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Developing the corporate/community connection

Original post made by Jeff Blum, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 10, 2007

Palo Alto's boards and commissions and nonprofit community organizations (such as the Palo Alto YMCA) could use more involvement from corporate bigwigs.

Get a few more of these well-connected people serving on our boards and commissions or linking us to the corporate culture and we will be in Fat City instead of lean times. We need the creativity, ingenuity and -- to be blunt about it -- the connections of these high-powered corporate leaders to help us tap into corporate financial, public relations and human resources.

Imagine the success the next YMCA fundraising drive could have if some CEOs, CFOs or corporate presidents made a few quick calls to their pals. Consider the media tools Silicon Valley executives could provide to rally our citizenry around a pressing city issue.

The benefits to our city commissions and nonprofit boards of having more corporate involvement could be endless. And there is precedent: HP co-founder David Packard, one of the truly wealthy of his time, served for years on the Palo Alto school board. We have in Palo Alto a rich tradition of rich persons not only giving of their dollars but of their personal time and leadership abilities to community organizations, and found it deeply rewarding to themselves as well.

Perhaps I could locate corporate stars by joining the Chamber of Commerce and networking there. However, between work, my crazy exercise routine, family commitments and my admittedly minimal social life there really is not a lot of time left for me to devote.
So I've thought of another way for me to make the corporate bigwig connection: Write an open letter to one of our famous residents from the corporate world. I'll obscure his identity so as not to embarrass him.

My letter will be so persuasive he will promptly reply or forward my message to his well-connected corporate friends.

Let me know if you think this works:

Dear Mr. J.:

We do not know one another, although we have a small connection though the Palo Alto Children's Theatre.

Speaking of the Children's Theatre, which is a center for creativity, I admire the tremendous creativeness of your company's A Computer and P Films. I think of myself as a pretty creative guy, but given what you have done with those companies, I pale in comparison.
I am not trying to flatter you to extract something from you, although if it works, who am I to knock it?

I serve on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and the Palo Alto YMCA Board of Directors. I joke that I became involved with the Y Board because of the wonderful food they provide at their meetings. It harkens back to my college days. My impoverished classmates and I would go to Pathmark Supermarket late at night because they provided free coffee and donuts. Fond memories -- but I digress.

I write because I have a proposition for you: Would you like to serve on one of our boards or commissions or invite some of your corporate friends to do so? Michael Eisner, of whom you may not be very fond these days, would not qualify, since he does not reside in Palo Alto.
I imagine that you serve on many corporate boards.

However, like all of us creative people, you probably look for something new and different to get those brainwaves flying faster and more efficiently. By serving on one of our boards and commissions you and/or your corporate friends can develop those thinking-outside-the-box brainwaves even more by addressing problems you may not encounter working strictly in the corporate culture.

You can help us too, by offering different perspectives on how we can better meet the needs of a diverse population, which you have so ably done with your variety of beautifully designed and trendy products.
Our population may be broader than your target demographic, however. It includes the very wealthy, the homeless, immigrants, the disabled, and minorities. Perhaps you can offer creative insight to help us grow our city and broader community without sacrificing the passion and connectedness that makes our region such a special place.

I would love to chat with you some time over tea (I hate coffee). I will not suggest that we meet at Pathmark, however, since none of those supermarkets are around here, to my knowledge. And I don't know if Happy Donuts ever gives out free samples.

I will pay for the tea, if that helps.

Please feel free to invite your corporate friends to join us. I am a firm believer in that old adage the more the merrier.


Jeff Blum

P.S.: I bought my daughter one of your laptops when she went to college. She is very happy with it. Oh, and our family has several of those cool tiny music machines you make.

The above was published as a Guest Opinion in the May 9 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly.

Comments (6)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Could the same be said for getting some of the big corporations to donate to our schools? I am sure that both the Haymarket Theater and Gunn's theatre and swimming pool, or whatever, would be happy to use the corporations name when advertising the whereabouts of their sporting events or theatre productions. If the Giants and Sharks can do it, why can't our schools?

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2007 at 4:36 pm


Your letter is SO Palo Alto!

You want corporations to be our sugar daddies. They already provide the financial locomotive for this town (jobs + taxes + Stanford support).

Why is it that the citizens of this town cannot, on their own, provide for their own causes? Are we so infantile as to expect the Great Fathers (CEO's of corporations) to take care of us? Why do we rely on retail sales taxes to run this town? Answer: Because it seems like a free ride. Why not tax ourselves directly for our City services? Answer: Because it would not be free, and it would cause each of us some pain.

It is time, finally, for Palo Alto to grow up.

Like this comment
Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 10, 2007 at 11:31 pm

Jeff, You are not the first to suggest that Palo Alto's wealthy class step up to support city service development. It's not a bad idea.

In fact, it's such a good idea that most of Palo Alto's truly wealthy class has been hit up over and over and over again by one non-profit and city service cause after another, for years. In spite of the onslaught of continuous solicitation, Palo Alto's service programming has received generous donations from many, many wealthy and not-so-wealthy individuals. Palo Alto's wealthy have by-and-large come through for many different projects.

Palo Altans should be proud of it's record of obtaining private donations for public service and other projects.

Like this comment
Posted by curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2007 at 6:39 am


Are you one of the happy taxpayers who will vote for new parcel taxes, new bond measures, for the schools, the libraries, and the police building? (I am)

If so, I salute you!! Thanks!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2007 at 12:54 pm


Yes I am, generally, one of those. If I support a service, I vote for the tax measure(s) which support it. If I disagree with a proposed service, I vote against.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2007 at 1:32 pm

Hi Jeff and all,

I wrote a similar-type proposal to City Council about 4 years ago. You may remember the stories about “Auntie” Lucie Stern - how she'd put up her own money for various Palo Alto groups and causes.

I thought that some of the richer Palo Alto folks (not necessarily just corporations) wouldn’t mind donating to some of the groups that interest them, and that it would give them a say in some decisions and directions of those groups (and recognition for their generosity)

One council member responded back saying that, while it was a good idea, she would really prefer to ensure that the money they currently receive is being used properly. So, no action was taken on that.

But Jeff, if we could develop a program like this, I’d love to have a hand in it. It’s a good idea! In fact, we could have one person on the HRC that would be dedicated to the project.


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