San Francisco seeks Hellman’s philanthropic successors 

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, left, and CEO Marc Benioff have been highlighted as potential leaders of a new crop of philanthropists. - AP FILE PHOTOS
  • AP file photos
  • Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, left, and CEO Marc Benioff have been highlighted as potential leaders of a new crop of philanthropists.

The death of San Francisco philanthropist Warren Hellman was felt across The City by the organizations he helped and the people who benefited from his generosity.

Although Hellman was best known for creating and funding the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, he also gave money to education and arts causes across the Bay Area through his family foundation.

The memorial service for Hellman last month was attended by more than 1,000 people, including Mayor Ed Lee, who said he couldn’t help but think about how so much generosity could be replicated.

In a recent interview with The San Francisco Examiner, the mayor said he wants tech industry leaders to fill the void left by Hellman. Lee said he now plans to reach out and “help create the 21st-century philanthropic family.”

“With these tech companies, I’m listening to how they can be successful, and then I say, ‘By the way, you can help The City be successful by joining in this new generation,’” Lee said. “I think they really want to show the full range of what they can do.”

Lee’s call for civic generosity comes as he wants to see more big companies move to the revamped Mission Bay area and the mid-Market Street corridor. Lee wants job creation to be the centerpiece of his new term, and he’s pursuing additional reforms to The City’s payroll tax to draw in more employers and encourage existing businesses to hire more people.

The mayor’s call for charity was prompted in part by Marc Benioff, the CEO of San Francisco-based, who recently chipped in $1.5 million to fight The City’s homeless problem.

Benioff and his wife, Lynne, ended up donating directly to a Catholic charity that will now house 12 families in need in the Richmond district. The donation to a targeted cause might be indicative of the new generation’s desire for accountability, according to local charitable organizations.

“These new leaders in philanthropy are starting businesses and using metrics more than the previous generation,” said Daniel Lurie, the CEO and founder of Tipping Point, a nonprofit that connects donors with charitable causes.

“The days of writing a check and hoping it goes well are done.”

The mayor also mentioned Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway as potential leaders in the new class of city benefactors.

Pincus said in a statement that he supports the mayor’s goals for improving The City’s overall economic picture.

“At Zynga, we have tremendous pride in San Francisco and plan to do our part to make this city a global hub for technology and invention,” he said.

Conway and Benioff heavily backed an independent expenditure committee to help Lee get elected mayor, but political consultant and lobbyist Alex Clemens said philanthropic goals in San Francisco tend to steer clear of campaign politics.

“I don’t see it as pay-to-play politics because the benefit is to the people, and it’s to the most disadvantaged people,” Clemens said. “In San Francisco, I think we expect our mayor to hit up our wealthiest residents to give back to the city they’re choosing to live in.”

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Dan Schreiber

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