Better angels: 7 tech tycoons who gave very, very generously

Not all of tech's nouveau riches are selfish bozos -- some have donated hundreds of millions to research in medical science, hospitals, and universities

Over the years, I've been pretty hard on the bozos and boy billionaires of tech, and I don't regret nary a snarky word. But the other day I was driving past a hospital under construction in San Francisco's Mission Bay, and after checking it out, I realized it is going to be the new home of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, funded by a $100 million donation by founder and CEO Marc Benioff. That made me reflect.

At a time when San Francisco feels besieged by an influx of privileged tech workers who are driving up rents, clogging the streets with chartered buses, and doing little to be part of the community they live in, it's worth remembering that some people in the technology industry, both here in the Bay Area and in the rest of the country, are doing more than paying lip service to the phrase "giving back."

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Benioff is certainly one. So, as I and many others have written, is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Giving away money doesn't necessarily make someone a good person, and it's not like these folks can't afford to do it. But a good deed is a good deed, and these techies deserve recognition for what they've done. I'm focusing on the really rich in this post, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the good works of many ordinary techies as well. I hope to write about some of them in 2014.

The hoodie-wearing, privacy-snatching, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (and his wife, Priscilla Chan) aren't known for their good works. But as a couple they were the second-most-generous philanthropists in the United States in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. (2013's list is not complete.)

The pair donated 18 million shares of Facebook stock, valued at about $498.8 million, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to support education and health programs in 2012. In 2010, Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to establish Startup: Education, a foundation to support programs working to improve public schools in Newark, N.J.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, biotech analyst Anne Wojcicki, gave away $222.9 million last year, much of it to their Brin Wojcicki Foundation. Last year, the foundation awarded grants to Ashoka, which brings together social entrepreneurs to work on education, environment, women's issues, and many other causes; the Human Rights Foundation; and Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate poverty in Northern California. In addition, the couple gave $32.8 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is best known for his take-no-prisoner style of M&A, his ostentatious Japanese-style homes, and his multimillion-dollar racing yachts. But he's quietly become a major philanthropist, showing up as No. 29 on the Chronicle of Philantropy's 2012 list of the largest donors in the county. Last year, he gave slightly more than $45.6 million to his Ellison Medical Foundation to support biomedical research.

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