High-tech embraces charity – Social change is a key focus

With unprecedented resources, America’s newest high-tech billionaires are breaking the philanthropy mold by applying their Web-savvy business strategies to social change, The New York Times reports.

“People don’t just want to give to the United Way, they want to have an impact,” Jonathan Nelson, a Web entrepreneur and new multi-millionaire, told the Times.

“The titans of the information revolution are talking about things like cleaning the water in Africa or wiping out diseases.”

Leading high-tech philanthropists such as Bill Gates and James Barkdale are changing the stingy reputation of the technology-elite, the Times says.

This year, Gates gave his foundation $8 billion, while former Netscape CEO James Barkdale gave $100 million to his native Mississippi to improve literacy.

Some of philanthropy’s most interesting breakthroughs incorporate business acumen into charitable giving, the Times says.

For example, venture firm Flatiron is creating a venture capital fund to invest in for-profit businesses with socially progressive goals.

Founders hope the fund will support nonprofit efforts to create for-profit affiliates to raise money.

“Most nonprofits spend 95 percent of their time sucking up to fat cats and raising money,” Flatiron founder Joe Wilson told the Times.  “There has to be a better way than that.”

For all the enthusiasm of high-tech donors, some nonprofit professionals warn that solving society’s longstanding problems requires a different skill set than building a successful Web business. 

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