In Silicon Valley, even philanthropy is hyper-competitive.
Giving away part of a sudden fortune is not as easy as it sounds when the donor wants to be a hands-on philanthropist.
“People come at you from every direction” when you become wealthy in a hurry, says Akiko Yamizaki, wife of Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who together have given away hundreds of million of dollars to a broad slate of charities and organizations since Yahoo went public two decades ago.
“Neither of us grew up wealthy, so we had no experience” in philanthropy, says Yamizaki, now chair of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and who, like many donors here, was intent on producing measurable results with the couple’s giving.
Fortunately for the tech industry’s elite, Emmett Carson can show them how.
Carson is chief executive of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, an organization which Yamizaki credited with helping guide her and other wealthy families into their philanthropic roles.
Carson has led the foundation through a decade of remarkable growth, fueled by giving from newly rich and relatively young (for philanthropy) executives from the tech industry.
The foundation’s assets have shot up from roughly $2 billion in 2007 to more than $8 billion now, according to figures it shared with CNBC.
That staggering growth has turned the foundation, housed on two floors of a modest office building in Mountain View, California, into the largest community foundation in the U.S., based on asset size and grant making, according to the Foundation Center. It’s also one of the largest philanthropic organizations, period — bigger than decades-older foundations started by storied American families like the Rockefellers, Mellons and MacArthurs.
In 2015, it gave away $825 million in grants, second only to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Last year it gave away $1.3 billion, bringing its total grant-making to local, national and global charities to $4.3 billion, according to the SVCF.
How did the organization become so successful?
It was created from a merger of the Peninsula Community Foundation and Community Foundation Silicon Valley in 2007, giving the new organization a chance to “eliminate all sacred cows,” Carson says. He focused it on the two things every Silicon Valley donor wants: “A good user experience” and “hand-in-glove” involvement in the process.
“Everyone here (in the tech industry) is an expert, a learner. They want to dive deep,” he says. “Making money is difficult. Giving it away should be fun.”