On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Daniel Lurie stops by to talk about how it is possible to raise money from tech CEOs by appealing to their business sense. His nonprofit Tipping Point Community is very different from a traditional philanthropic organization or a foundation: It has no endowment and raises and spends all its money every year. Its current yearly inflow and outgo is $21.9 million; it provides cash assistance for 44 nonprofits in the Bay Area and connects organizations in need with tech businesses looking for a cause.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair is Daniel Lurie. I am thrilled to have him here. He’s the founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit that fights poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m a longtime admirer of Daniel’s work and over the past 12 years, Tipping Point has raised and invested more than a $120 million in the community. He’s also chaired the committee that brought Super Bowl 50 to San Francisco — I don’t really care about that — last year. Daniel, welcome to Recode Decode.
Daniel Lurie: Thank you for having me.
I’m thrilled to have you here. You’re one of the nicer people that I have to deal with every day. Tell me, let’s talk about what you’ve done. A lot of people know you, but not everybody does, so talk a little about your background. You grew up in San Francisco?
Born and raised right here in the city.
There’s only a few of us.
Well, my dad was a rabbi. My stepfather and my mom, my stepmother, I sort of won the lottery in the sense of, if you have to have your parents get divorced, when I was 2, they both found great partners. I’ve always said that I had four incredible parents. My stepfather was a part of the Levi Strauss family. He passed away 11 years ago and I grew up in a family that had a family foundation.
I grew up with a father and a stepmother that were also involved in the community. From an early age, I was pushed on that.
Giving back, and Levi’s obviously was the company founded here in San Francisco, makes the jeans, very socially active company.
Yeah, it’s definitely, we have a proud tradition and a proud heritage there and that’s something that I grew up around. It was sort of embedded in me and my siblings. I went off, I went to Duke University. The day after I graduated, I found myself in Bill Bradley’s campaign, headquarters, for president, in West Orange, New Jersey, and ended up in Iowa as a field organizer for nine months.
So you wanted to go into politics?
I wanted to go work for Bill Bradley instead of going into management consulting or the legal profession. He came and spoke at Duke when I was a student.
Were you at the Sanford Center?
I was, I couldn’t hack the public policy degree. I couldn’t handle the statistics. I ended up getting a poli-sci degree, but I heard him speak and what struck me was that he talked about 35 million people that were uninsured in this country at that time. He talked about the 12 million kids going to school hungry. You had this Rhodes Scholar, hall of fame basketball player, I was more interested in the basketball.
Amazing person, and he wanted to run for president to help poor people. For me, that clicked for me, from my childhood.
Why is that?
Well, because you grow up in San Francisco, we’ve always had great wealth in this city, and we’ve also always had great poverty, and then you have a president, or a presidential candidate, talking about these issues. So there was a little connection there for me. It didn’t work. It didn’t go the way we wanted it.
It was unusual, I was surprised he didn’t get as far.
He didn’t like to get into ...
Do the retail politics.
Well, he didn’t like to punch. He didn’t like to hit Al Gore when he needed to. He was too much of a gentleman.
He really was.
And still is. I ended up in New York City. I tried a couple of different jobs, including a consulting job that was not for me, but it led me to the Robin Hood Foundation and that’s where ...
Explain the Robin Hood Foundation.
Robin Hood was started by Paul Tudor Jones in the late ’80s.
Big, rich investment guy.
Yeah, who made a lot of money in the downturn in 1987. He wanted to invest his philanthropic dollars like he was his for-profit dollars.
They had some effect, he wanted impact.
He wanted a return. He wanted impact. If you want to talk about impact investing, Robin Hood was one of the early founders of that.
He wanted to bring people together to give back to issues that aren’t so sexy, that aren’t a library, that aren’t a university, that aren’t a hospital or a museum. He brought his friends along and they started to give back to issues that were really important to the city of New York. I ended up working there, my fourth day of work was September 11, 2001.
I was just figuring out the train system, the subway system and figuring out which train I should take that morning and I ended up a block away from the World Trade Center exit. And actually, had I taken another train, I would have ended up inside the World Trade Center. I got out and the first plane had just hit. I looked up. I saw people falling and I kept going to work. I was kind of in shock, as we all were, right?
Why I talk about that story is I got to be at Robin Hood the next two years helping to rebuild that city. Robin Hood was at the epicenter of it and we were helping to rebuild those people’s lives that were hardest hit by those attacks. And those were low income New Yorkers. It was an honor to work there, and then I started thinking ...
You learned at a place that was sort of pioneering, they really did pioneer impact investing using very high net worth individuals, throwing really fantastic events.
Getting them engaged through interest, I guess? Not in the typical charity way.
Listen, some people get interested because you go to a great party. Many others are interested because they care. Not everybody at Robin Hood who is a hedge fund guy grew up wealthy, or woman, grew up wealthy, and they have their own stories to tell. I think Paul has done an incredible job of galvanizing that community. I did learn and I also, most importantly, met my now wife at Robin Hood. She was working there at the time and we started dating there.
I moved back to San Francisco with the intention of starting Tipping Point. I went to grad school at Berkeley from 03 to 05.
