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.
Id like to thank Leonard Ely who got me started by pointing out that philanthropy
can be proactive rather than reactive.
And Id 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
- Reforming politics (the rejection of the CTBT was a wake up call for
- And a bunch of others
Weve left the really tough causes, like eliminating daytime talk shows, to those
with more time.
Unfortunately, there arent enough philanthropists to go around right now. There
is a real shortage in the valley. So were helping to recruit more philanthropists
into the fold through giving talks, hosting events, and through our work with SV2.
Wouldnt 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 thats 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 doesnt 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
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 VPs 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 dont expect my VP scenario anytime soon, weve found that anyway
you look at it, the logic behind giving is compelling. Hopefully well all able to
convince a lot more people to step up to the plate and establish big funds and actively
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
weve found that can literally "save the world" is Ploughshares through
their support of nuclear disarmament.
So wed 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
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.
Wed 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
If there is one thing that Ive learned in life, it is that one person really can
make a difference.
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