Silicon Valley is filled with innovation, progress, and promise. From startups to big tech, it’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of possibility, as I and so many have before. After all, stories of legend were born here: from genius engineers who started companies in their garage to epic keynotes that completely transformed the way we view and operate in the world.
But for all that Silicon Valley has to offer, it’s still unfortunately riddled with pockets of disadvantage—the parts we don’t often highlight or mention. There’s a uniquely broad spectrum of wealth and need here that can, in the best of cases, beget a culture of community, generosity, and gratitude.
When I founded Propel, giving back was sewn into the fabric of our business. We became a member of Pledge 1%, which is a commitment to giving back one percent of our time, one percent of our revenue, one percent of equity, or one percent of our product. For an early-stage company, Pledge 1% was a great way to invest part of our future success to support those in need.
My corporate responsibility dates back even further, though, to the earliest days of my career where, as a young manager, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Family Giving Tree. Family Giving Tree (FGT) is near and dear to my heart. It’s the brainchild of former San Jose State University MBA students Jennifer “Queen Elf” Cullenbine and Todd Yoshida who—over 30 years ago now—were assigned the project of going out and “doing something that adds value to someone else’s life.”
And add value they did. Since 1990, FGT has served the wants (toys and joy) and needs (blankets, socks, etc.) of families, seniors, students, those experiencing homelessness, and other communities through their annual gift and backpack drives. The organization recently surpassed a major milestone of two million wishes granted, and is currently the largest donation program in California.
Our team has been volunteering with FGT for years, most recently by purchasing, sorting, and processing holiday gifts in their nearby warehouse this month. It’s always gratifying to tie our activities to the values that I and the other founders set out to instill in Propel’s company culture from the start.
We’re driven by our core values of accessibility, customer satisfaction, honesty, curiosity, and courage. With a team more remote than not, we’ve done our best to maintain quarterly give back events—opting for monetary contributions during the long months of shelter-in-place—that create a sense of togetherness even while we’re apart.
As I think about what’s most important in leading and growing a team, particularly through precarious conditions outside of our control, instilling a culture of gratitude and giving back isn’t just good business, it also just feels good—and that’s not nothing.
If you consider the aforementioned organizations, Pledge 1% and Family Giving Tree, you can see how individuals working together, through volunteerism or employment, can make a huge difference. FGT, for example, is made up of only 17 employees, but volunteers number in the thousands each year. They have created a way to address distinctive Silicon Valley discrepancies in a positive, impactful way. (And as one of those thousands of volunteers, I can confirm: it does feel really good.)
At the individual level, we all have the ability to make an impact. While I acknowledge that all of the economic changes happening around us can make people more insular and protective of what they have, I’ve also found that there’s always something to give, big or small, with your time, money, or otherwise.
At the collective level, leaders cannot underestimate the power of gratitude. Many of us in the Valley are fortunate to be on the giving side, but there are also many who are not. Together, as companies, teams, and organizations, we can shift the culture and make life a little more joyful and comfortable for others.
I hope you’ll join us in continuing to give back to your local community this holiday season and beyond. We wish you happy holidays and a wonderful New Year.