K-12 education is the No. 1 giving priority for the top 100 technology companies, according to a new report that tracks the community activities of Silicon Valley corporations. And other technology companies around the country are expected to follow suit, allocating more time, resources, and money to equip the nation’s schools.

Silicon Valley, named for the prevalence of companies near California’s Stanford University whose products rely on silicon-based chips, includes corporations with K-12 grant programs, such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple Computer. About 600 new companies crop up in the region each year, according to Philanthropy Journal.

The study shows that total giving in Silicon Valley by the 50 firms that track this portion of their giving rose from $29 million in 1994 to $49 million in 1997–a whopping 69 percent increase. Silicon Valley firms give 11 percent of their worldwide philanthropy–or about $5 million–to K-12 education. When it comes to local giving, Silicon Valley firms target a surprising 24 percent of their contributions to K-12 education.

That compares to the 4 percent companies nationwide give to elementary and secondary schools.

Schools far outpaced recipients in categories such as housing, environmentalism/recycling, and health care. K-12 education even pulled ahead of higher education, long thought to be the favorite beneficiary of technology company largesse.

Researchers from Stanford University surveyed Silicon Valley’s 100 largest companies to document the extent and nature of charitable involvement for the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley report, part of the broader “Giving Back, The Silicon Valley Way” initiative that also looked at individual giving and volunteerism in the area.

Lessons in K-12 technology giving

There’s good information in the Silicon Valley study that can help guide your fund raising strategy when approaching corporations for donations.

The study found that Silicon Valley companies are likely to favor partnerships with nonprofit organizations and other corporations, and use more in-kind and product gifts than other corporations.

When approaching a technology corporation about gifts, think about asking for product, volunteer, or other in-kind contributions. The companies responding to the survey reported that nearly half (41 percent) of their total giving was in non-cash form, such as computer and office equipment.

Another study, by the Taft Group, reinforces these findings. The group’s list of the top 10 corporate cash givers included only one technology company–venerable IBM–that gave a total of $38.3 million in 1996. But almost half of the top 10 non-cash givers were from the field of technology–including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Microsoft Corp.

Further, most of the firms reported having organized volunteer programs. The Silicon Valley study shows 71 percent in 1997 invested in volunteer time, up from 55 percent in 1994.

So take advantage of the trend by having company volunteers come in to your school to help out with wiring or teacher support and in-service training. You can later leverage the relationship to position your schools for a cash donation from the company.

Not giving enough?

The report contradicts critics of the technology industry, who’ve been saying it lags behind other corporate sectors in giving.

“They are a young industry,” said Bill Reinhard, editor of Corporate Philanthropy Reports. “Computer companies over the past few years have been criticized for not giving enough. But I’m not sure that it’s true that they’re not giving as much as other industries.”

In fact, although the data so far have been scarce, recent surveys like the Silicon Valley report suggest that technology companies are generous when it comes to product and in-kind contributions, and observers say it’s inevitable that corporate foundations in the technology sector will catch up with the nation’s long-time philanthropic heavyweights.

A 1996 study by the Conference Board found that the computer and office-equipment industry allocated 2.6 percent of its U.S. pretax income to giving, a portion that is “well ahead of what [other] industries are giving,” according to research associate Audris Tillman.

The other good news for schools looking for technology dollars is that computer companies are giving more than other kinds of corporations. According to the Silicon Valley study, the area’s firms not only give more of their pre-tax dollars to charitable causes but also more dollars per employee than non-technology companies do.

The Community Foundation of Silicon Valley

Survey results at CustomerCast

Aldus Corp.

Social Ventures Partners

Conference Board

Cisco Systems

Hewlett Packard

Apple Computer, Inc.