In an effort to kickstart more charitable giving around Silicon Valley, the six general partners at venture firm Andreessen Horowitz are pledging to give half of their lifetime income from venture capital activities to charity.
In addition, the partners plan to donate $1 million immediately to six Silicon Valley nonprofits, ranging from food to youth programs.
"The idea behind it is to lead by example," said partner Ben Horowitz in an interview. "It’s a show of appreciation for everyone in Silicon Valley."
Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs tend to put philanthropy on the back burner as they work to develop their businesses. “It certainly applies to me,” said partner Marc Andreessen about the years when he built up the browser company Netscape. “It’s difficult to have a split focus when you’re doing something that difficult.”
A popular argument holds that entrepreneurs are better off focusing on building wealth so that down the line they are able to make even larger charitable gifts, Andreessen said. The counterargument holds they are missing immediate opportunities to stem societal problems such as hunger or inequality.
The partners’ decision to make the pledge ensued after discussions held over several months, Andreessen and Horowitz said. It comes after the publication of “Giving 2.0,” a book on philanthropy published last year and written by Andreessen’s wife, Laura Arillaga-Andreessen.
"She was influential firm-wide," Horowitz said.
The pledge ties into a movement to encourage the nation’s wealthiest to give generously. Two years ago, billionaires Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates kicked off the Giving Pledge, which invites billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity.
Individuals ranging from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to filmmaker George Lucas have signed on. The group includes venture capitalists John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital.
For the group at Andreessen, which has not signed onto the Giving Pledge, the timing of the donations is flexible. The partners have agreed to make the gifts at any point during their lifetimes.
Venture capitalists can make billions as they reap fees tied to building up successful companies.
Andreessen Horowitz was founded in 2009 and has invested in many of the nation’s hottest young companies, sometimes paying rich valuations. Some of the firm’s portfolio companies include social image-sharing company Pinterest; microblogging service Twitter; gaming company Zynga; and Facebook, likely to be the technology sector’s biggest-ever initial public offering.
In addition to Andreessen and Horowitz, the general partners comprise Jeff Jordan, John O’Farrell, Peter Levine, and Scott Weiss.
The six groups receiving their initial donation are urban tree-planting charity Canopy; the Ecumenical Hunger Program; Fresh Lifelines for Youth; hunger-relief charity Second Harvest; homeless charity the Shelter Network; and Via Services, which works with disabled and special-needs individuals.