Explosion: The Latest Evidence That Silicon Valley Giving Is Going Totally Nuts

Last year, we were blown away by the news that grantmaking by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation had nearly doubled, rising from $476 million in 2014 to $823 million in 2015.

As a result of that astonishing jump, SVCF gave away nearly five times more money in 2015 than the next-largest grantmaker among U.S. community foundations, the New York Community Trust. It also catapulted itself into the very top ranks of donor-advised funds.

Related: Holy Cow, This Community Foundation Is Exploding. Why Is That?

This remarkable upward tear continued last year, with SVCF recently announcing that it made $1.3 billion in grants in 2016, with most of that money going to Bay Area nonprofits. 

Just four years earlier, in 2012, SVCF had made $285 million in grants. So this is an outfit that’s more than quadrupled its giving in a very short period of time.

One obvious factor in this surge, perhaps the biggest, is that SVCF is the go-to intermediary for some of the biggest new donors coming out of tech. Most famously, it’s where Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have parked huge chunks of Facebook stock. But SVCF is also where other, lesser known tech winners have turned to house their donor-advised funds.

After he sold WhatsApp, becoming an instant billionaire, Jan Koum stashed around $556 million of his new riches at SVCF. Nick and Jill Woodman, the founders of GoPro, did nearly the exact same after their company went public, making a $500 million gift.

And those are just the headline-making gifts. For every star tech billionaire turning to giving, there are many other wealthy techies who are starting to give. Many of these folks aren’t inclined to create their own free-standing foundations—whether it’s because they’re too busy with their day jobs or they’re wary of creating new infrastructure when their plans are still evolving.

So instead, they turn to middlemen who can handle all the details of giving for them—from compliance with legal requirements to vetting grantees to cutting checks.

What’s most interesting about SVCF’s rise, then, is that it sits at the crossroads of two top trends in today’s philanthropy: the explosion of DAFs and other intermediaries, and the flood of new tech money coming into the sector.

Of course, it’s just not tech winners who are stepping up their giving right now. Lots of other wealthy Americans are, too, and there’s no shortage of households with the capacity to donate at a high level: Some 70,000 U.S. households have a net worth of at least $30 million—a figure that doesn’t include real estate holdings.

That’s a lot of liquid wealth (and also an appalling figure, given that two-thirds of Americans say that they couldn’t come up with $1000 to deal with an emergency.) In the Bay Area, plenty of major wealth-holders can be found outside of tech, in industries like finance and real estate. These people are also turning to philanthropy in greater numbers. While the Silicon Valley Community Foundation doesn’t break down by industry who contributed the $1.38 billion in new gifts from individual and corporate donors that it received in 2016, bringing its assets to $8.2 billion, you can bet that it’s not just tech money flowing into this place. 

In fact, SVCF has been moving energetically to broaden its reach, opening an office in New York City last year and also hosting a conference in October on how technology is changing the philanthropic sector that drew some participants from overseas.

The strategy, here, seems to be leveraging its Silicon Valley identity to build a larger brand that’s synonymous with cutting-edge philanthropy, drawing in all kinds of donors who are anxious to give in this way.

It’s also worth mentioning that SVCF has strong experience in managing complex assets and grantmaking deals, which can be appealing to donors making large-scale gifts that don’t take the form of cash or stock. Philanthropy can be pretty complicated with diversified fortunes. And if we know one thing for sure, it’s this: More fortunes of all kinds are now being harnessed to large-scale giving.

Earlier this year, we predicted at IP that intermediaries would continue to explode in size and reach. The latest giving data from SVCF is yet another sign of that trend. Look for more to come.