Philanthropists from the technology sector have been among the highest-profile givers of recent years. Billionaire entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker, Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff and Jack Dorsey have made news with their big gifts and initiatives. But the creators of tech companies aren’t the only people who’ve amassed great wealth in Silicon Valley and are now channeling it into philanthropy. A slew of venture capitalists are also major philanthropists, and some have been giving for decades.
Investment capital is the rocket fuel of the tech sector and few of today’s top Silicon Valley companies would have scaled without a huge infusion of cash from VC firms—many of which are famously located on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, California.
Yet, even as venture investors play an all-important role in propelling the tech industry, they are not well known to the public. That’s one reason that their philanthropy has tended not to draw more attention. Another is that VCs don’t amass the kind of mega-fortunes that exist at the very top of the tech food chain. Still, by making early bets in companies that go on to become household names, quite a few VCs have become billionaires—with plenty of resources for large-scale philanthropy.
As with tech entrepreneurs, it’s important to be cautious in generalizing about the philanthropy of venture capitalists. Success in Silicon Valley—both for entrepreneurs and investors alike—often comes from embracing innovative disruption. And some of the giving by VCs reflects this same impulse in areas like education technology and medical research. Other strands of their giving, though, are quite traditional—with big donations going to hospitals, human service organizations, and the arts.
Like many mega-wealthy donors, the philanthropists emerging from the venture capital world tend to give away only a tiny sliver of their fortunes. Most have grown steadily richer in recent years, with their financial gains far outstripping any charitable giving. Here, we take a look at how some of America’s wealthiest venture capitalists and their spouses are engaging in philanthropy.
1. John and Ann Doerr
John Doerr, a longtime venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins—who invested in companies such as Google, Compaq, Amazon, and Sun Microsystems—was an early pioneer of a “venture philanthropy” approach to giving. In 1998, Doerr and his colleague Brook Byers, along with Kim Smith, co-founded NewSchools Venture Fund to support innovative projects in education using some of the same strategies as VCs—especially providing early-stage capital and hands-on management assistance. The fund has since made nearly $350 million in grants, and both Doerr and Byers still serve on the board. Doerr and his wife Ann are also major supporters of Khan Academy, a free online tutoring site, where Ann serves on the board.
In addition to education, the couple support work on the environment and homelessness, including gifts to the Climate Reality Project, the Homeless Prenatal Program, and Raphael House, which assists at-risk families attempting to achieve “stable housing and financial independence.” The Doerrs have signed the Giving Pledge and plan on donating most of their fortune—currently estimated at around $12 billion.
2. Jim and Susan Swartz
Jim founded Accel Ventures in 1983, a firm that was an early investor in a long list of tech companies, including Facebook and Dropbox. Jim and Susan support the arts, higher education, media and churches. Through the Swartz Foundation Trust, the couple has directed millions to their alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. In 2015, they made their biggest gift to CMU, donating $31 million to create the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship program provides students with the opportunity to receive mentorship, as well as hands-on experiences and networking in the high-growth environment of California’s Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
Susan sits on the board of the Utah Film Center, and Jim is a trustee at the Sundance Institute. Other film production grantees include Open Eye Pictures, Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and Firelight Media. The couple also gives to religious institutions, including the Christian Center of Park City, Salt Lake Christian Fellowship, and Campus Crusade for Christ, among others.
3. Vinod and Neeru Khosla
Khosla, an immigrant from India, founded Sun Microsystems, and then spent 18 years at Kleiner Perkins before starting his own firm, Khosla Ventures. He and his wife Neeru founded the Amar Foundation, which provides educational grants to individuals and groups in both the U.S. and India. They also bankroll the CK-12 Foundation, an education nonprofit co-founded by Neeru, that provides free, customizable K-12 open educational resources used by tens of thousands of schools in the United States alone. Tapping a fortune estimated at $2.7 billion, the couple—who are signatories of the Giving Pledge—have also given to Stanford University to support its athletic center, computer science curriculum, and creative arts and design center.
Beyond philanthropy, Vinod is a longtime believer in impact investing. He’s a leading investor in green energy initiatives, serving on the board of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, and has also backed microlending India.
4. Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman
Sir Michael Moritz, a former journalist who grew up in the United Kingdom, founded Technologic Partners before becoming a venture capitalist in the 1980s and amassing a fortune now estimated at $5.6 billion. He and his wife Harriet Heyman, who have signed the Giving Pledge, support education, the arts, civil rights, gun safety, and more. (Heyman is an accomplished writer who has worked at the New York Times and Life magazine, and written two novels.)
