Steve's Reflections


In 1999 and 2000, Steve Kirsch outlined his thoughts on a variety of philanthropic and political reform topics. Please select from the list to find those of interest to you.

Reflection #4

Why there are few high-tech philanthropists and why I'm one of them

One of the reasons there are relatively few philanthropists in Silicon Valley is because it seems so illogical that -- having worked so hard for so long to have finally "made it" -- you’d turn around the next day and donate it all away to charity. What was the point in making it in the first place? Of course, the way to do this is to donate a portion of your net worth into a charitable fund or foundation. But many people are not educated on how to do this, including some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent and brilliant donors.

In talking with other CEOs, charitable giving ranks right up there on the list of "I want to do it someday," along with writing a will. It’s on the priority list, but keeps getting pushed down by more urgent or immediately tangible matters, like spending time with family or solving business problems or working on that next big deal. People are so wrapped up in accumulating wealth that they haven’t made the time to start thinking about how to best leverage their wealth.

Another reason for the lack of interest is that wealth accumulation is how many people measure their self-worth. Recently I spoke with a wealthy and well-connected friend who told me that all the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley are in a contest to see who can get to a $1 billion net worth first. He said it’s all about ego and self worth.

So why am I different? Ten years ago, I volunteered to do fundraising for a Palo Alto charity. I had the good fortune to have Leonard Ely (who also kick-started the Community Foundation Silicon Valley) on my committee. When I asked him for advice on how to ask someone for a $30,000 donation, he told me, "You know, Steve, some people in this world want to give money away."

That made no sense to me at first, but after thinking long and hard about what he said, it suddenly became clear to me that people who had the basics of life covered could help people they care about through strategic philanthropy. You could decide what you want to accomplish and use charitable giving to help you do that. So Leonard’s advice was a wake up call for me, just like Ebenezer Scrooge had an awakening in Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. I wanted to be one of those people who wanted to give money away.

Back to top

home | who we are | how to apply for grants | what we've done
what we care about | why give