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High-Tech Rich See Schools as Worthy Cause

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As they sift through their first round of education grant proposals this month, members of the Seattle-based foundation Social Venture Partners won't be looking simply for causes that are worthy of their money.

These wealthy computer whizzes and entrepreneurs will also be looking for causes that are worthy of their time.

"A lot of us are 35, not 65," Paul Shoemaker, the 37-year-old chairman of the 70-member organization, said in a recent interview. "Our idea for how and where we want to give comes from personal values. Foundations should endeavor to not just write a check and say goodbye."

In many respects, Social Venture Partners is typical of the way many young millionaires who made their money from technology are approaching philanthropy.

They plan to donate their time and talents to the causes they support, not just provide cash; they want to see quick results; and, because many of them have school-age children, they are especially interested in education.

"There's a lot of interest in funding education among technology people," said Jan Masaoka, the executive director of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management in San Francisco, the nation's largest firm that provides consultation to nonprofits. "They're a strong target market for people raising funds for education."

Bang for the Buck

Founded last June by Paul Brainerd, the 50-year-old millionaire who invented Pagemaker software, Social Venture Partners follows a venture-capital model of giving in which each "partner" pledges a minimum donation of $5,000 a year for two years. For its first grant-giving cycle, the group split into two committees to decide which educational and children's programs will benefit from a total of $300,000 worth of grants.

Recipients will likely include programs that foster teacher training and outreach, pair at-risk youngsters with adult role models, and promote good parenting skills. Preference will be given to applicants willing to evaluate their programs and to programs that incorporate technology.

And while Social Venture Partners will favor projects with a long-term scope, the group also wants to see measurable, short-term results.

Factors such as whether a child has an adult role model, supportive parents, and a safe place to live can be quantified, Mr. Shoemaker said, and they should be.

"We all come from companies where you get a lot of bang for your buck," he said. "We've learned that measuring outcomes with people and kids is different than analyzing a quarterly statement. But you should try to measure how you've impacted things."

This desire to produce measurable, rapid change often determines where the new rich will donate their money, said Bonnie Tabb, the managing director of Microsoft Alumnet, an organization set up to guide its 1,500 members, all former employees of the Microsoft Corp., in philanthropic and business ventures.

The group's members often seek to give their time along with their money, Ms. Tabb said, and "they want to see their money deployed and going to work immediately."

"It's a very engaged philosophy--people wanting to see change in a window of time you can think about," she said.

A Matter of Time

Many longtime fund raisers for educational causes aren't sure how to reach this new pool of givers, most of whom are based on the West Coast, said Marla Ucelli, a board member of Grantmakers For Education, a Washington-based nonprofit organization of education foundations.

"There's not much knowledge, but there's a great deal of opportunity," said Ms. Ucelli, who is assistant director for school reform programs at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. "We see an increasing need to understand this growing sector within educational philanthropy."

The high-tech rich have been criticized in some quarters as not being sufficiently generous with their money. But other observers suggest that those who have profited most from the explosive growth in the computer- and telecommunications-based economy simply need to get a little older before becoming high-profile philanthropists.

"We need to wait for more of the technology people to reach the age of traditional givers," Ms. Masaoka said. "Right now they're saying, 'Hey, I think I'll buy a Jaguar this year.'"

But those in the technology industry who have already turned their attention to charitable giving are optimistic that more among them will soon begin doing the same. For most, wealth is a new phenomenon, and it takes time to sort through financial priorities--especially when much of the money is still on paper, in the form of current stock values, Ms. Tabb pointed out.

"As people become more knowledgeable, they will become more giving," she said.

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