VC & Founder Philanthropy, ‘Silicon-Valley-Style’

During the holidays and season of giving, I’ve been reflecting on the special opportunities that we have as GPs in VC firms to support our portfolio founders as they embark on their journeys of community involvement and volunteerism. Many think VCs and founders should be singularly focused on work, and wait until they’re very successful and/or retired to meaningfully give back to their communities. I disagree.

Having something outside of our work to give our time, expertise, and money to is both healthy and helpful. Getting outside ourselves and helping others is not only important for our mental and physical health, but it also makes us more productive in our daily work lives.

I was fortunate to see this in action when I was a start-up entrepreneur as the first employee with the Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch. Scott Harrison, the founder of the non-profit charity:water reached out to each of the major social networks’ CEOs at the time asking for help. While under a lot of stress and mid-negotiation on the sale of Bebo to AOL, Michael actually took the time to read and reply to Scott’s email. He was the only one to do so. I remember him coming over to me and showing me the email asking for my thoughts. I thought that was really cool, especially considering how busy we all were at the time. Michael and Xochi recognized Scott was a talented and passionate non-profit founder and that charity:water was going to be a special organization helping millions of people get access to clean water. They also recognized they had the viral marketing skills to really help Scott grow the charity:water community.

Very soon after that, AOL acquired Bebo in a massive exit and Michael and Xochi kept their promise to Scott. Michael flew to NY to code the new charity:water website, and they became the first family to donate $1M. Michael’s new charity:water website included powerful viral features that helped propel charity:water to become one of the most widely recognized global nonprofits. With a huge and growing community of supporters–from successful tech entrepreneurs, to famous actors, to citizens around the world–charity:water has funded over 29,000 water projects delivering clean water to 8 million people.

Michael and Xochi remain the largest single contributors to the charity, staying actively involved and traveling with charity:water to complete work overseas. I’m sure that they would agree that they’ve received as much if not more from their work with charity:water as they’ve given.

Marc Benioff is another great example of an early stage founder who established a culture of giving from the early days. Following the 1-1-1 philanthropy model, Marc has dedicated 1% of Salesforce’s equity, 1% of Salesforce’s product, and 1% of Salesforce employees’ time back to communities around the world. He has inspired others to do the same through the Pledge 1% challenge. Pledge 1% encourages entrepreneurs and their companies to commit product, time, and resources to integrate philanthropy into their business from the get go. Marc continues to be a thought leader in how successful companies can and need to be outspoken leaders in nonprofit causes in their local communities.

To encourage and further these efforts, Maven Ventures supports our founders when they get involved in nonprofits. For example, Eden founder Joe Du Bey is on the board of Minds Matter—a remarkable nonprofit helping low income students get into top 4-year universities. Maven supported their annual Soirée by sponsoring a table. We invited all our Maven founders to join us at the event to build community, as well as plant the seed that we believe at Maven that not only is it ok to put time toward charity, moreover, we highly value it and encourage other founders to do the same. We’ve donated and volunteered for other organizations that our Founders and LPs are engaged in, and we hope to continue to see this initiative blossom!

Ed Olson, Martin Shen, Alisyn Malek, Jim Scheinman, Amy Yu a student at Minds Matter, Ed Huang the CEO of Minds Matter SF, Kai Stinchcombe, and Alexa Binns.

I personally pay for sponsorships–we aren’t allocating Maven funds to this. I’m happy to use some of my personal charitable contributions to support organizations our Maven founders put their time and energy toward. It’s a great way for me as a GP to be engaged in local and global charities that are dear to our founders, and to set an example for all of our portfolio companies that we value this behavior. My hope is this blog will not only encourage many entrepreneurs to take time to give back, but also inspire fellow investors to support their founders in making a difference during the holidays and into the new year.

I’d love to hear from VCs how you support your founders’ community engagement. And from founders how you make time to volunteer. Happy Holidays and a Healthy & Successful New Year!

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