate 501c3, outsource a donor advised fund, or an internal budget and program managed solely by the company. These operational decisions should not get in the way of your vision.
  2. What is the problem you want to solve? To quote Gandhi “be the change you want to see in the world”. What issues are near and dear to your heart as founders and as a company? Can these issues or problems benefit from the product you are developing and selling? Aim for impact (the measurable change you make), not only output (dollars granted, number of hours volunteered, how much product donated, etc). Like your business model, choose one problem you want to solve and can solve well. Think big. As all startup entrepreneurs should know .“Stay focused”. Start with your how you want to see the world and how your product, service and people can work to achieve it. (For example: We see a world where there are no more homeless people. Or we see a world where girls have equal access to quality education.) If you lead with your theory of change and your story— the impact, results, accomplishments — you will get people excited in what you want to accomplish and they will be eager to be a part of it.
  3. How can you use your resources (people, product, profit) to address the problem you’ve identified? Once you’ve answered the “why” and “what” of the vision of your foundation, how are you going to make the impact you want? How can you engage your employees? Can your product help organizations who are addressing the problem? Are you willing to offer it for a big discount* to social enterprises or nonprofit organizations? What geographies are you working in where you can make the greatest social impact? Does it align with where you’re currently doing business? What skillsets do your employees have where they can provide pro bono support to nonprofits? Would you be willing to offer a fellowship for a long-term employee to spend a quarter working with a nonprofit?
    (*Consider offering a small fee for your product or service, if you give your goods away for free, it loses it’s value completely. Even if it’s a one time fee of $10 — you will be reaching organizations who see the value of your product, use it to be efficient and effective, and possibly even provide you with new insight how it benefits a different sector. Social Enterprises and non-profits can be quite innovative and potentially tell your story in a new way. This revenue can also provide the capital for grants or to fund the programs or any head count to run it. See #5)
  4. Be Mindful. Listen to the Experts. When you partner with organizations who are addressing the issues or problems you want to solve, remember they have the subject matter expertise. Listen to them. Just because you may be a successful company, with resources like cash, product, eager and intelligent employees, be mindful that these organizations bring just as much on their end. They have intimate understanding of the population, proven models of addressing the issue as well as relationship with policy makers, the beneficiaries and other important stakeholders. Ask questions! And listen some more. Think of this relationship like you would any business partnership. You need to complement one another. And ask questions. And remember to LISTEN!
  5. Hire passion and a creative thinker — When it comes time where the rubber hits the road and you’ve answered the “why”, “how”, and “what” find someone to execute on that vision. If you want this vision to have legs and make impact, it’s best have one dedicated person look after this program as her sole responsibility. Hire someone who is driven by making an impact, who speaks the language of nonprofit, and can translate it to corporate and vise-versa. Find someone who loves working with people, is energized by them, asks questions, and listens. She should be someone willing to take risks (if you are), try new things and find people who are working on innovative solutions to society’s challenges. Then give them the title of Director All Things Fun, Meaningful & Rewarding. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company who has someone responsible for those “things”?

Once you lay your foundation for your foundation (or integrated philanthropy programs), you can get into the fun stuff creating programs, designing innovative grant initiatives, setting up the operations and legal structure (ok, fun for some), networking and reaching out to cool organizations with whom you want to partner and scale their impact. Remember to remain authentic to the impact you want to make.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. 

— Henry David Thoreau

Contact: julie@julietrell.com, www.julietrell.com

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