In social work?
I went and got that public policy degree because I couldn’t get into business school. I took a lot of business school courses, but the whole intention was starting an organization similar or built on the model of Robin Hood.
Why did you call it Tipping Point?
I gave my friends an opportunity to think about or come up with the name of the organization. I said I’ll get someone a bottle of champagne if they come up with the name, and I kept going back to Malcolm Gladwell’s book.
Right, “The Tipping Point.”
That a few passionate people can make great change. It just kept sticking and coming back to me and so in grad school, I sort of went with it. I couldn’t call it just Tipping Point, not because of the book, but because there is some other California LLC that is called Tipping Point. Actually, interestingly enough, he didn’t coin the term.
It’s an old term, right?
It’s an old term, white flight from urban cities.
It’s funny, the only time ... well, I called into another radio show on Forum with Michael Krasny when Gladwell was on with him so I could introduce myself. I actually had the chance to have a cup of coffee with him in New York a year ago.
Malcolm is a funny guy.
He is a funny guy.
I knew him before he had his accent. And his hair.
The hair is amazing.
He was a crime reporter at the Washington Post when I was there, a kid, when I was a kid, we were both kids there.
I didn’t know that.
Yeah, he didn’t have the hair or the accent, but now I really enjoy the whole thing.
He’s figured it out.
That’s where the name came from. In grad school, I wrote the business plan, got introduced somehow to Ronnie Lott, who is a childhood hero of mine. I was actually getting my incorporation documents together. Latham and Watkins, a local law firm, was doing it pro bono and my lawyer talked to his lawyer and he heard what I was up to. He knew Stan Druckenmiller of Robin Hood’s board, and we ended up having lunch. I was actually in the middle of finals in grad school and I went to meet him for lunch downtown here in San Francisco. It took him about 15 minutes to get to the table because everyone wanted to take their picture with him. We sat down and I told him what we were doing and he goes, “I’m in.” He’s like, “I’ll help you get this started.” Now, I’m pretty sure he thought I was Bob Lurie’s son, who used to be the San Francisco Giants owner. He had his families confused, but he stuck with me. I had to go back and take finals.
Why was that important to have him? Explain who he is for those who are ...
Well, everybody knows who Joe Montana is.
Not me. I actually sat on a plane next to him for three hours, we had a delightful discussion.
But you know who he is now.
Well, after everyone yelled at me for not knowing who he was. I think he was relieved I didn’t know who he was.
I’m sure that’s true.
He was watching “Eat, Pray, Love” and I thought that was weird for such a big guy to be watching. I was like, “What’s wrong with you, watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’”? I was watching an action movie and I insulted him.
I never ... that’s funny.
I was like, “Hmm, that’s an unusual dude movie.”
He’s got a great wife, so maybe she keeps him grounded.
I don’t know, but nobody should watch “Eat, Pray, Love.” In any case, it was unusual for me to see that. You said Ronnie ...
Ronnie was named to the all-defensive team for the first 50 years of the NFL, I believe. Which means he’s one of the best players of all time. What I always say about Ronnie is he’s a better person than he was a football player. He’s always committed to the community. He was ... I think he won four Super Bowls.
Is he a San Franciscan?
He’s actually from Southern California but he lives now up here in the North Bay, or Northern California, and is just an incredible human being.
You thought it was important ...
He has a tough time saying no. His wife, Karen, is actually better than he is.
You wanted someone like that with you.
You need a little star power, and not only is he star power but he’s compassionate and cares about these issues. Then I found a hedge fund guy named Chris James. Chris was a committed Robin Hood supporter. I did not know him when I was at Robin Hood but people at Robin Hood told me I had to call on him because he was a twentysomething hedge fund guy giving a lot of money to a New York City-based organization and he was living here. He had just moved from New York to here. I sat down with him and his wife and they came on board. Then I asked a friend, Katie Schwab, who was working at Robin Hood at the time, if she would also come on the founding team. The four of us founded Tipping Point and we launched in June 2005, a couple of weeks after graduation.
What was the idea behind it? What was the concept?
The idea is that, I mean, I gave you the background in terms of growing up here, but I knew and we know and you know that we have incredible poverty here in the Bay Area. We have incredible needs that people, they can just get in the car and they can drive down the 101, they can go from here down to Silicon Valley and they can go to work at one of these great companies and not see it. I understand that, but what we need to do is we need to educate people. We need to get people engaged. What I’m really excited about with this younger generation is that people want to be engaged, but they don’t often know where to go.
And they feel that charities aren’t serving ... They’re complicated. Talk about the concept. It’s very similar to the Robin Hood Foundation. You’re trying to create impact and give to people and get returns that are quantifiable, I guess?
That’s right. It’s very different from a traditional philanthropic organization or a foundation: 100 percent impact, 100 percent. All of our overhead is covered by our board of directors and we have no endowment. Every year we start at zero. That first year we raised $450,000 and $450,000 went out. Last year, in our 11th full year, we raised $21.9 million. $21.9 million is our grant-making budget for the following year. We provide not only cash assistance for 44 nonprofits here in the Bay Area, currently, but we also connect them with the best of the business sector. The Salesforces, the Microsofts, the Apples, the Googles.
