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Disconnect in Silicon Valley

If you’ve listened to our Wine Grants podcast with Ryan Derfler, we recommend that you read his recent article published on LinkedIn, “Silicon Valley Not Taking Advice.” Derfler describes a fundamental disconnect between Silicon Valley philanthropists and the foundations and advisories they seek out for funding recommendations. Many of these philanthropists are finding this advice lacking:

The truth is, most foundations and advisors simply provide general and obvious solutions, rarely anything helpful to make leaps forward, which donors find off-putting. Overestimating impact and having to be talked down, or underestimating in a way that enables certain success are prevalent. One community foundation executive, in a candid conversation, told me that community foundation advisor culture is one that is not donor friendly and in some cases, even hostile.

As a result, many Silicon Valley philanthropists are choosing to either go it alone or seek peer-to-peer advice for funding decisions, an approach that is likely not going to produce the best results for solving a cross-section of critical social issues.

Part of the reason we started the Unfunded List is our belief that there is a demand for innovative social solutions that is not being served by our current funding infrastructure. This is not to lay blame on the foundations themselves; faced with an enormous number of proposals to evaluate, it is impossible to expect organizations to have a perfect record evaluating the best ideas to fund and ultimately recommend to donors. But as Derfler states, the philanthropy culture in Silicon Valley is changing: many young philanthropists are moving beyond using Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) to simply “park their money and be left alone,” and instead desire the same type of data-driven expert advice that drives their business culture to come from foundation advisories. The infrastructure for this level of guidance is clearly not in place yet.

The term “Disruption” may be cliche at this point, but Derfler’s article indicates that philanthropy culture is clearly reaching a tipping point, and we look forward to being part of the vanguard that helps serve this growing demand to find the best solutions.


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