As we mentioned in our news summary earlier today, Sergey
Brin of Google fame recently donated one million dollars to HIAS, the renowned Jewish Aid society which helped Brin and his family settle in the United States.
For someone of Brin’s substantial wealth a one million dollar donation might seem modest, but Sunday’s article in the New York Times (and Brin’s subsequent post on his blog, too) are significant for what they hint at about Brin’s future charitable work.
Two quotes from Brin in the article may give some sense of how he views his future as a philanthropist. First, in discussing the relative modesty of the gift to HIAS, Brin says “We’ve given away over $30 million so far, which isn’t so tiny but obviously small in terms of our, um, theoretical wealth”. This reference to his “theoretical” wealth may indicate that since much of Brin’s worth is tied up in the price of Google stock, and is not readily accessible, that he will take his time in giving away substantial sums of money. A mathematician by training, Brin may feel uncomfortable about spending money that could disappear with a drop in Google’s stock price.
A second quote in the article may reinforce the idea that Brin may be slow to move into the big leagues of philanthropy. Brin mentions Bill Gates as a model for his philanthropy. Referring to Gates, Brin said, “While everyone was criticizing him, he was generating a whole lot more money for his foundation, and ultimately, when he got serious about philanthropy, he did it really well . . . I’d like to learn from that example.” Instead of just writing checks to charities Gates and his foundation have taken a very hands on approach to philanthropy. They have given away large sums, but have closely controlled how that money will be spent. Can we expect the same kind of treatment from Brin one day?
For now, Brin may not be giving away large amounts, but he is using his internet presence to magnifying his gifts. Brin’s personal blog, too is rarely updated, but when it is, Silicon Valley reads it. On Sunday, Brin wrote a personal update about HIAS and a number of other groups (with links included) which helped him and his family when they immigrated to America. I bet the online donation numbers for those charities had a significant boost. It is a smart move to promote giving in this way and I expect we’ll see novel ways of addressing philanthropy from Brin in the future.