from San Jose Mercury News, May 5, 2000
Non-profits venture a pitch to angel investors
Groups get 15 minutes to make their philanthropic
plea to donors
By John Boudreau
The new breed of Silicon Valley do-gooders paraded before the money crowd Thursday, idealistic, young and vowing to change the world. Each promised a revolution in philanthropy -- based on a sound business model, of course.
In perhaps the first gathering of its kind, two dozen foundation chiefs and individual donors gathered at the art deco Palace nightclub in Sunnyvale heard passionate pleas for philanthropy from six fledgling non-profits. The event was modeled after a well-known ritual in the valley's start-up culture: The pitch meeting before an audience of venture capitalists. It was venture philanthropy in its purest form.
This was not an elongated fundraising process.
Just 15 minutes behind a podium for a chance at a slice of Silicon Valley support. ''What we really need to launch this program is $100,000,'' concluded a fidgety Andrea Johnston, co-director of San Francisco-based Global Action Network, which intends to create a network of young people working on reproductive issues. ''We'd also like technological expertise,'' she added. ''This isn't, 'We gave out X amount of condoms.' This is a movement.'' In the fundraising world where grant-writing can move at a glacial pace, this venture philanthropy face-off is like the difference between using a screaming digital subscriber line and a plain dial-up connection to access the Internet. Thursday's session allowed those newly seeking money to tap into a pipeline of those who want to give it away.
'Very Silicon Valley'
Some foundations won't even listen to a group with less than five years' experience. Here, though, the pitch was paramount. ''It's very Silicon Valley in a number of ways,'' said Craig Newmark, whose company, craigslist.org, sponsored the event. Newmark, who runs one of the Bay Area tech community's favorite resource boards on the Web, said, ''We're not constrained by the usual rules. No bureaucracy. It was organized real fast. I haven't heard about anything like this before.'' A screening session was held last week. Eleven start-up non-profits were invited to make five-minute proposals in Newmark's San Francisco back yard. ''We're trying to redefine non-profits,'' said Jane Leu, who founded her own start-up company in San Francisco, Upwardly Global. ''It's fast moving. It's modern. It's connected to this Silicon Valley thing.'' Thursday's gathering -- which had the frenzied vibe of a game-show lightning round -- was a decidedly low-tech approach to high-tech money. No PowerPoint presentations. It was billed simply as a ''mind share.'' In some cases, the presenters weren't any older than the venture philanthropists. The young presenters wore art-house black. Funding angels came in jeans. Josh Leslie, 25, showed up in sandals looking for groups to fund from his Portola Valley family foundation's $20 million. ''Our family is trying to get involved with early-stage ventures,'' he said between sips of soda. The afternoon began with modern pop music filling the low-lit space. Between sessions cocktails and hors d'oeuvres were served. The money seekers called themselves ''social entrepreneurs.'' Start-up plans included a $20 million to $75 million proposal to create a 401(k)-like fund for low-income people to tap into for home purchases and college educations, a $500,000 request from a UC-Berkeley business graduate student to create a liaison between urban schools and non-profits and a Catholic nun's $100,000 pitch to provide a technology center for immigrants.
Not standard practice
The process is far from becoming standard practice, even in this try-anything valley. Indeed, its appeal is not appreciated by some veteran charity workers who prefer a more traditional form of grant-making.
''I wouldn't engage in that process at all,'' said Gary Montrezza, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Clara County. He did not attend the gathering. ''I don't think there is a lot of integrity in that. There is no standard. How would they know what is a viable model and what isn't?''
In the end, no checks were passed. Not yet, anyway. Revolutions take longer than an afternoon.