Silicon Valley shakes stingy reputation with increased philanthropy |

Silicon Valley shakes stingy reputation with increased philanthropy

MARTHA MENDOZA, AP Business Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – High-tech entrepreneurs are finally shaking their stingy reputation, giving away their Silicon Valley millions at an unprecedented rate.

Recent high profile donations – including billions for education and health care from Microsoft Corp.’s Bill and Melinda Gates, $150 million to Stanford University from Netscape founder Jim Clark and another $100 million to University of Mississippi from former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale – are setting an example for young, successful high-tech entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders said.

”Many of these young people are very idealistic, but until recently they’ve had few examples of how to give,” said Peter Hero, who heads the Community Foundation Silicon Valley, the leading philanthropic group in the region. ”Now we’re seeing them applying the same creativity they used to build their businesses to charitable giving.”

The Community Foundation received more than $75 million in cash and stock gifts between July 1 and December 31, 1999, an all-time high in the organization’s 45-year history. And the organization estimates it will receive about twice as many donations this year as it did last year.

Other Silicon Valley nonprofits are enjoying similar new waves of generosity – donations were up 23 percent at the Second Harvest Food Bank last year, which had the largest holiday food drive in the nation with 1.7 million pounds of donated food and another $1.9 million.

The YMCA of Santa Clara Valley recently surpassed its capital campaign goal of $7 million by raising almost $10 million, the most money ever raised by the 132-year-old local branch.

”We were really surprised and pleased. For a long time the amount of wealth being accumulated in this region was completely out of balance with the philanthropic giving,” said Robb Hermanson, vice president for development. ”It’s been wonderful to see that change. Donors are now coming to us at an unprecedented rate.”

The result: new programs, facilities and swimming pools for local families.

Last year also saw the creation of more than a dozen new organizations to help techies give.

These include groups like the New Schools Venture Fund, created by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. This group plans to give millions of dollars to between 10 and 20 of ”the most promising, scalable education ventures in the country.”

”The New Schools Venture Fund is a big, bold idea. It builds on the innovation and passion of a new breed of pioneers – education entrepreneurs,” said co-founder John Doerr, a high-tech investor whose venture capital helped start many major companies, including, Netscape and Sun Microsystems.

Catherine Muther, who spent 1989 through 1994 as a senior marketing officer at Cisco Systems Inc., launched what she calls the Three Guineas Fund in February with $2 million of her own money to help women start up technology companies and then teach those women to contribute some of their earnings to philanthropic endeavors.

”I’m interested in bringing philanthropy into the new economy,” she said.

The philanthropic efforts mark a significant change for the booming high-tech industry, which was chided by President Clinton in October during a White House conference on philanthropy.

”Silicon Valley and the whole venture capital, high-tech community needs to be at the forefront of what we’re doing because of the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks,” Clinton quipped. ”That’s where the money is.”

Silicon Valley deserves to be nagged.

The region, stretching south from San Francisco, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the United States. However, it falls well below national averages when it comes to sharing the wealth.

About one-third of Silicon Valley households earning more than $100,000 per year give $1,000 or less to charity, according to a 1998 Field Research Corp. survey.

The study also showed that almost half of the region’s wealthiest households are very low givers in relation to their net-worth: 45 percent of the wealthiest contributors give just $2,000 or less annually to charity. And only 48 percent ”planned to donate more to charity when they get older.”

Last year the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, a public charity that brings together donors and progressive organizations throughout the world, launched an Internet foundation called to help high-tech donors direct their philanthropy to charities of their choice.

The site also helps nonprofit organizations find donors in the world.

”Nonprofits need to seize e-commerce for the use of the public, and we’re the ones to help them do it,” said China Brotsky, executive director of the new Internet foundation.

Hero said he’s optimistic that the next survey of high-tech giving will reflect the recent changes.

”It is our hope that Silicon Valley will soon be known as much for its generosity as it is for its technology,” he said.

End ADV for Jan. 29-30