Ms Fuller addressed CEDA members at an Innovative and effective philanthropy breakfast, where she outlined Google's criteria and model for investing across philanthropic and social enterprise sectors. Google.org gives more than $100 million in grants, 200,000 volunteering hours, and $1 billion in products each year.
“We believe that technology is the best way to achieve impact at scale, and is desperately underfunded by the government sector,” Ms Fuller said. “It’s what aligns with our core strength and mission, so investing in tech and innovation has been a key part of our approach.”
“Google.org has spent over a billion dollars in the past 10 years in cash grants… but what we’ve found is the highest leverage that we get, is when we match those grants with the pixie dust of Google itself.
“If we can bring those together and marry those strengths, we can have much more impact.”
Ms Fuller said that the current philanthropic efforts from individuals around the world was “tremendous”, but that there was room for companies to do more.
“If you look at all private flows of philanthropy, the amount that comes from companies… is five per cent. If US companies each gave one per cent of their net profit, that would be an additional $60 billion per year that could be guided to some of the best innovators with the best ideas to take on problems locally in their communities – and then globally around the world,” she said.
Ms Fuller had three key learnings from her work with Google.org to share with other companies interested in corporate philanthropy.
“What we’ve learned, is bring the best of who you are to the table. Bring all of your assets to the table. When we first started off, I think we thought too much about just the money and just the grants,” she said.
“And that’s super important… but again, as we have looked back and we have interviewed our partners, we have found our most successful efforts are ones where we can also bring other parts of who we are, like our engineers.
“So we provide resources, but we can also provide Google engineers, Google designers, Google team members to help them realise their full potential."
The second takeaway was to be flexible. Ms Fuller explained that as a tech company, Google itself had to be comfortable with flexibility and the potential for failure – which she saw as key to innovation.
“I think too often we enter in with a very rigid approach and don’t leave room for serendipity… I think a lot of times with our non-profit partners, we tie them down to very outdated models, or don’t give the resources they need to be innovative," she said.
“Oftentimes, even our best performing non-profits, or our biggest ones, don’t have the resources and don’t have the ‘okay’ to fail.
“What we’ve learned, is it’s okay to fail. Fail fast. Lean into it. Share your learnings.”
Finally, Ms Fuller said that companies had to let data be their guide in corporate philanthropy.
“I think it’s interesting that we use data in our everyday business lives; that we wouldn’t think about making a decision without asking what the evidence is. But then we get into our personal charity, or corporate philanthropy, and we sort of just go with our heart,” she said.
“So I think bringing more data and evidence into our work, and being willing to fund data and evidence and impact evaluations, and the sharing of that data out, can have a huge transformative effect across the sector.”
Ms Fuller shared an example where the data from a particular initiative proved “conventional wisdom” wrong – and helped set valuable benchmarks for Google.org’s investments. The initiative used mobile technology to deliver money directly into the hands of the poor.
“What happens when you actually give poor people full choice, unconditional choice, about what they do with their money? And interestingly enough, what the data showed, is that it went completely against conventional wisdom… of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, that sort of thing… and the outcomes that they achieved so far as health, education, and investing in businesses, were much higher than even the best rates being achieved by most development organisations," she said.
“And so for us, that was not only phenomenal innovation and a great way to funnel resources, but it also provides a benchmark for us as a sector, to say: okay, anybody who is taking money, who wants to take a dollar on behalf of the poor, to spend it on their behalf, needs to prove that you’re going to do more with that dollar, than the poor would do themselves.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about those metrics that we are achieving. Because otherwise we are just taking all of those resources that could be used better and more efficiently by the poor themselves.”