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Silicon Valley technology has been unkind to traditional middlemen. Streaming music punished the record industry. Netflix killed video stores. Life has become harder for intermediaries such as travel agents and stockbrokers.
So it is perplexing that when it comes to philanthropy, Silicon Valley has given birth to an intermediary that has rapidly grown into one of the world’s biggest foundations. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), which was formed 10 years ago by the merger of two smaller community foundations, connects the region’s wealthy donors to nonprofit organizations that they want to support, around the corner and around the world.
Community foundations are nothing new. Cleveland’s came first, in 1914, when Frederick H. Goff, a banker and lawyer, had the idea of pooling the resources of the city’s philanthropists into a single endowment to benefit Cleveland in perpetuity.
Heather McLeod Grant, co-author of the report, says the new generation of young philanthropists who made their money in tech have scant interest in business-as-usual non-profits. They bring “an innovative and disruptive approach to their philanthropy,” she says.
“They approach giving as investing, not charity. They’re very interested in disrupting the status quo.”
A region with so much money and even more brainpower, as well as persistent and worrisome problems, has somehow produced a community foundation that is, except for its size, unexceptional. For all of Silicon Valley to thrive, the SVCF will have to become more innovative, more collaborative, and more focused on the needs of the poor. Most important, it needs to measure its success not by assets under management but by lives changed.