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Over 180 Airbnb alumni have pledged to give away some of their IPO proceeds to charity, and that's just the start of Equity for Impact's ambitions.
The all-volunteer Airbnb alumni group is trying to recruit 1,000 of their peers to sign on to the promise of donating some of their IPO proceeds to charity, a goal that if met, could represent over $100 million earmarked for charitable giving. And they hope that it will be a playbook for other startups on the verge of going public to compete.
"So much of the conversation around tech company IPOs focuses on how the newfound wealth will be used for consumption," said Janet Frishberg, a recruiter for Airbnb from 2013 to 2019. "I was wondering if we could change that conversation and have at least part of the focus be on how we can give these newfound resources to help others and help our local communities and also help the world."
So far, much of the focus on charitable giving in Silicon Valley has been on the highest net-worth individuals, like Airbnb's billionaire founders who are all Giving Pledge signatories, or other up-and-coming founders, like the signatories of the Founders Pledge who may not be at the billion-dollar Giving Pledge mark yet.
But Equity for Impact is targeting an employee base that may give anywhere from a few hundred dollars to millions as part of an IPO, and it purposefully did not set a minimum donation threshold for alumni, employees or investors to take part as a way to encourage more people to give what they can around the IPO.
The idea came from a 2019 dinner between Frishberg and Phillippe Siclait, an engineer at Airbnb from 2012 to 2018. While much of the talk around employee IPO windfalls is about everything they'll buy — from the new cars, the new homes, even the yachts or airplanes — the pair wanted to focus on how an IPO could be used for good.
"Knowing the people that Airbnb brought together, I felt like there was a values alignment, and the culture of that community would make this possible," Frishberg said.
The duo started by interviewing around 20 alumni to learn about what they would want out of a charitable giving initiative. They found that the biggest gap was just in knowledge of the mechanics of charitable giving, particularly around donating equity versus cash, and that many people wanted advice on which charities they should be giving to that would deliver high impact.
Frishberg and Siclait recruited a group of volunteers, from former head of employee experience Mark Levy to former communications lead Marissa Coughlin, to help build Equity for Impact. The organization is also working closely with the Founders Pledge on educating its signatories around giving, and Founders Pledge is helping to pull together a list of high-impact charities from its own research that Airbnb alumni may be interested in donating to.
So far, the most popular causes that people are supporting are around climate change, social justice initiatives, education, poverty initiatives and homelessness, the group said. Siclait and Frishberg both decided to earmark 5% of their overall equity as part of their pledges. Frishberg plans to focus on some high-impact charities around climate change and local Bay Area food justice initiatives; Siclait admits he's taking a more data-driven approach and plans to work closely with Founders Pledge to help identify the charities that are driving the most impact.
"Our vision has always been that the value created by tech can serve those who need it most, and Equity for Impact makes a big step towards normalizing generosity at all levels of a company," Danielle Gram, managing director of Founders Pledge, said in a statement. "It's been inspiring to see how the grassroots movement around Equity for Impact is not only encouraging people to give, and give more, but to give differently and strategically."
Outside of just a desire to do good, there's also the potential tax benefits of charitable giving for a newly minted IPO class. While there's a particular trend of moving to tax-friendly locations like Texas or Miami in tech right now, charitable giving is an overlooked area for many employees. Frishberg and Siclait acknowledge that some people will be participating certainly for the tax benefits, but they still view it as a good thing to help educate and increase the tech industry's charitable giving.
"People are curious about it, especially as they're trying to plan for the end of this year and going into next year," Siclait said. "One of the things that we're doing is coupling our events where we talk about taxes and the financial implications with conversation around the kind of values that people have, and how they think about giving from that perspective, because we want to really make sure that the the conversation that we're starting is about the giving, and not just about the tax benefits."
The hope, too, is that this becomes a playbook for future tech IPOs. So far, the group is about one-fifth of the way to its goal of having 1,000 Airbnb folks pledging by six months after the IPO (around the time a typical stock lockup ends). If it hits its goal, it believes that it will amount to around $100 million given to charities as result, a perhaps more meaningful measure of an IPO's success than the number of Teslas that show up in the employee parking lot.
"Oftentimes in tech, the employees end up becoming the founders of future companies. So if we can get people to think about giving more at this stage, then hopefully when they go and start a company, then they can start thinking about that from the very beginning," Siclait said. "We've already seen that a number of Airbnb alumni who've gone on to found other companies are participating in Equity for Impact, so we hope that that will translate to the companies that they found, too."
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Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.