Salesforce invests $1m in Black-led non-profits to close the racial funding gap

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett February 28, 2023
Opening up tech careers to young people of color.

Ron Smith

The lack of opportunities for Black people in technology is well-documented. In an effort to address the racial funding gap which exacerbates the situation, Salesforce is donating a further $1 million specifically to Black-led organizations. 

The investment is part of the Salesforce Catalyst Fund, which the company launched last June with an initial $2 million investment aimed at offering unrestricted capital to non-profits. Twenty organizations across Australia, the UK and the US each received a $100,000 grant to address inequities in education, economic opportunity and racial justice. 

The original aim for the Catalyst Fund was dedicating flexible funding to smaller, strategically aligned organizations led by people of color and underrepresented populations, so they can be creative and expand their programs. Salesforce VP of Philanthropy Dr Ron C Smith adds:

The biggest impact is because we were very clear and had certain criteria - groups led by people of color, organizations that have black CEOs, male and female - we really kept around our strategy of education and workforce development for those communities.

By doing that and having those initial conversations, we came to the thought, we need to do this again. We need to see if we can add these funds to 20 additional organizations and accelerate the outcomes for young people and young adults around the world.

With this second round of an additional $2 million, Salesforce has focused on expanding the program to have more impact in EMEA, the Latino population and very specifically targeting Black-led organizations. Half of the latest fund will be shared out among 10 Black-led organizations, which will each receive $100,000 to expand their programs promoting education and career success for young people of color in the US. 

The $100,000 each Catalyst Fund grantee receives can be used totally at their discretion - a different model from traditional giving, which often requires non-profits to demonstrate an intention to do work that aligns with the funders’ priorities. 

The latest grantees include:

  • Tamar Huggins Grant at Tech Spark Canada, who is redesigning the personalized learning experience for middle school students with a platform using data, AI, hip-hop culture and equity.
  • Kristina Newton of HYPE, who’s empowering girls of color with tech skills that prepare them to thrive as future leaders.
  • Sharif El-Mekki of Center for Black Educator Development, which is recruiting talented Black students to advance social and racial justice by pursuing a career in education.
  • Tiffany Herndon of Nzinga – Black is Lit, which is supporting the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline by addressing literacy proficiency among Black students.

Salesforce is now having conversations about doing a third round of funding to achieve the same impact for another year. 


This type of targeted investment is crucial for closing the racial funding gap, which sees Black entrepreneurs undervalued and underfunded compared to their white counterparts. 

According to the ‘Racial Equity and Philanthropy’ report from Echoing Green and Bridgespan, among the most highly qualified applicants to Echoing Green’s seed fund, the revenues of Black-led organizations are 24% smaller than those of their white-led counterparts. 

For unrestricted funding, which allows more freedom and flexibility around financial investment, the picture is bleaker. The unrestricted net assets of Black-led organizations are 76% smaller than their white-led counterparts. 

For Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement fellowship, which focuses on improving the life outcomes of Black men and boys, revenues of Black-led organizations are 45% smaller than those of the white-led organizations, while unrestricted net assets of the former are 91% smaller, despite focusing on the same work. 

Across Echoing Green’s 2019 US applicant pool, the disparities add up to a $20-plus million racial funding gap. The 492 organizations led by Black applicants raised $40 million overall, compared to $61 million raised by the 396 organizations led by white applications.

According to Salesforce's Smith, only four percent of philanthropic funding in the US goes to Black and Latinx non-profits, even though they make up 10% of non-profit organizations. He adds:

That's just staggering. When we think about the future of work opportunity through the lens of access, having programs that are offering mentors, experience and providing young men chances to see something that they can be in their future life is critical. 

As a philanthropic group, when we think about serving the cities where we work and live, and looking at the populations that are furthest from success, at the end of everything we do in every partnership, it’s striving to think about how are we providing an opportunity for these young people for career success.


One of the 2022 cohort awarded a Salesforce Catalyst Fund grant was The Hidden Genius Project, which was founded in 2012 as a platform to elevate the leadership potential of Black boys and young men. The non-profit offers a range of opportunities, including a 15-month Intensive Immersion Program mentorship experience that provides computer science, software development, entrepreneurship and leadership training to Black male high school students in Oakland, Richmond, Los Angeles, and Detroit; and events and workshops aimed at exposing boys and young people of color to mentors, basic computer programming and pathways to tech careers. Dr Brandon Nicholson, CEO of The Hidden Genius Project, says:

We’re trying to afford young people with more opportunities to access skills, networks and experiences that could connect them with meaningful career pathways but also entrepreneurship. But also to inspire them to be able to build things for their communities, to see themselves as driving innovation in markets they understand quite well, like youth markets, and their neighborhoods and communities where they live and grow up.

Then over time, envisioning themselves as global leaders and global entrepreneurs, people who are innovating for challenges and solutions to all sorts of big problems as well.

Almost 99% of the 9,500 young people who have participated in the program have completed high school, with at least 90% enrolling in post-secondary education each year, and over 60% majoring or minoring in computer science or business. 

The Hidden Genius Project is free for participants, which makes support from the Salesforce Catalyst Fund crucial. Nicholson says:

It's critical to us to make sure that we can remove as many barriers as possible for anyone to participate. That's why it's so critical that we have organizations like Salesforce that believe in our work, invest in our work and help eliminate those barriers.

We want to make sure we're able on any given day to show up and deliver the full force of what we have to offer, so that we can inspire as many young people as possible and not have to have anyone worry or ask too many questions about how it can happen. When we have the support of the Salesforce Catalyst Fund, that's exactly what's happening, because we've been able to stabilize our resources and build a solid foundation so we can do the hard work of engaging and inspiring and hopefully advancing the lot of our young people.”

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