By Stephanie N. Mehta
July 23, 2010

Philanthropists say tech companies can help with BHAGs (That’s Big, Hairy Audacious Goals)

A panel of non-profit and foundation executives urged the technology community to provide educational and philanthropic institutions and others with its entrepreneurial and business-building know-how, in addition to increasing its financial contributions.

“What the tech world and entrepreneurs and VCs, they’re not afraid of BHAGs — Big Hairy Audacious Goals,” says John Wood, a former Microsoft (MSFT) executive and founder and executive chairman of Room to Read. “At Microsoft the goal was a computer on every desk in every home. In the case of Google, it was ‘Let’s organize all the world information.

“In the social world there’s not enough focus on scale.”

In Wood’s case, he realized that if the group could deploy a local library or reading room for just $5,000 or about $11 per child,  “why would you not go big?”

Another way technologists can help is by opening their checkbooks. “NGOs (non governmental associations) need money,” Wood said. “Let’s be unapologetic about that.”

The roundtable gave the tech community low marks for its charitable giving efforts.

“I don’t think of a lot of tech guys have been particularly generous, especially the young guys who’ve made billions of dollars,” said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. Steyer cited (CRM) founder and CEO Marc Benioff, eBay (EBAY) founder  Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll, and early employee of that company, as exceptions.

Attendee Laura Lauder felt that the tech community could start to learn more about how to be better philanthropists through programs such as the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund, a giving circle whose contributors work actively with the grant recipients on strategic and operational issues.

But Lauder and others stressed that in the end, tech executives and non-tech executives alike would be most likely to provide financial and intellectual support to causes that they flet most passionate about. And if those aimless folks they need any help finding those causes and organizations, the panelists at the high-tech giving roundtable would be happy to make a few suggestions.

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