- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Charities look out into Northern Virginia and see green and increasingly, gray.

They are hungry for resources from technology companies and executives, whether it be cash or hardware, software or expertise but plugging into the technology boom is not so black and white.

Bringing the two sectors together has been a challenge. Technology companies and charities are working to overcome cultural differences and misperceptions and have emerged with a crop of cooperative programs.

"Getting to know each other is a fundamental issue at the end of the day," said Mario Morino, founder of the Reston-based Morino Institute, which promotes the "new economy" and Internet-driven social programs.

Some nonprofits think of the high-tech industry as an untapped, unlimited resource, said Kae Dakin, executive director of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, a group of foundations.

"There's a lot of expectation that if there's a lot of money in this high-tech corridor, it should be coming back into the community," she said.

But dot-com start-ups are not mature enough to devote energy or money to charities in many cases. Many tech companies, both start-ups and older, are not turning a profit and don't have money to give away.

"Many of these young businesses may want to be philanthropic, but right now they're having to spend absolutely all of their time making business work," Ms. Dakin said.

"Although we see all of these big dollar signs, a lot of it is paper money right now," she added.

Bob Nelson of Nelson & Co., a McLean consulting firm, said young tech companies cannot afford to sell discounted products, for example, to philanthropies.

"In the earliest stages, especially after you've gone public, it's critical for you to maintain sales to companies that can afford to pay full rate," said Mr. Nelson, a board member of the National Capital Chapter of the American Red Cross.

On the opposite end, high-tech executives sometimes see charities as too slow-moving, Mr. Morino said.

"You're dealing with life, you're not dealing with products," he said.

A charity might think a nine-month preparation period to start a program is too fast, while a tech company could see it as snail-paced, said Trabian Shorters, president of Technology Works for Good.

His organization was formed to encourage tech companies to help nonprofits organize their structures, a campaign that will begin in October.

It can be tough to reconcile social problems with running an efficient group, Ms. Dakin said. The problems nonprofits deal with "are not going to be solved with a business plan and an exit plan."

The technology sector focuses on outcomes and metrics ways to measure problem-solving said Terri Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, a group of more than 200 funds.

"It's easier to measure things that are inanimate," she said.

Giving has increased across the board as the economy has prospered, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel's Trust for Philanthropy, which releases the national "Giving USA" report annually.

Charitable giving by individuals, corporations and foundations rose to more than $190 billion in 1999. In 1995, philanthropy represented 1.7 percent of the gross domestic product. By 1999, that figure had reached 2.1 percent.

Both the tech and charity fields agree that working together is necessary to channel the substantial resources where they can best be used. Caleb M. Schutz, executive director of the Reston-based WorldCom Foundation, said the relationship enriches both parties.

"It forces the corporation to explore that issue from another angle, and it also forces the nonprofit to consider the speed at which the project is implemented," Mr. Schutz said.

His organization's flagship program is Marco Polo, which seeks to bring the Internet into classrooms. The foundation is working with six national educational groups, including the National Geographic Society, to implement the project. Mr. Schutz said the consortium approach both complicates and improves the process.

The WorldCom foundation was founded in 1987, giving it a chance to get experience working with nonprofits.

The AOL Foundation is newer to the game. Formed two years ago, the group aims "to help nonprofits use technology as a tool to improve their capacity to improve their missions," said Michele Cavataio, vice president of corporate relations for America Online.

Ms. Cavataio said her fund approaches giving from a technology-oriented perspective.

"We have less patience for traditional bureaucracy," she said.

At the same time, tech companies, like other businesses, can apply corporate know-how to nonprofit organizations. They have even tried to encourage the uncommon concept of revenue streams.

Ms. Cavataio called her foundation's efforts "more of a venture philanthropy kind of approach."

Venture philanthropy has been championed by Mr. Morino. It involves bringing a venture capital outlook to philanthropy executives think of their donations as investments and in return can receive seats on boards of directors and involvement in management.

Mr. Morino said this approach will solve some of the problems associated with the culture clash between nonprofits and the technology industry, because so much trust is involved.

"There is this wall" between funders and nonprofit executives, he said.

That wall must be broken down if funders' involvement in charities is attached to their money, he said.

"It really needs to be a partnership. We're not there to change their mission," he said.

The institute has gathered 25 persons prepared to put money into its Venture Philanthropy Fund.

Mr. Nelson said it's not surprising that philanthropy is moving in this direction.

"Historically, whatever industry was generating the most wealth sort of applied its standards to charity," he said.

Ms. Cavataio said that, for tech companies, the donor-charity relationship can best be fostered by education.

"Ultimately, we both have a lot to learn from each other. The important thing is that we listen and learn," she said.

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