United Way and Salesforce try mending the social fabric

Denis Pombriant
Sep 9, 2019 · 6 min read

Like everything else in America, how we think about philanthropy is changing thanks to economic and social evolution. As Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way, the world’s largest privately-funded nonprofit philanthropic entity sees it, “Over the last 10 years, charitable giving in the United States — the total amount of money being given, and it’s now over 400 billion [per year] — has been driven by wealthy individuals. The actual number of people, individuals, giving to charity in the United States has been going down for a decade.” Gallagher should know too, United Way serves 61 million people each year and has over 34,000 funded community partners and it also has 60,000 corporate partners world wide.

Leadership in philanthropic giving has been taken over by wealthy individuals.

The generations that grew up with technology have their own take on giving and social involvement so a couple of years ago, United Way began developing a relationship with tech giant Salesforce in an effort to leverage technology as it serves so many people. In the process they’ve developed ways that make philanthropy more meaningful to younger geneations and this process is creating new approaches to philanthropy.

Losing the middle

So, what’s interesting today is that the concentration of wealth in the United States is being followed by a concentration of philanthropy and with that there’s been a shift from small donors to larger ones. The result is that fewer people are donating more to charitable causes even as the dollar value of donations increases.

Although it is obvious that over the last several decades the economic center of American society has been hollowed out, the downstream effects are less obvious. Rather than a single economic bell curve to represent society and its philanthropy, today there are two curves, on the sides of where the normal curve would be, that graphically describe what’s left as a result of the hollowing. On the right side there’s a population of very wealthy people, many of whom garnered their wealth in various growth industries like finance and technology. On the left, another curve represents the rest of the country.

Most people would say they know this if just from their own experiences because personal income has been static for much of the last 30 years. But the economic hollowing out is also a cause of a deeper carving out too. “Because of the economic hollowing out, we’re starting to carve out the cultural middle of our society,” Gallagher says. His concern is that, “If we keep having fewer and fewer people engaged in their communities and giving to charity, at some point the social fabric is torn apart.”

Back to the Settlement House movement

Despite the recent concentration, grass roots philanthropy has a long and illustrious history. In another age, Americans developed ways to create social fabric where there was none and perhaps it’s time to revisit their successes. One of the earliest examples is the settlement house movement spearheaded by Jane Addams, an early social worker and political activist, author and lecturer, community organizer, and public intellectual in Chicago in the late 19th century. Addams started Hull House as a place to welcome immigrants, many of whom could not even speak English.

Immigration rates were very high at the end of the 19thcentury and often migrants could outstrip a city’s or a region’s resources. Competition for jobs would create societal friction causing established citizens to regard newer immigrants as “other”. Addams saw immigrants as people just like the rest of us and Hull House evolved as a place to welcome all people and provide them with some of the cultural tools they needed to assimilate.

Gallagher says that Addams’ genius was to take an institution-centered idea of philanthropy and turn it into a people-centered one, and the idea spread. The Settlement House movement helped enhance the societal fabric at times of great stress and some hardship. This kind of return to grass roots philanthropy could help propel us out of the current malaise into a stronger society. Today as in the 19thcentury people are looking for ways to give back, and technology can play a positive role.

Working with Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud

The social pressures that drove the settlement house movement nearly 150 years ago, are still with us. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, notes that a population equal to that of France is now involuntarily displaced and migrating across the planet seeking the basics of life. But even if foreign refugees are not impacting an area, local people displaced to one degree or another by job loss, economic dislocation, the opioid epidemic and other stress factors call out for philanthropic support. The challenges we face are not homogeneous and as Gallagher says, “You’ve got to bring all sorts of different resources, and programs, and people together.”

“What’s most exciting is that technology can play an important role in breaking down barriers and connecting people in need with people in a position to help. “The technology is such that you can do it in a brick-and-mortar way or you can do it virtually,” he pointed out.

A couple of years ago, United Way partnered with Salesforce to design and produce The Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud to bring together people with needs, those with resources, and sources of funding. In a way, you could think of it as a settlement house in the cloud.

The technology enables people with an impulse to do good, to have a starting point. They can learn about the needs in their communities and get the chance to contribute resources and for those who want to do more and take a hands-on approach, it enables them to contribute their time and money to worthy causes. It also empowers employees to lead their own campaigns and get organized with their peers.

Getting involved

Salesforce created the 1–1–1 model which is now the foundational element of the Pledge One Percent movement in which a company can pledge one percent of any of its resources such as its employee time, equity, product, and profits to charity. There are more than three thousand companies participating in Pledge One Percent today and each chooses the structure of its donations. One type of donation that has become popular has been donating employee time. Employers give their people paid time off to participate on a voluntary basis in community outreach and the decision about how to use the time is completely up to the employee.

A recent study from Povaddo, an opinion research and issues management consultancy showed that when given paid leave, employees more readily donate their time. Other studies show that younger workers like those in the Gen Z and Millennium cohorts make decisions about where to work based in part on a company’s attitude toward philanthropy. Fully 73 percent of employees say they are familiar or somewhat familiar with their companies’ corporate philanthropy efforts.

This brings its own challenges though. In addition to all of the other duties and activities a CEO has to be aware of and participate in, we can now add a company’s philanthropic stance. Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud reduces this burden by providing a one-stop place for organizing a company’s philanthropic pursuits. Tracking and accounting for time and resources spent in philanthropy are issues now coming to the forefront and both were anticipated in the design of The Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud by Salesforce and United Way.

Going forward

Almost since the beginning of the modern philanthropic movement, one of any charity’s great challenges has been to become known to the local community and to attract resources for its mission. At the same time donors have struggled to identify results from their efforts and donations. The Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud makes it possible to do both of these things efficiently.

One upshot of this new approach includes employee empowerment. As Gallagher puts it, “Increasingly companies realize that they’ve got to engage their employees in a way that gives them control.” The results seem to be worth the efforts and Gallagher concludes, “What’s interesting is that the employers that have used Philanthropy Cloud and used this approach I’m talking about, see their giving go up, and see their employee engagement go up.”

United Way and Salesforce have provided leadership in changing how we define and participate in philanthropy at a time when a change was sorely needed. Adding technology to the equation has enabled organizations like United Way to re-imagine philanthropy and, like Jane Addams many years ago, to implement a people-centered solution that seems right for the times.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Denis Pombriant

Written by

Researcher, author of multiple books including “The Age of Sustainability” about solutions for climate change. Technology, business, economics.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Denis Pombriant

Written by

Researcher, author of multiple books including “The Age of Sustainability” about solutions for climate change. Technology, business, economics.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store