1999 Outstanding Philanthropists
NSFRE Acceptance Speech


We're honored to be accepting this award and to be in the presence of so many incredible individuals. We would like to thank Peter Hero and Susan Luenberger of Community Foundation Silicon Valley for all the guidance they have given us in establishing our foundation and thank you also to Kathi Gywnn, who as our Executive Director, along with Susan Frank will enable our foundation to reach and impact far more lives than we could ever imagined.

A couple of weeks ago I was attending funeral services for a young man who died in a tragic diving accident. In the eulogy, the minister quoted a phrase and I'm sorry to say that I do not recall the quote's author, but I'll never forget the phrase. The minister said, "one's life should be remembered not by one's duration, but by one's donation" and this phrase held significant meaning as the young man of only 20 years had given so much of himself to his community through his volunteerism.

The phrase is simple yet so profound and seems appropriate in repeating to you today. I hope we can be remembered by our donations to mankind, to those in need and to those who can make the world a better place for all of us.

Thank you to Silicon Valley Community Foundation and American Musical Theatre of San Jose for nominating us. It is a tribute to all the nominees and recipients today that they give of their time and resources and we thank you very much.



I’d like to thank Leonard Ely who got me started by pointing out that philanthropy can be proactive rather than reactive.

And I’d like to thank my wife for putting up with all the late nights and meetings and time away from home.

Because my wife is in law school and I have full time job and like to spend time 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:

  • Saving the world (through our support of asteroid identification, support of nuclear disarmament organizations such as Ploughshares, and through supporting the CTBT via direct contact with Senators, Senate candidates, and Presidential candidates, as well as publicly raising awareness in on my website, talks, in the press, and with industry trade groups such as SVMG)
  • Curing major diseases (such as cancer through our investment in Targesome and sponsoring of prominent research scientists in many other areas)
  • Cleaning up the air in California (through our support of EVs in advertisements and interviews, our everyday use of our two EVs, financial support of solar vehicle research, our work in passing AB71, and future EV incentive legislation we are sponsoring)
  • Reforming politics (the rejection of the CTBT was a wake up call for us)
  • And a bunch of others

We’ve left the really tough causes, like eliminating daytime talk shows, to those with more time.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough philanthropists to go around right now. There is a real shortage in the valley. So we’re helping to recruit more philanthropists into the fold through giving talks, hosting events, and through our work with SV2.

Wouldn’t it be great if philanthropists in Silicon Valley invested in charitable causes with the same fervor that they invest in for-profit companies?

I think that’s about to change. Let me tell you how that is going to happen.

Internet entrepreneurs who have struck it rich have finally figured out that they have more money than they need. They already have the vacation homes, private jets, and latest Intel computers. And they STILL have lots of money left over.

They are always seeking to maximize their return on their assets, and they realize that earning more money doesn’t buy them anything that can benefit themselves or their family in any meaningful way.

They realize that instead of sitting on their ASSets, they can impact causes they care about by investing in Venture Philanthropy, or VP for short.

In fact, many retired entrepreneurs, instead of starting yet another company or going into traditional VC, open their own VP firms.

Instead of bragging about their personal net worth, you see VPs bragging about the size of their charitable partnerships and how many people they helped.

And individual entrepreneurs brag about how much money they donated last quarter to charity. And the San Jose Mercury News, instead of publishing a list of who makes the most money, now ONLY publishes a list of those who give away the most money.

The VPs start competing with each other to see who can build the charitable fund with the most assets the fastest. The VPs who help the most people each year have no trouble attracting funds from wealthy entrepreneurs and are over subscribed. Entrepreneurs are literally throwing money at the VPs because of the incredible social impact that they have achieved.

You start to see VP partnerships who have raised funds of from $500M to $1B. And they are all trying to donate ALL this money to charitable causes in just over a few years so they can be fully invested.

So the VPs are always out knocking on doors asking people if they need money for an idea they have..

When a hot charity walks in their door asking for money, the VPs try to convince them that the charity should take money from them instead of the other 47 VP funds located on Philanthropy Hill Road.

Not only that, the VPs try to convince the charity to accept a lot more money than they were asking for originally. The VPs try to convince the charities that their problems are really a lot harder than the charity thinks, and that there are people who really could benefit from the charity NOW so time to market is critical.

the VPs all make a long term commitment to the success of the company. They sit on the board and help build the management team. If the charity does well after the first year after funding, the VP’s want to get other VPs involved in a second round financing and donate even more money to the charity.

Soon, the charity goes public. This allows the charity to accept donations from the public at large, not just the VPs.

On IPO (Initial Philanthropic Offering) day, the charity is flooded people wanting to donate. Everyone wants to get in on the action because they know that their non-monetary return is the short run and the long run will be huge, much better than putting their savings in the bank. There is such incredible demand, that the size of the average donation on the first day of donating rises dramatically.

While we don’t expect my VP scenario anytime soon, we’ve found that anyway you look at it, the logic behind giving is compelling. Hopefully we’ll all able to convince a lot more people to step up to the plate and establish big funds and actively manage them.

As I said earlier, one of our goals is to help save the world. There are not a lot of causes you can donate to that have that kind of leverage. One of the best charities we’ve found that can literally "save the world" is Ploughshares through their support of nuclear disarmament.

So we’d like to end on a very serious and sobering note. None of the work that we are doing to help people is going to make much difference if our world is devastated by a nuclear war.

Exactly four weeks ago today, the US Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Sen Joseph Biden was quoted in the press as saying "This is the most serious mistake the Senate ever made." And by "ever" I think he was saying "over all time," and not just in the current Senate session.

We’d like to ask each of you to get informed about this important issue. One place to start is our website, www.skirsch.com. There you can learn a few simple things that you can do to make a difference that may someday save our planet.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned in life, it is that one person really can make a difference.

Thank you.

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