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Some IT entrepreneurs, however, are breaking new ground in charitable work. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, and others like him have helped reshape traditional philanthropy, said Smith of the Foundation Center.
"We're seeing in their philanthropy an attempt to remake or advance the field of philanthropy to be not just about making grants but thinking more in a framework of social investment," Smith said.
In 2004, Omidyar and his wife founded the Omidyar Network, which describes itself as a philanthropic investment firm. The organization supports both for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations to further its mission of economic and social improvement. So far, the Omidyar Network has committed $545 million to various projects, including $248 million invested in for-profit companies and $297 million donated to nonprofits.
"Omidyar Network is structured to support the notion that philanthropy is more than a type of funding. In its truest sense, philanthropy is about improving the lives of others, independent of the mechanism," the organization states on its website.
Last year, the organization teamed with a venture capital firm to lead $13.75 million in financing to a Mexican provider of mobile telephony services to low-income populations in Mexico. "You're not going to fund a nonprofit to build a cell network. You need a cell phone company to extend a network," Smith said.
Another organization that takes a different approach to philanthropy is based in the heart of the technology industry, the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2). Organization members -- called "partners" -- pool together their individual annual donations of $5,000 or more and award the funds to cutting-edge nonprofits in education, health, environmental sustainability and international development. Partners, who come from a variety of industries including technology, also provide their skills and expertise to help the nonprofits, said Holly Goodliffe, SV2 director of communications and training.
"It's a great way for individuals to bring their skills to the table," she said.
SV2 was founded by Laura Arrillaga‐Andreessen, wife of IT entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, in 1998. She wanted philanthropy to be "something you can engage in in a meaningful way earlier in your career and not wait until you're retired," Goodliffe said.
"When they first come to us, partners have great skills but don't know how that translates to the nonprofit world," Goodliffe said. "We specialize in being able to make those connections."
Smith said venture philanthropy, which takes a venture capital approach by pooling resources and aims for a social return on investment, is interesting but works for some issues better than others. Some issues such as violence against women and children can't be addressed by a market solution, he said.
Overall, one major influence the IT industry could have on philanthropy is decentralization, the CPCS' McCarthy said. Previous philanthropists such as Carnegie built tangible, centralized institutions such as universities and museums.
"In the 21st century, everything is so decentralized because of the democratizing effect of the IT industry," she said. "So that's where they have the potential to make the biggest impact -- thinking about how do you decentralize philanthropy."
While the broad range of philanthropic activity in the technology industry makes it hard to pin down, its sum total is so huge that it's taking philanthropy to a new level, McCarthy said. "In that respect, we may see the beginning of a new era of big philanthropy that will take it to a previously unimagined scale."
PUBLISHED DEC. 18, 2012
EDITOR'S NOTE: On May 1-2, 2013, in Anaheim, Calif., Business4Better will bring together 2,000 business executives from midsize companies who want to establish corporate philanthropic programs. CRN's parent company, UBM, also will offer free exhibitor space, signage and marketing services to 200 nonprofits who will be exhibiting at the show looking to create partnerships with midsize private sector companies. The goal of the conference is to bring together midsize businesses and nonprofits with a mission to create successful partnerships. If you are interested in creating a philanthropic program or are interested in the conference, please check it out at business4better.org or email UBM Channel Senior Vice President, Editorial Director Kelley Damore.
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