In1978, as a 17-year-old student, Tom Hayes mobilized the citizens of Lowell, Massachusetts to campaign for construction of a new high school. Today, nearly two decades later, Lowell High School remains a center of education in a city whose textile mills are synonymous with the faded glories of the Industrial Age. And Tom Hayes remains a dedicated activist — although he now mobilizes business leaders in a place that’s synonymous with the Information Age. “Silicon Valley is the alpha site for the 21st century,” he says. “The issues that will define life in the future have already arrived here: a new economy based on knowledge work, a hyper-diverse population, and a huge tolerance for change, ambiguity, and failure. Silicon Valley is already sending all these cues — we should send the cue for good citizenship too.”
Hayes, 37, is director of global corporate affairs for Applied Materials Inc., the world’s largest producer of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. He’s also a man with a plan: to apply the technologies and business models of Silicon Valley to the sleepy world of philanthropy — in effect, to create a new model of civic entrepreneurialism. “This generation doesn’t want to give in the same way previous generations have,” he says. “Most people loathe big institutions and big charities. We’re too busy to deal with what is outside our bandwidth. When we address ’causes,’ we want to do it our own way.”
Hayes’s way is built around three major innovations in how social organizations raise money and get things done. First, he borrows from the logic of cutting-edge business institutions. In 1992, for example, he helped found Joint Venture: Silicon Valley (JVSV), a coalition of business, community, and education leaders designed to respond to fears that the region was losing its competitive edge. The group’s first meeting drew a thousand leaders — including such top names as Silicon Graphics CEO Ed McCracken, Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, and venture-capital legend Don Valentine. JVSV mimicked the venture-capital process in identifying dozens of initiatives and forming working groups to champion them. Those support groups helped each project obtain funds, business services, and technical talent. All told, the coalition has leveraged more than $35 million to create the Smart Valley Intranet, the Entrepreneurs Network, and other widely imitated projects.
Hayes pioneered another major initiative in 1992 modeled on another Silicon Valley institution — the trade show. “All the local charitable organizations were duplicating efforts,” he complains. “And even the best of these groups couldn’t break into the top echelons of Silicon Valley, where the real money is.” His solution? Bring local charities together in a single event, called CHARITech, where they could showcase their work for business leaders. By 1995 the annual CHARITech show was drawing 150 local charities and several thousand high-tech executives.
Of course, money isn’t everything. Hence Hayes’s second principle: for causes — as for companies — financial capital means little without human capital. But that doesn’t mean huge membership organizations or big nonprofit bureaucracies. Hayes wants to create coalitions of people who come together around specific projects and then disband when the project is completed — volunteers with “the muscle memory of an experienced team and the speed and flexibility of the Net.”
There’s no better example of this approach to talent than Webstock ’96, an innovative charitable event that became a Web phenomenon. Hayes recalls the original inspiration: “I said, Let’s create an event that exists entirely on the Internet. The first of its kind. Make it the Woodstock — the Webstock — of Generation X. Four days, just like the original, but a fusion of videos, live music, and education.” To pull it off, he assembled an alliance of Hollywood filmmakers, Web masters, junior corporate executives, consumer products specialists, concert promoters, musician’s agents, even a certified television hunk — Andrew Shue of “Melrose Place.”
The four-day online festival, which featured such diverse entertainment as Porno for Pyros, Drew Barrymore, and Snoop Doggy Dogg, drew 6 million hits and 500,000 recorded attendees. It raised a million dollars and added thousands of volunteers to the ranks of DO Something, the national organization Shue cofounded to identify, train, and support young community leaders. Then the team disappeared as quickly as it had been created, leaving behind only a DO Something Web page (www.dosomething.org) for people who want to learn more about the organization.
There’s a third principle behind Hayes’s approach to civic entrepreneurialism: if you want to touch people’s hearts, capture their imaginations. Charitable events can’t feel stuffy or self-important if they hope to attract young people; production values matter. A case in point: Silicon Planet http://www.siliconplanet.com , a high-tech urban rave featuring live music, multimedia, a fashion show, an art auction, and a Webcast, taking place this fall in a converted warehouse in downtown San Jose. The event will benefit ARIS, Silicon Valley’s primary HIV/AIDS resources agency. Hayes views Silicon Planet as a “long-awaited gathering of the tribes to applaud the new economy and the new culture we’ve wrought in the Valley.” He hopes to make Silicon Planet the prototype of a new genre of fund-raising event that would become “the center of the universe for high-tech culture for one night.”
Audacious, perhaps. But no one ever accused Tom Hayes of thinking small. His ultimate goal? To create a model for charitable organizations as agile, smart, and adaptive as their counterparts in business. “We’ve created a lot of wealth in Silicon Valley,” says Hayes. “Now we need to find the balance between the opportunities of technology and the obligations of citizenship to create a true technology community.”
Michael S. Malone (email@example.com) is a frequent contributor to Fast Company. You can reach Tom Hayes by email, firstname.lastname@example.org .