Giving Back While Giving Thanks

Impact. At the end of the day, as individuals and as employers, most of us want to make a positive impact in our communities and for needy families. In Silicon Valley, we see this every day through employers large and small, whether high-tech, low-tech or no-tech. It is in our DNA.

Whether it is KLA’s leadership with Mayor Liccardo for the Coding 5-K Challenge, which in just 18 months has helped 7,500 San Jose public school students complete “Coding Academies,” or the amazing work employees throughout the Valley have accomplished with Reading Partners, ensuring that more than 1,000 underserved K-5 grade students receive one-on-one tutoring to read at grade level, employers and our hard-working employees carve out time and treasure to give to others.

At the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, where I have the pleasure to work, we focus on three principles to serve our communities, serve others, and guide our work to enhance our impact: First, we set ambitious — even audacious — stretch goals; second, we work to build bridges, to bring people and communities together, rather than burn bridges down; and third, we never forget those less fortunate than we are, knowing as we lift up others, we can lift up entire communities.

When I think about those principles, I’m reminded of an epiphany I had on Thanksgiving morning, 2004. My wife Leslee and I awoke to the radio to hear a journalist say that there are “20,000 people downtown, running and walking to help feed the hungry.”

But here’s the kicker. He wasn’t talking about wealthy Silicon Valley. Rather, he was talking about the much smaller and less affluent community of Sacramento, and their “Race to Feed the Hungry.” My wife and I turned to each other and said, “Someone ought to do that here.” We decided then and there that perhaps that “someone” was us.

As marathoners and Ironman triathletes, we had been “talkers and takers,” depending on others to volunteer and organize the races we enjoyed. It was time to switch from being “talkers and takers,” to being “doers and donors,” by organizing our own community/charity race through our Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation. Applied Materials stepped forward as our multiyear Title Sponsor, and we were off to the races.

That first year, in 2005, our ambitious goal was 1,000 paid participants, with a strong sponsorship model, to donate at least $100,000 to nonprofits serving families in need. After a bit of pre-race anxiety — 10 days before, we had lined up 300 volunteers, but had signed up only 100 runners. Fortunately, we ended up with 1,900 paid participants running on Thanksgiving morning and donated $132,000 to three great local charities who assist families in need. Impact.

Much has changed since that first “Turkey Trot” in 2005. With a goal to build community and help families in need — “Reaching Down to Lift Others Up” — our little Turkey Trot has become the largest timed Thanksgiving Day run in the world for the past six years in a row. But we don’t care about being the biggest. We want to be the most generous and compassionate. In the first 14 years of our Turkey Trot, we have been able to donate nearly $9 million to serve needy families. Impact.

This year, our goal is called “Mission One Million” — If we achieve 25,000 paid participants and can grow a stronger list of Branded Sponsors, we can donate $1 million this year to help Second Harvest Food Bank provide nearly one million meals in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, to assist Housing Trust Silicon Valley provide permanent, sustainable homes to 300 homeless citizens, and to work with the Health Trust and the Healthier Kids Foundation to serve children and adults with the medical assistance they need to survive and thrive.

More than 70 years ago, our Silicon Valley Leadership Group Founder — David Packard of Hewlett Packard — once stated as a young CEO that “Our role as CEOs is as much to our employees, our customers and the communities in which we are located, as it is to our shareholders.” Giving back as we are giving thanks.

His comments were radical then, and to some are still radical today. Here’s truth: We must build strong businesses with healthy corporate cultures. While doing so, we must also give back to the communities in which our companies are located and our employees live. Whether through time, treasure or talent, we all have a responsibility to move our communities forward.

On Thanksgiving morning, and throughout this holiday season, Silicon Valley employers, employees and families have an opportunity to give thanks for our own blessings, while making sure that we are also reaching out to be a blessing to others. Impact.

It’s not too late to join the fun.

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– Carl Guardino, President and CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group | November 25, 2019

Editor’s Note: This is the last part of a three-part series on the guiding principals that drive our work at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Read the first one here and the second one here.