June 10, 2017; CNBC
At the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Emmett Carson figures that he needs to serve his community of donors in very special ways. Many of those tech entrepreneurs who have entrusted inconceivable sums of money to the foundation expect that service. After all, they have been responsible for the foundation’s fourfold growth—from $2 billion right before the recession to today’s $8 billion. This makes it the largest community foundation in the country.
Last year, to give you a sense of what’s what, SVCF gave away $1.3 billion in grants.
“People come at you from every direction” when you become wealthy in a hurry, says Akiko Yamizaki, wife of Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang and now chair of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. Together, the couple has given away hundreds of millions, but “neither of us grew up wealthy, so we had no experience” in philanthropy.
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Indeed, the size of some of the gifts made to and through the foundation is breathtaking. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have donated roughly $1.5 billion since 2010. Nick Woodman, CEO of GoPro, and his wife, Jill, gave $500 million. Jan Koum, a co-founder of the messaging service WhatsApp, donated $556 million in 2014.
Carson says the foundation’s focus is on providing every donor with a “good user experience” and “hand-in-glove” involvement in giving decisions. Its perspective is appropriately global: “We can transact in 69 countries and 140 currencies, including Bitcoin and Ripple,” Carson says. “We take pre-IPO (shares) and real estate.”
This focus, however, has excluded other classic community foundation roles. For instance, SVCF ran a “Silicon Valley Gives” day for three years; in 2017, it had 14,000 participants and was trending on Twitter. Then, Carson says, some donors began to complain, and SVCF decided to suspend the program until it could eliminate any “rubs” for donors, despite the fact that it had raised over $20 million in three years.
“Our goal is to eliminate the friction” between donors and their desired outcomes, he says. “Everyone has a different game plan into the (tech industry) ecosystem, a different notion of partnership. It’s how we execute that distinguishes us.”—Ruth McCambridge