The couple founded the Crankstart Foundation in 2000, and it’s now a major grantmaker, giving away $120 million in 2020 to more than 200 nonprofits. Their largest gift to date is a $116 million donation in 2012 to Moritz’s alma mater, Oxford University, to cover the living costs of students of modest means. Moritz has made several other donations to Oxford University, including $50 million in 2005 to American Friends of Christ Church, which benefits Oxford’s Christ Church College. Other significant education gifts include $5 million to the Juilliard School’s Music Advancement Program, $30 million to the University of California, San Francisco, and $50 million to the University of Chicago’s Odyssey program, which supports lower-income students.
Most of the couple’s recent grantmaking has been focused in the Bay Area, where they have long supported a wide range of institutions, such as Oakland School for the Arts, Urban Education Institute, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, and more. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Crankstart Foundation made $60 million in emergency grants to dozens of Bay Area nonprofits. Moritz and Heyman are also active givers on social and environmental issues, directing support to the Democracy Frontlines Fund and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, among many other organizations.
5. Ron and Gayle Conway
Ron Conway, an entrepreneur turned VC, has been described as one of Silicon Valley’s “super angels,” and made his fortune with early bets on companies like Google, PayPal and Facebook. He and his wife Gayle started a foundation in 1982 after Conway’s first company went public. Now signatories of the Giving Pledge, their philanthropy focuses on education, health, gun safety, public policy and the Bay Area community.
After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Conway became a passionate donor to gun safety efforts, supporting Sandy Hook Promise and other advocacy groups working in this area. Conway and his wife are also passionate about healthcare and medical research. In their biggest public gift to date, the couple gave $40 million in 2015 to pay for a new USCF outpatient medical building and facilities. In addition, the Conways support a range of education and human service organizations in San Francisco and beyond. In their Giving Pledge letter, the couple wrote that in 2020, they “directed significant philanthropic support toward helping first responders and healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic, and toward organizations working to end racial injustice and systemic economic inequality.”
Conway’s biggest philanthropic impact may be from the behind-the-scenes role he’s played encouraging young entrepreneurs to start giving back early. He encouraged Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to make their first major philanthropy pledge and helps the founders of the companies he invests in figure out where to make charitable donations. Conway has said that he’s been inspired by Chuck Feeney’s mantra of “giving while living,” and describes himself as a proud “never-billionaire.”
6. Marc Andreessen and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen
Originally known as the co-founder of Netscape, Andreessen later co-founded storied venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Thanks to prescient investments in a long list of top tech companies, Forbes pegs Andreessen’s wealth at $1.6 billion, and he and other general partners at the firm engage in significant philanthropy. All have committed to donating at least half of their lifetime venture capital earnings to charity.
Andreessen is married to Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, the heir to a Silicon Valley real estate fortune and an influential figure in Silicon Valley philanthropy circles and beyond. One of the first major donations Laura and Marc made as a couple in 2007 was $27.5 million to the Stanford Hospital to provide emergency services. During the pandemic, the couple pledged $2 million to Stanford Health Care to cover the unexpected costs of COVID-19 response.
They have also focused their efforts on veterans and military families, funding four nonprofits to help veterans and their families in the tech sector. In addition, the couple has also given grants to LGBTQ organizations like Trans*H4CK and Lesbians Who Tech, and stem diversity nonprofits such as Code2040, Girls Who Code, and Hack the Hood.
Laura founded the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2) in 2008, an organization that contributes “resources and talents of the Silicon Valley community to achieve meaningful social impact.” In 2014, she founded the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, which aims to catalyze more widespread giving and help philanthropists give more effectively.
7. Mark and Mary Stevens
Mark Stevens was a partner at Sequoia Capital during a period when the firm made a number of lucrative investments in companies like Google, PayPal and LinkedIn. Now worth $4.1 billion, according to Forbes, he’s managing director of his own investment firm, S-Cubed Capital. Mark and Mary’s philanthropy has so far mainly focused on supporting their alma maters—the University of Southern California and Santa Clara University. They donated $22 million to USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering in 2004, with several other donations to the university over the years. And in 2015, they made a $50 million grant to endow and name the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute. They also donated to Mary’s alma mater, Santa Clara University, with a $7 million donation to build the Paul L. Locatelli, S.J., Student Activity Center and a $500,000 scholarship for St. Mary’s Academy alumnae to attend Santa Clara University.
The couple has a major interest in neuroscience, as Mark’s father has Alzheimer’s and one of the couple’s sons is dyslexic. In addition to the work they support at USC, they have donated to fund neuroscience research at Stanford University. In their Giving Pledge letter, the couple said they were in the “early innings” of their philanthropy and have been expanding their giving, including to “local health care delivery, the environment, and community organizations. Over time, our philanthropic aperture will likely widen and, simultaneously, will deepen in a few areas that we feel especially passionate about.”
8. Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund. He was also the first outside investor in Facebook. He’s 53 and worth $4.6 billion. Thiel hasn’t engaged in large-scale public philanthropy yet, and much of the giving he does is unusual. The Thiel Foundation has several programs, including the Thiel Fellowship for young people who are pursuing innovative ideas instead of college, and Imitatio, an organization that supports research and education building on René Girard’s mimetic theory. On its sparse website, the foundation states: “We also back people working on hard problems that won’t otherwise get solved,” offering a link to submit a grant application.
Thiel’s other philanthropy over the years has included support for cutting-edge science and technology research, with donations to organizations that work on artificial intelligence and anti-aging research. Thiel joined Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman in 2015 to fund the $1 billion OpenAI center, which is dedicated to researching how artificial intelligence can help humankind.
9. Reid Hoffman and Michelle Yee
Reid Hoffman is best known for co-founding LinkedIn, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2016. But he has a long history as an angel investor in Silicon Valley, and has been a partner at Greylock Partners since 2009. He and his wife Michelle Yee are both signatories of the Giving Pledge and are tapping a fortune estimated at $2.3 billion to support a range of nonprofits focused on economic development, education, public policy and entrepreneurship.
Hoffman is famous in Silicon Valley for his far-flung personal network and his involvement in numerous companies. More recently, he’s emerged as a controversial political mega-donor supporting Democrats. While Hoffman’s track record in philanthropy is far less extensive, and he’s yet to make splashy eight- or nine-figure gifts, his ties to the nonprofit world have grown steadily over recent years.
Hoffman is a long-time supporter of Kiva, a microlending organization facilitating loans to small businesses in developing countries, and is also on the board of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit that supports and facilitates high-quality jobs and increased employment for “high-impact entrepreneurs” in developing areas around the world. Hoffman and Yee also support youth activism, including through DoSomething.org, a nonprofit that encourages young people to volunteer in activities that bring about social change. Other nonprofits that Hoffman has supported include Change.org and Code for America. In addition, he chairs the advisory board of QuestBridge, an organization that provides low-income students with scholarship opportunities at top U.S. colleges.
Hoffman has said that his experience as a venture capitalist informs his philanthropy. He told The Atlantic in 2017: “I don’t have any interest in creating a named foundation, I have an interest in really good impact for capital. I think I’m pretty good at doing it, so I’m going to apply myself to doing it in my lifetime.” One way Hoffman is acting on that plan is through his involvement in Lever for Change, a funding initiative incubated by the MacArthur Foundation “to unlock significant philanthropic capital and accelerate social change around the world’s most pressing challenges.”
10. William H. Draper III and Robin Richards Donohoe
After years of working together as venture capitalists, William Draper III and Robin Richards Donohoe created a foundation in 2001, committing $14 million to get it started. They eventually teamed up with investment banker Robert Kaplan, and the three now oversee the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation (DRK), which describes itself as “a global venture philanthropy firm supporting early-stage, high-impact social enterprises.”
The long list of nonprofits that DRK has supported include Share Our Strength, an organization to end childhood hunger and poverty; the Rape Foundation, which supports comprehensive treatment for victims of sexual abuse; the Joyful Heart Foundation, providing support to victims of sexual assault domestic violence and child abuse; and Henry Street Settlement, which provides support to low-income New Yorkers.
Like other venture philanthropy organizations, DRK uses strategies similar to those of VCs in the private sector—scouting out nonprofits with the potential to scale and providing them with unrestricted, multi-year support, as well as assistance with management and networking. While the couple channel their own giving through DRK, it also raises money from other donors.
11. Henry McCance
Henry McCance is the chairman emeritus of Greylock Partners, one of the oldest venture capital firms, which he joined in 1969. During his 40 years there, he was involved in investing in more than 300 companies.
After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 58, McCance co-founded Cure Alzheimer’s Fund in 2004. The fund focuses on supporting scientists engaged in research on Alzheimer’s. One of the ways it has sought to accelerate breakthroughs has been fostering stronger collaboration among researchers working on the disease. It has now made $126 million in grants. McCance also founded the McCance Family Foundation, which supports education for disadvantaged children, the environment, healthcare and social entrepreneurship. In 2018, the foundation made just under $5 million in grants. Once asked what drives his giving, McCance said: “Maybe this comes from my father and his values. Toys like big boats just don’t appeal to me. I’d rather try and make our world a better place.”