The "Big Bet" of a Funder That Hasn't Forgotten Traditional Public Schools
If you're only half tuned in to the education philanthropy space, you might think that most funders could care less about traditional public schools as they rush to pump money into charters and education nonprofits. Of course, that wouldn't make much sense, given that 95 percent of U.S. K-12 students still go to regular district schools. And sure enough, as we so often report, there's tons of philanthropic action around these schools involving both local and national funders.
One funder that's deeply involved in working with district schools in its own community is Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce.com, the Bay Area technology company. Its commitment, which involves much more than money, has been growing, and it's interesting to examine more closely.
Last year, the company's chief philanthropy officer, Suzanne DiBianca, filled us in on the backstory. She said that Salesforce's commitment to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) emerged after a meeting with the mayor and superintendent. “We decided this was a place to make a big bet,” DiBianca said.
Salesforce saw an opportunity in helping the SFUSD because not many funders were getting behind the city's traditional schools. “Nobody is doing it,” DiBianca said, calling the state of public education “abominable.”
Salesforce started with a $2.7 million gift to SFUSD in 2013. Then, in 2014, it gave $5 million. In 2015, it raised the amount to $6 million. Much of this grant support went to fund infrastructure and technology improvements, an area where the school district is particularly weak. But Salesforce also made $100,000 available to each middle school principal through an innovation fund to spend as they see fit.
Now, Salesforce has increased its commitment further, putting another $8.5 million behind its successful partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, and adding their neighbor across the Bay, Oakland Unified Schools. The primary focus of the new funding will be supporting computer science education, with Salesforce sticking to an area it knows well.
Outsiders should be paying attention to what's happening here.
Many observers have commented on the dismal state of computer science instruction across the country (roughly only 25 percent of schools offer The "Big Bet" of a Funder That Hasn't Forgotten Traditional Public Schools - Inside Philanthropy - Inside Philanthropy: