This is our old site. Please check out our new site at www.kirschfoundation.org.
We maintain a $75 million charitable fund at the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley (CFSV). We donate $5M a year to a relatively small number of worthwhile causes where we can make a significant impact, mostly in the medical area. In 1998, we donated $5.7M to a variety of charitable causes. Recently, we were named "1999 Outstanding Philanthropists" by the Silicon Valley chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.
To apply for funding, please see our How to Apply for Funding document.
To learn why we donate, read on, or see reasons as to why we give or why excuses for not giving are full of holes. Or why you don't want to give anonymously. You may also want to check out this short PowerPoint presentation about the why, how, and where of charitable giving. Or how we are different than most other foundations. Want to know the one question that we ask ourselves all the time, but that nobody asks us?
Why do we give?
A recent article in the Los Altos Town Crier provides an excellent overview of our giving.
You hear a lot about "venture philanthropy" nowadays. We don't believe you can quantify the results of charitable giving in most cases. So we have a rather unique and different vision of what venture philanthropy means to us.Our goals
Because Michele is in law school and is otherwise a full time mom, and because I have a full time job and like to spend as much time as I can with our kids, it really cuts into the amount of time we have for philanthropy. So we picked a few easy goals that we can accomplish in our spare time. These goals include:
We also support a bunch of other environmental, educational, and local causes.
So weve left some of the really tough and important causes, like eliminating daytime talk shows (except on ABC, of course) and bad website design, to those with more time.
Want to help save the world? You can make a difference. See my page on the CTBT.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"
The most satisfying experiences are when we set an ambitious and measurable goal and achieve it. Moreso if no one else (or few others) is doing it, it has an impact on millions of people, and our efforts were key to either launching the project or getting it done or both. For example, our Targesome donation to cure cancer fits this to a tee, NEOS funding (to identify Near Earth ObjectS that could collide with the Earth) fits the bill here, as do our efforts that resulted in the creation of a higher return investment option at the CFSV. Contributing to more "traditional" causes such as the American Cancer Society, while worthwhile, is less interesting to us.
We donate both time as well as money. For example, I have served as captain and coach for the Computer Museum Computer Bowl fundraisers, helped fundraise, hosted events, and sits on 6 non-profit boards (listed on Steve's home page)...well, actually 7 non-profits if you count Infoseek! Michele volunteers on various committees; she is chairing the Leadership Committee of the Tech Museum, for example. We also drive an EV1 (it's better not to pollute the environment in the first place than to pay later to clean it up).
There are three main "secrets" to successful giving:
2) If you decide you are going to be proactive about giving, set up an endowment fund at a community foundation. You make one donation and then can donate from that fund for the rest of your life. It makes giving easy and painless and fun. Here are some details on charitable foundation options which explains why you never want to donate directly to charities.
3) Pick causes you believe in and want to do something about. The best way I've found to find a cause is simply to let it find you. You'll experience, hear about, or read about something that you think is not right and that someone should fix. If you feel passionately about the cause, then make it your own. It could be something as simple as "someone should do something about the long wait times in the Emergency Room at the local hospital" or something as complicated as fixing our political system.
Another reason we give while we are young is that, among other things, there are no tax advantages of giving after you are dead. And you give it all away a few years before you die, you don't have time to enjoy the benefits of your giving or to see the impact it is making. So starting to give at a young age allows us to make a difference sooner. For example, giving to cure cancer, cure AIDS, or identify asteroids makes a lot more sense now, than in 50 years from now when we're either dying from cancer, or we just got hit by an asteroid that wiped out all life on earth!
And you don't have to be altruistic about your giving either. If Congress passes a 5 year moratorium on cloning research, that means that research that would make the quality of our lives in our old age, is going to be delayed by 5 years; and a potential discovery that might help us might be discovered 5 years too late; all because we failed to take action when we were younger. My mom, like a lot of folks, suffers from macular degeneration. If we start giving now to promising research in this area, there's a chance that there may be a cure or treatment in 20 years when it might be affecting our vision! My dad suffers from type I diabetes. Same story there. It's just a lot more effective to give now than later. I wish a lot more people who are wealthy would realize this (in fact, one of my projects is try to educate my colleagues of this).
After all, it turns out that most things in life are really not that expensive. So we try to be as aggressive as we can giving away money now, but not so much that we run out of money to give later on. In fact, the main reason we don't give it all to charity right now is that we are leveraging the money more effectively now than we could in a foundation (i.e., much higher return on investment). The bottom line is a higher lifetime donation to charity; the tradeoff being that we can't give as much now as we would like.
There are many more reasons as to why we
give and how we evaluate different causes. If you're already convinced, and can't
wait, here's how to get started.
Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
We think that this is the most important vote that the US Senate will ever make in our lifetime. It was rejected after only 3 days of debate by a vote that, with few exceptions, was totally partisan. Virtually all Senate Republicans voted against ratification, despite the fact that this is a completely non-partisan issue and is supported by 80% of Republicans.
We think the Senate rejection of the CTBT vote was a national embarrassment. We encourage you to make up your own mind about this critical issue and decide who you will support for Senators and for President. And I hope that you will encourage your friends to do the same. Bush is against ratification of the treaty, Bradley is for it.
We are also funding development of programs that teach people skills (that is, "interpersonal skills") to undergraduates. This is a ridiculous shortcoming of our educational system. Mastery of soft people skills can have dramatic impact on one's career. Educational institutions such as MIT are great at turning out individual contributors and do little to develop "people skills". I'm currently working with MIT on this and there have only recently been a couple of promising new programs in this area.
We also recently donated $2.5M to help fund the new
Computer Science building complex at MIT and $100K to help fund the restart of Technology
Review. We've also made a major contribution to Mills College where Michele went to
AB 71, introduced by Assemblymember Jim Cunneen (R-Cupertino), gives ILEVs, including EVs, access to Californias HOV lanes, regardless of occupancy. The bill also directs the DMV to develop a special decal for these vehicles so that they could be easily identified by the CHP.
Now that we've addressed compensating for the inconveniences of EVs, we must next
attack the cost. The next piece of legislation that we are working on now would give a tax
credit to EV owners. We are also working on getting free parking for EVs in San Jose and
San Francisco, including at the airports. Little things like these can really help raise
visibility for clean air vehicles. EVs are 100 times cleaner than gas cars, even when you
account for power plant generation emissions. Here are some
things we should do to promote ZEVs.
Although at present there is no asteroid KNOWN to be on a collision course with Earth, the probability of an unknown asteroid larger than 1 km in diameter hitting in any one year is estimated by Dr. Paul Chodas of JPL as 1 in 100,000. That makes it more likely that you'll get hit by an asteroid next year than it is that you'll win the lottery or be diagnosed with many deadly diseases.
The cost/benefit of such a donation is enormous. What's the value of a human life? A New York jury recently awarded $150K to $215K each to 13 passengers for 28 secs of turbulence on an American Airlines flight. So clearly a whole life must be worth a lot more than 28 seconds of inconvenience.
Let's assume a life is worth a cool $1M. There are 6B people on the planet and we'll say that half will die shortly after impact. It wont be a picnic for the other half who survive either, but we don't even have to go there. So a one-time $20M investment saves 3B lives with a 1/100,000 chance every year.
In other words, a single $20M grant saves a mathematically expected $30B each year. Not just the first year. But $30B each and every year for the next 100,000 years. That's less than the price of one jet. I don't know anything with that kind of return on investment.
And if we get hit without warning, it is literally "game over." $1M a year seems like a small price to pay for "collision insurance". Heck, it isn't much more than I pay for collision on my NSX. If Congress won't fund it, I'll be assembling a group of private individuals who will. I really like this project because it's one of the few things I can donate to that can literally "save the world."
Of course, I think it unlikely Congress with fund it. If we don't get hit, the
Congressman will be criticized for wasting taxpayers money. And if we do get hit, it won't
matter since we'll all probably be dead. So politically, it's a stupid decision to vote
for this since you can't win either way.
I'm also personally interested in funding research that may lead to a restoration of the hair on my head. I originally didn't think that was possible, but now I'm not so sure. It may happen sooner than I think. There is some really interesting research on hair loss and re-growth being done right now.
Someday, if we can accumulate as much wealth as billionaire Jon Huntsman, we'd love to follow in his footsteps by attacking medical problems in the same way he's attacking cancer which is most impressive. In the meantime, we'll make our contribution by supporting 6 brilliant medical researchers from leading universities every year with 3 year, $540K grants to use at their discretion.
Opinions on other issues
Information on charitable giving and how to get started
Articles on our $1M donation to charities affected by United Way crisis
Want to help save the world? You can make a difference. See my page on the CTBT.
This is our old site. Please check out our new site at www.kirschfoundation.org