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Foolish Book Review: "The Business of Changing the World"

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By Tom Taulli
November 27, 2006

Marc Benioff is well known as the renegade entrepreneur who built Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) into one of the fastest-growing software companies in the world. Before this, he was an executive at Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), where, in addition to selling software, he also led the company's philanthropic efforts. But he realized the mission had to be about more than just writing checks in order to be successful; it had to be "woven into the fabric of the organization."

Now Benioff has a book on that topic, The Business of Changing the World (co-authored by Carlye Adler, a freelance journalist). No doubt he has spent much time researching the subject, as his book covers 18 companies, from Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) to Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) to Levi Straus. Each chapter begins with the company's background, the ways in which philanthropy and community involvement have been integral to the company, and an essay from the company's CEO or chairperson.

Leveraging a company's infrastructure
Benioff believes that companies have a big opportunity to leverage their internal resources to enhance philanthropy and benefit the community. Some examples: Hasbro has given away more than one million toys to children in need; each year, Safeway donates $100 million in food to local and regional food banks; and Salesforce.com donates its software to nonprofits.

Furthermore, companies are also realizing that they need to be responsible about the negative impact they can have on the community. One example is Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), which has set up systems to allow for global waste recycling. Over the past few years, the company has been able to recycle 63% of its chemical waste and 73% of its solid waste worldwide.

Corporate philanthropy is good business
"We give because it's the right thing to do," said Alan Hassenfeld, the chairman of Hasbro. "We've also learned, though, that it's also the profitable thing to do."

After all, if a company does good things, it helps attract talented employees. What's more, it also attracts customers, who favor companies that care about the community.

Just look at Citizens Financial, which devotes at least 1% of its pre-tax profits to community efforts like homeless shelters, community centers, and family clinics. "Banks are intimate with their communities," said Larry Fish, the CEO. "I don't think you can have a healthy bank in a sick community."

Or take UPS (NYSE: UPS), which selects a variety of mid-level managers to spend a month devoted to community work, an endeavor that's been very useful in building leadership skills.

Start now
Throughout much of the book, Benioff has focused mostly on big companies. But he makes it clear that all companies should be involved in philanthropy.

That's what he did when he started Salesforce.com (out of his apartment). He innovated something called the 1-1-1 model, in which his company would donate 1% of profits, stock, and employee time to community efforts. According to Benioff: "People are here to do more than just make money -- they want to help make the world a better place during their time here." Interestingly enough, Benioff was also able to get Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to adopt the 1-1-1 model.

Cisco was another early adopter of community involvement. For example, when the company started, it was located across from the Costano Elementary School. Simply put, Cisco employees jumped the fence and started to help out. At first, they painted the facilities and cleaned the yard. Eventually, they were tutoring students and donating computer equipment.

Big powers for big problems
As we have seen recently, governments often have great difficulty dealing with massive problems like tsunamis, hurricanes, disease, war, and poverty.

To fill the void, ultra-wealthy people -- such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Richard Branson, and Warren Buffett -- are now devoting their fortunes to solving tough problems. Actually, these individuals often partner with companies to achieve their goals.

But, as with anything, there is much more that can be done. And hopefully CEOs will take some time to read Benioff's book -- to get inspiration and new ideas.

As Jean-Pierre Garnier, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, says so eloquently: "I think that anyone sitting in my seat, seeing the millions of people affected by tragedies such as HIV and malaria, would ask: What can I do besides enriching my shareholders and protecting my employees?"

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Dell and Intel have been singled out by our Inside Value newsletter, UPS is an Income Investor pick, and Dell is also a Stock Advisor selection.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares mentioned in this article. He is currently ranked 113 out of 13993 in Motley Fool CAPS. The Fool has a disclosure policy.