Move from success to significance

When a Silicon Valley firm goes public, it can result in scores of employees instantly becoming millionaires. But what happens then? Following is an excerpt of a San Francisco Chronicle op ed written by Kerry Olson and Dave Katz, co-founders of the Firelight Foundation:

Wealthy folks will eventually have to ask themselves an important question: What should I do with this money?

As a couple who was fortunate enough to face that question when we benefited from Juniper Networks’ IPO more than a decade ago, we would urge [IPO firm] employees to consider devoting a share of their newfound wealth to philanthropy.

They are well suited to charitable giving, but not just because they have money. They’ve proved that they rapidly can build a successful, innovative organization from scratch – as well as identify needs within a community and then meet them. Skills like these are crucial to solving the difficult social, scientific and political problems plaguing our world today.

Previously unimaginable lifestyles will be within reach – but so will the ability to help people and causes in life-changing ways. And while it may be tempting to take care of all the friends and family who come calling, an ad hoc approach to charity can grow overwhelming – and lead to well-intentioned but counterproductive giving.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides an instructive model. The Gates foundation’s investments in vaccinations and antibiotics have saved millions of lives and generated billions in economic activity in Africa. Such willingness to try new approaches to solving social problems – and to evaluate candidly whether they’re working – comes directly out of the culture of entrepreneurship embodied by [many] Silicon Valley firms.