High-risk charity – Tech millions feed venture philanthropy

SEATTLE — Young tech millionaires who earned their wealth by taking risks are using the same approach in the practice of “venture philanthropy.”

These new philanthropists are not just giving away money, The New York Times reports, but they’re also taking a hands-on approach and aiming to create long-term change in fields like education and the environment.

Today’s new philanthropy is notable because of philanthropists’ youth, Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, told the Times.

Gregorian, adviser to the $22 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that despite criticism of some of his activities, the Microsoft chief broke the age barrier to giving away millions.

“He’s done away with the whole rationale that you have to wait until you’re Rockefeller’s age, Carnegie’s age, the last decade of your life and so forth, to decide what to do with you wealth,” Gregorian said.

Other young philanthropists include Nicholas Lovejoy, 30, who was the fifth employee Amazon.com. He and his wife, Barbara Gordon, have set up the $2.5 million-asset Gordon-Lovejoy Foundation.

Lovejoy says it’s harder to figure out how to give money away than it was to figure out how to sell books on the Internet.

“To figure out what you want to change about the world and how to change that in an effective way that makes people better off, it’s just a far vaster problem,” Lovejoy told the Times.

He considers his new position running the foundation a full-time job, alhough he doesn’t take a salary. He left Amazon.com in 1998 to travel the world and his stock options kept multiplying even as he sailed the South Pacific.

Another high-tech philanthropist is Rob Glaser, billionaire founder of RealNetworks in Seattle who has set up the $200 million-asset Glaser Family Foundation.

One of his projects is a program at the University of Washington to help redefine how society measures progress, including studies of global population growth and greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am focused on making the greatest and deepest long-term impact, and not necessarily doing something that has an immediate impact but only scratches the surface,” Glaser told the Times.

Many young millionaires want to find ways to contribute over the the long-term, said Jim Pitofsky, director of Social Entrepreneurs’ Alliance for Change, a group based in San Francisco and New York that helps entrepreneurs hook up with philanthropic causes.

“They say they don’t want to be involved in just a Band-Aid, or alleviation of conditions,” he said. “They’re also interested in changing the conditions.”

Two other distinguishing characteristics of younger philanthropists are that they describe their activities as a “second career” that may well be a prelude to re-entry into business — and they do not like the word “philanthropy” because it sounds too high-society.

They prefer terms like “social investment,” “giving back to community,” and “venture philanthropy.”

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