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Is Mark Zuckerberg Creating A New Breed Of Silicon Valley Philanthropists?

As the tech world creates more and more young millionaires, the question is: How will they give back? The Facebook founder’s recent donations give some hints, and it’s clear that others are following his model.

It’s a familiar refrain: the latest tech boom has created a growing crop of young millionaires who prefer hoodies to suits and ties. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg is the ultimate success story—a Harvard dropout who made billions with a brilliant idea and some coding skills. Whether Facebook is a force of good, evil, or something in between is forever up for debate, but here’s what we do know: Zuckerberg is a generous guy. And that’s a good thing for the philanthropic organizations waiting to see what the latest generation of wealthy people will do with their money.

Mark Zuckerberg first gained attention for his philanthropic actions in 2010, when he announced on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he was giving $100 million to the beleaguered Newark, New Jersey, public school system. Zuckerberg has no ties to Newark, but as he explained in a blog post, "Newark has unfortunately become a symbol of public education’s failure—of a status quo that accepts schools that don’t succeed." Zuckerberg added: "Rather than waiting until later in life to focus on giving back, I’ve spent a lot of the last year researching and looking for the most impactful ways to improve education starting in America."

And indeed, Zuckerberg has continued his quest to improve American education. In December 2012, the entrepreneur announced that he’s giving $500 million in Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, an organization that gives to local initiatives spanning a variety of sectors (Zuckerberg is focusing on education and health). Zuckerberg may be one of the most high-profile young tech philanthropists. He’s hardly the only one, though. We have to imagine that at least some of the other young Silicon Valley givers are influenced by Zuckerberg’s generosity.

There is no typical Silicon Valley philanthropist, says Daniel Lurie, the CEO and founder of Tipping Point Community, a Bay Area organization that funds local poverty-fighting groups and often works with young donors. "I would say Silicon Valley and the financial industry folks we work with want to know the impact that they’re having. That’s a common theme," he explains. "They don’t want to just write a check and say 'We’ll see you next year.' They want to know where it’s going and what the impact is. They want results."

In a sense, this mirrors tech entrepreneurs’ professional lives: They want to a see a return on their philanthropic investment. Tipping Point works with a lot of young Silicon Valley professionals, so the organization’s methods reflect these needs. Says Lurie: "We invest our philanthropic dollars in the same way a lot of these entrepreneurs invest in their companies. If something’s not working, they make changes, and if something’s not working at Tipping Point, we’re not scared to make changes either."

In a video interview, Emmett Carson, the founding CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, echoes Lurie’s description of the younger breed of philanthropist. Anecdotally, he believes that young donors like to take big risks (again, as they’ve done as entrepreneurs in their professional lives) and they’re more interested in creating partnerships and being actively involved in their giving than older philanthropists.

In general, the world of philanthropy has started to skew younger. Jane Wales, founding president of the Global Philanthropy Forum, told Co.Exist in an interview last year: "I’d also say that the [philanthropic] individuals themselves tend to be very young. They’re in the midst of their career, the height of their career, and they’re not about to retire. So they’re pretty bold in their investments for social change and they have a very long timeline."

Big donors like Zuckerberg undeniably make a difference to other budding philanthropists. "His gift will have a huge impact. When we saw it, we were all thrilled, and I think others will follow," says Lurie. There’s no doubt that philanthropists can inspire others to give. Just look at the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, which has inspired some of the country’s wealthiest people—including Barron Hilton, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, Elon Musk, and T. Boone Pickens—to give the majority of their money to philanthropy. Bill Gates most likely influenced Zuckerberg’s giving; a recently revealed email exchange between the pair shows that they’re even collaborating on the Facebook founder’s Newark initiative.

In 2012, major charitable gifts in the U.S. declined by 30%—a depressing statistic, to be sure. But Lurie is hopeful. "I think we will see tremendous growth in giving by Silicon Valley leaders," he says. "Now I just want them to focus on our community. When we have what we have going on, seeing amazing growth, rents skyrocketing, and housing prices through the roof, people think that everyone is doing well, but one in five people in the Bay Area can’t meet their basic needs. We have to remind people of that."