Corporate social responsibility doesn't have the same buzzworthiness that it did in the late '90s to early 2000s. During better economic times, companies could put more dollars into buoying the newly minted triple bottom line. A decade and a great recession later, CSR has taken a backseat to moral hazard and too big to fail, but I have always been amused by the emerging importance of companies acting responsibly and what that actually meant. A company like McDonald's
Can an oil company actually be considered clean and socially responsible? What about a cigarette maker such as Altria
I generally stay clear of these issues when investing, but I do look for companies that practice sustainable corporate social responsibility because it is part of their culture -- companies that make products that don't require an expensive CSR campaign, but have a culture that dictates the dual benefit it has for the company and society. Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of salesforce.com
A cloud to give back
When searching for socially responsible companies, a cloud-computing company isn't usually first to come to mind, but that is exactly the point. Salesforce.com doesn't leave a large footprint on the environment; in fact, its cloud-based services actually reduce the need for manufactured hardware components and the traditional infrastructure of heavy software-based models.
Before he started salesforce.com, Benioff worked at Oracle
Benioff wanted to implement his model of CSR into salesforce.com right from the start. So less than a year after he founded the company, he began the salesforce.com Foundation, which is based on Benioff's 1/1/1 model. It gives employees six paid days to perform community service, donating 1% of their time to the community, and the company donates 1% of its product and 1% of its equity to the foundation. The results have been astounding for the communities and organizations it supports. More than 7,000 nonprofit organizations are run by salesforce.com's software for free, and the foundation has donated more than $20 million to charitable causes. The model has also been adapted by many of the companies' third-party suppliers and has had a big influence on Google's
The apple doesn't fall far
Benioff also recently put his money where his mouth is. He and his wife made an initial $100 million donation to kick-start the building of a children's medical center in San Francisco. Benioff hopes the large cash injection will allow for greater research into breakthrough technologies to fight children's diseases.
When asked about his donation and his plans for future philanthropy, Benioff said, "I don't like my ranking on the Forbes 400 list. I don't understand the value of maintaining that level of wealth. It's not helping anyone, certainly not me."
We hear so often about the culture of Apple, Google, Netflix, and other Silicon Valley tech companies that are so highly lauded because of a culture and brand that people want to be a part of. Maybe we don't hear about salesforce.com as much because it makes a pretty boring product. Online sales and lead tracking databases for businesses just isn't as exciting as the iPad. However, 800% returns since salesforce.com's IPO is exciting, and Benioff and his culture of building CSR policies are a big reason for the incredible results. When CSR becomes more than a brand image and truly integrated into an organization's culture, investors will see the results. In this regard salesforce.com and its investors are extremely well positioned for the future.
Andrew Bond owns no shares in the companies listed. Google and saleforce.com are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Altria, Google, and Oracle. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @Bond0 or on his RSS feed. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.