Pretty much every charity in Silicon Valley wants to “friend” Facebook and its workers as the company gets ready to go public on Friday.
As Facebook’s executives and employees await a life-changing windfall from its initial public stock offering, expected to set the company's worth at a record-breaking $100-billion, the company itself is coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate that it will be a big donor.
Meanwhile, charities near the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters are trying to find and forge any possible connection with the company’s workers and gearing up to persuade them to give away some of their newly-acquired green.
Heart of San Mateo County, a San Francisco group that works to increase low-cost housing, has already won some support from Facebook
At a fundraising event last week, the charity received a $25,000 donation from Facebook. The gift was one reason the luncheon raised a total of $100,000, an increase over the $60,000 it raised last year; the event also drew 100 more people than it did in 2011.
“Facebook lending their name and cachet helped, and the $25,000 helped even more,” says Paula Stinson, director of development. “They were being a very good corporate citizen because we know they get a zillion requests for this. It’s a very busy time for them.”
The signs the company and its executives have shown in support of philanthropy have made many local nonprofit leaders hopeful that the company will become a standard-bearer for generous giving.
Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation and a board member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, went public this month with a direct plea to Facebook officials, writing an op-ed column in the San Jose Mercury News urging the company to support nonprofits in the community.
Compared with other metropolitan areas, Silicon Valley “underperforms when it comes to giving,” he wrote, adding that the earnings from Facebook’s “blockbuster IPO” could go a long way to help local groups and “create a model to change the world.”
The company’s co-founders, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, have already tried to set a tone with their own philanthropy. Both men have signed the Giving Pledge, committing to giving at least half of their wealth to worthy causes, and Mr. Zuckerberg made history when he became one of the youngest donors to make a charitable gift of $100-million, awarding the money to aid for struggling schools in Newark, N.J.
Facebook has also signaled that it wants to step up donations to local causes. It’s already budgeted $500,000 to start the Facebook Local Community Fund, which will enlist Facebook employees and local leaders to review grant applications from charities in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, where the California company’s new headquarters are located.
“Part of being a good neighbor to our local community is supporting the organizations that are working hard to improve it,” writes Tucker Bounds, a Facebook spokesman, in an e-mail to The Chronicle.
He said he couldn’t provide details about whether a formal corporate-giving program is in the works because of the rules that govern the period before the company goes public.
The pressure for Facebook to give comes at a time when other technology leaders have escalated their personal and corporate philanthropy, including:
- Apple, whose leader, Tim Cook, last year announced the company’s first-ever employee matching-gift program, offering matches of up to $10,000.
- Elon Musk, the 40-year-old PayPal founder, who signed the Giving Pledge in April.
- Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm, which in late April announced a $1-million gift to be split among six local nonprofits. The company’s partners announced plans to donate half of their income to philanthropic causes during their lives.
- Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, called on other Silicon Valley technology leaders to match their $1-million gift to the Tipping Point, a San Francisco antipoverty charity. Last week, that incentive helped raise $8-million at a fundraising gala for the organization—several Facebook executives attended.
Charities in Silicon Valley are worried not just about whether they can persuade Facebook’s newly wealthy workers to give but whether they can deal with the demands those workers may place on their beneficiaries.
When technology leaders join a charity’s board or become a big donor, they don’t necessarily just write a check and move on, nonprofit officials say. Often, they demand to see data that show that their contributions are making a difference.
“They see their giving as an investment,” says Peter Hero, who runs his own Palo Alto fundraising consultancy after running the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for 17 years. “When they get involved in charitable giving, often they want to get very hands-on. That could be good or bad from a nonprofit standpoint.”
Susan Medak, managing director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, says she has already encountered some of the challenges of working with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
Her organization often gets requests from tech executives who want to support a new program rather than sustain an existing one. Donors have asked her theater to produce a play written by them or insisted that theater performances be streamed online.
“We, like almost everyone else we know, have had a real hard time accessing gifts that are sizable—or continuing, and are consistent—that can be traced to Silicon Valley,” Ms. Medak says.
'A Hot Topic’
Nonetheless, the gold rush ahead at Facebook has prompted many Silicon Valley and Bay Area nonprofits to search for Facebook employees in their own, nonvirtual social networks. They are combing security filings, LinkedIn profiles, and other public documents.
At Santa Clara University, fundraisers are trying to figure out which alumni might be toiling at 1 Hacker Way.
So far, says Heather Marzynski, the university’s director of prospect research and management, not much has turned up. One senior-level executive who went to Santa Clara left Facebook a year ago, but recently another high-level official has turned up on the university’s radar. Ms. Marzynski is also trying to figure out how much Facebook employees may have accrued in stock so that fundraisers for the private Jesuit university will know how much to solicit when they come knocking.
“It’s certainly a hot topic here,” she says. “Everybody’s curious about it.”
But convincing technology’s latest “overnight millionaires” that their money should go to a charitable cause—especially a local cause—will be a daunting task, say fundraisers and nonprofit executives.
Among the challenges that nonprofit officials encounter: Many people who’ve made their fortunes in the technology world don’t necessarily see themselves as philanthropists or understand charitable giving. They also work long hours, which makes it tough for nonprofit executives to corral them long enough to educate them about philanthropy or to make a pitch for support.
Also, many of Silicon Valley’s technology workers are transplants from different parts of the country—and the globe. As a result, they may not be interested in supporting local causes.
“There’s not a deeper connection to the community,” says Carole Leigh Hutton, president of United Way Silicon Valley. “A lot of philanthropic money that would otherwise be here is actually sent offshore.”
Still, other charities are devising programs that they hope will attract tech companies’ employees.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, for instance, experimented with a volunteerism effort in April that invited employees of Andreessen Horowitz to bring their children in on a Saturday to help sort donated food. The food bank developed age-appropriate activities for the kids, such as letting them decorate brown paper bags that will deliver food to older residents.
The event accomplished its two-fold mission: to attract volunteers, because people often give more after getting involved, and to help donors teach their young children about the importance of giving. The parents “really wanted them to understand that they should provide service back to their community,” says Tami Cardenas, director of development.
A few weeks after the event, the food bank won an Andreesseen Horowitz grant of $170,000.
Ms. Cardenas says she hopes to adapt the program to Facebook.
Thus far, signs are good for the charity forging closer ties with the company and its workers.
“They’ve hosted fundraising drives for us,” Ms. Cardenas says, with Facebook employees collecting and donating goods to the food bank.
Ideally, Ms. Cardenas would like the company to sponsor one of the food bank’s social-media campaigns. She also hopes that Facebook will match its employees’ involvement with the organization with cash or donate the value of workers’ unused vacation time. She says some of Facebook’s employees have already written checks to support her charity. Says Ms. Cardenas: “We would love to grow the relationship with them.”