Where to Give in 2008

It’s easy for journalists to stereotype private equity professionals. You read stories about venture capitalists building the world’s biggest yachts or buyout pros buying old manuscripts for tens of millions of dollars and it forms a certain picture.

But call on them to share ideas for good, charitable places to give time and money and you’ll get a long and detailed list:

***Vito Colombo, of RSM McGladrey, Inc., offers a program called the Junior Achievement Academy (www.ja.org). It’s similar to BizWorld, but gives high school students the opportunity to start their own companies with mentorship from an outside firm.

The students take a semester to identify a market, collect investment dollars from their mentoring organization, and run their businesses. They present to their mentors at the end of the semester and distribute profits. “It’s really impossible to find an excuse why one shouldn’t start their own company after seeing these kids do it successfully in five months,” Colombo writes. “I’m surprised associates and analysts from VC and LBO funds aren’t encouraged to be involved as company sponsored mentors.”

***Journalists work a lot with public relations executives and the people over at SparkPR are some of the best in the business for the fields I cover. Chris Hempel, one of the firm’s founders, recently discovered that her three-year-old twin girls have a chronic and currently incurable disease called Niemann-Pick Type C. The genetic disease causes progressive deterioration of the central nervous system due to an inability to metabolize cholesterol and is often called “Childhood Alzheimer’s.”

When Chris and Hugh Hempel learned of their daughter’s illness this fall, they did what any well-networked Silicon Valley power couple would do: launch a website and call for a cure. The site is named for their daughters, Addi and Cassi: www.addiandcassi.com. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, donate, or send well wishes for the family at the site. Thanks to Spark’s Rachel Bremer for pointing it out.

***Adam Erlich, a second-year MBA at Wharton, suggests leveraging your efforts. Instead of just volunteering yourself, rally the people in your organization to volunteer beside you. Erlich, along with a few friends, manages 70 volunteers for the BizWorld program each year. (He’s probably going to be looking for a job this spring, by the way. Somebody please hire him.)

***Dean Schaffer, of the Pan American Capital Group, recommends the Andrew Glover Youth Program. The program fights juvenile crime by giving New York City kids an alternative to incarceration. The program fights criminal recidivism by appointing advocates to troubled youth, assigning an individual case worker to deal with the roots of criminal behavior and by establishing education centers. There is more information and opportunities to donate at www.agyp.org.

***David Linn, of Oak Point Partners, writes about Spin4Survival, an indoor “spin-a-thon” that will take place in various locations on January 27, 2008. Money raised by the event will go to cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “Yellow Jersey” designation goes to any team that raises $10,000. Check it out at www.spin4survival.org.

Linn writes that his wife Jennifer Goodman Linn started the program during her ongoing battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She’s now getting treatments that her program helped fund.

“It may sound a bit cheesy, but I believe that spinning saved my life,” Jennifer writes on her site. “A sport that enables you to compete against yourself and no one else is tremendously inspiring when your body is falling apart inside.”

***Paul Tufaro, of AlpInvest Partners, recommends Minds Matter. The program pairs underprivileged high school students with young professionals to work on getting accepted to summer programs and four-year universities. Students need help working through the SATs, writing essays and understanding financial aid. The Minds Matter program offers help to high school students in New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver and Portland. Check it out at www.mindsmatter.org.

***Financial executive Bryan Noteboom recommends a program designed to unleash the artist inside each child by teaching them that everything is art. Be an Artist revolves around an interactive session with musician Darden Smith, who helps the children create their own music while showing them they ways they can see themselves as artists, no matter their interest.

“Back in 1982, I shared a series of undergraduate accounting and finance classes at UT-Austin with Darden Smith—in addition to his backpack, Darden would lug a guitar case to class,” Noteboom writes. “I would often catch him after class performing at a (pre-Starbucks) campus coffee shop. Twenty five years later, we’ve both achieved a measure of success in our chosen careers – I took the ‘easy route’ of entrepreneurship, while Darden has built a worldwide following as a singer-songwriter.”

The program doesn’t ask for any donations on its website (www.be-an-artist.com), but I’m sure there are opportunities to help.

***Andrew Radin writes in with advice on volunteering. He says people are generally scared off because they don’t know how to volunteer or feel they don’t have time to. But busy people often make the best volunteers, Radin writes: “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.”

***Joe offers his own case for charity: “My idea of how the VC/PE can return something: hire one additional person who is looking for a job in the VC/PE field.” Joe says he has more than 20 years of experience working at venture backed health care companies. I’ll waive my usual headhunting fee and give you his contact info for free: Findiv@aol.com.

Please consider giving your time and energy toward positive change in the lives of others during 2008.