Salesforce.com says it's sorry to the Dalai Lama

The hosted CRM provider is apologizing for using the holy leader to promote a user-milestone event and has called off the celebration.

There may be no software on the path to enlightenment, but there's no free publicity either.

Last week, hosted CRM provider Salesforce.com publicly apologized to the Dalai Lama and the American Himalayan Foundation. At issue was a promotional poster the San Francisco-based company sent out in August to invite employees and members of the press to an evening with the Dalai Lama in celebration of the hosted CRM company's reaching the 100,000-subscriber mark. Above a picture of a praying Dalai Lama appeared the words, "There is no software on the path to enlightenment."

The poster advertised an evening at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall with the Dalai Lama and a celebration afterward at the Asian Art Museum.

It seems, however, that no one asked His Holiness about it.

The American Himalayan Foundation, which is sponsoring the Dalai Lama's Sept. 5 appearance, complained of the use of the his image after a reporter brought the poster to the organization's attention.

"I didn't like their poster, and they said, 'Well, we're sorry,'" said Erica Stone, president of the American Himalayan Foundation. "It was one of those things where it was really unfortunate. In the end, it's a thing where we're all a little sadder and wiser."

On Friday, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff offered a public apology in a letter to recipients of the poster.

"We had no right to suggest that either the American Himalayan Foundation or His Holiness support us," Benioff wrote. "We made a mistake. For any harm done to the reputations of both His Holiness and the American Himalayan Foundation, we apologize."

Salesforce.com made a $75,000 donation to the foundation and got 500 tickets. Stone returned the donation, but Salesforce.com is insisting that the organization keep the money and wants to contribute another $25,000.

More than 500 posters were printed for the event. Salesforce.com has asked invitees to return them and has offered to pick up the tab for the return postage. It also plans to reschedule its celebration.

Salesforce.com has long been a supporter of Tibetan causes and has made numerous contributions in the past.

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