With Hanukkah already underway and Christmas just around the corner, it’s officially the season of giving. But even if this is the case, some folks in the tech industry aren’t as willing to relinquish some of their cash.
Silicon Valley is an affluent community: The average Silicon Valley tech professional makes roughly $101,278, and homes in the area cost an average of more than $1 million. Of the top 10 corporations that gave the most money to charities in 2012, however, not one of them was a tech company.
Not all tech companies, of course, can afford to give that much money to charity. Wells Fargo & Company, which topped this list, gave more than $300 million in cash last year. Most tech-based startups dream of being acquired for that sum — but it doesn’t help that there are prominent tech industry executives out there who have very high-profile, profligate spending habits.
One such executive is Sean Parker. Aside from co-founding file-sharing service Napster and serving as the first president of Facebook, Parker also made the headlines a couple of months ago with his $10 million wedding. But it wasn’t just the amount of money that he spent that made this wedding infamous — Parker paid an extra $2.5 million to the California Coastal Commission so he could change existing roads and campsites and modify the existing habitat and trees to his liking. Ironically enough, Parker is also the founder of Causes.com, a service that uses social media to connect charities with their supporters and potential donors.
Let’s not forget the lavish birthday party that Yammer CEO David Sacks threw for himself in 2012. Quoted by Business Insider to have cost roughly $1.4 million, the party was held in a $125 million mansion and included entertainment from Snoopzilla (then Snoop Lion). As if all this weren’t enough, the French-themed party’s invitations asked guests to “Let [Sacks] Eat Cake,” a cold-hearted nod to Marie Antoinette’s “empathetic” words to 18th-century French peasantry.
Despite these stories of ludicrous displays of wealth in Silicon Valley, these parties usually go on behind closed doors because these tech executives still have professional reputations to uphold.
But in an environment that’s constantly wired and bombarded with numbers and data, patience runs short. The more visible the progress and the more frequent the updates, the better. This explains why there are many tech millionaires out there who give their money not to charities, but to startup founders that need funding.
Entrepreneurs that have accrued many years’ worth of experience can usually identify which startups have potential on pitch and demo days. These entrepreneurs sometimes invest their money into these projects. No, these entrepreneurs are not donating their time and money to help people get off the streets nor are they donating canned goods to those in need. By investing in a business, product or service, entrepreneurs instead buy in to a cause and hope to play a part in success -— something visible. With donations, on the other hand, there’s no real end and progress is slow, at best. Given the choice between lending a hand to a cause where attaining a goal is much more tangible as opposed to helping out a charity where there is always constant need for something — be it money, clothes or food — there’s more personal motivation and satisfaction with the former choice.
But the call to action for actual philanthropy in Silicon Valley is getting louder.
Omakase Charity is an up-and-coming San Francisco-based organization that makes charity more tech-exec friendly. Omakase, the Japanese phrase for “leave it to you,” lets people decide how much to donate, and the service does the rest of the work by deciding which organizations would benefit most from the donation.
And remember when there weren’t any tech companies in the list of top 10 most charitable companies in 2012? This year, Google snagged the 10th spot by donating more than $100 million in cash and $1 billion in products.
For philanthropy to fit in with Silicon Valley culture, charity organizations should have their own Kickstarter-type projects, where goals are made clear and distribution of charitable funds is spelled out. Updates from these organizations would make backers feel closer and keep them well-informed.
Companies and startups can start their own fundraisers for causes they’re more passionate about. Google, for example, sponsors scholarships for minorities and those with disabilities who are pursuing computer science-related degrees.
There’s no doubt that Internet-based startups are becoming one of the biggest industries in the world — but the time has come for top executives of the industry to stop giving in to lavish luxuries and start giving back in a way that can impact the world as much as their products do.
Sara Clayton is a junior majoring in public relations. Her column “Tech Today” ran Tuesdays.
Follow Sara on Twitter @saraclay15