To give them business abilities to ... Which has always been, I think Kleiner Perkins tried to do that a couple of years ago, lots of people have tried this thing. Using Stanford Business School, I remember a hundred years ago writing a story about it.
Yeah, you know, there’s always been people talking about venture philanthropy and impact investing. This is really hard work that not many companies can do well. What they do well is run their core business. Sometimes a lot of businesses go off and try to do a foundation.
Have some sort of foundation.
Some do it well, a few, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
I think just one that I can think of, the Gates Foundation. The others seem kind of dizzy to me, at this point.
There are some massive foundations out there. We provide access for the 44 nonprofits, we provide access to the best in the business world, but we also provide metrics and accountability and we help them measure their results so that they can not only prove what they’re doing is working, but improve what they’re doing.
Right, so they know what’s happening. A lot of times money is thrown at things and you don’t know what the impact is whatsoever. You pick out certain charities, correct? You vet them, essentially.
By some counts, there’s 15,000 nonprofits in the Bay Area alone. We fund 44. We’ve seen thousands of them in our 11 1/2 years.
What is your criteria?
Strong leadership, clean financials, a willingness to measure and hold themselves accountable and a willingness to actually engage with a foundation like ours, or an organization like ours, that does not just write a check and walk away. We write a check and then we roll up our sleeves and we get in there with them and help them get stronger. The time for good intentions is over. We need tangible results. We are talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about 1.3 million people who are too poor to meet their basic needs ...
In the Bay Area?
In the home of all these amazing companies that you cover every day. It’s unacceptable, and that’s why Tipping Point exists.
You only have 44 out of ... I didn’t realize it was so few.
It’s, there’s not many. We’ve had more. We’ve cut 20 percent of the groups because they haven’t at times lived up to ...
And you still look for more?
We’ll look for more, that’s right. We feel pretty good where we’re at. We have one or two a year, at this rate, and it kind of depends on how much we raise, as well. If we raise more, we can fund ...
Do you focus on any one thing that they do?
We have four issue areas that we cover, because we believe that there is no silver bullet to solving poverty. If you put a gun to my head, I’d say education. Forty-four percent of our funding goes to our education portfolio, but we believe in diversifying and so we talk about, we have education, housing, employment, job training, and then health. In our health area, we are going to be focusing on the 0-5 range and school preparedness and school readiness.
Which is critical.
In education, we fund charter schools, we fund programs that go into traditional public schools, we fund after school programs. Housing, we fund organizations like Homeless Prenatal program and Compass and we fund Larkin Street which works with foster youth and First Place for Youth in Oakland. We’re all over the Bay Area. We fund in San Jose and East Bay. We’re actually split, essentially, a third, a third, a third. San Francisco, East Bay and South Bay, with a few groups in Marin.
Your concept is, again, effectiveness. Now, it’s interesting because those four pillars that you’re talking about are critical. They can’t really be apart from each other, right?
That’s right. If you have a child who is going to a failing school, they’re in trouble, but if they’re going to a really good school ... If they’re going to one of our schools, whether it’s Rocketship or Aspire or KIPP, you’ve taken care of 7:30-5:00, but if they’re going home and they’re sleeping in their car with their mom or their dad or both and if those parents don’t have a living-wage job or they don’t have access to health care, that child is going to struggle and not make it, to say nothing about the parents. We believe in, you’ve got to make sure they have safe housing, a living wage and access to great health care.
Sure, it’s critical. I don’t know if you know this but I went to Columbia and my senior project there — the journalism school, I went to Georgetown undergraduate but graduate school I went to Columbia — was about kids in welfare hotels in New York and how they became permanent residents in these hotels. The only reason I know this is there was a kid who had to travel from the 30s where the hotel was to the 90s where the school was. From the West Side to the East Side, so they were on the bus all day. This kid was suffering because he was homeless but homeless hotels had become permanent when they were supposed to be a transitional, quick-housing fix. Every single one of the kids in hotels suffered in schools and lots of reasons, food and health and housing, and it was inexplicable that they kept going. It was super expensive for the city to house them there at the same time, so the money was ill spent and I ended up living there with them to figure out their life. It was really fascinating, but you really did begin to see how each of the pieces ...
How long did you spend?
A couple of months. We had a photographer and it was really interesting because you began to see how easily it was fixed and how hard it was. Because there were so many parts to it.
I mean, you talk about expensive, but it’s more expensive to keep them housed then to have them living on the streets.
Of course, yes, yes, because at this time, they didn’t let families go on the streets, at this time, this was a long time ago. Now they do, obviously.
Right, well, I guess that can be for our next conversation. It’s intense. We have friends, I have a friend that I’m thinking of right now who has spoken in front of our crowd who was living in his car as a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old. He ended up going through one of our programs, Year Up, and worked at LinkedIn and now works at Berkeley. We need to do better by ...
By a lot of people. We’re going to talk about that more in the next segment. We’re talking to Daniel Lurie of the Tipping Point Foundation which has raised more than a $120 million for the community around the San Francisco Bay Area, the entire area, correct?
The entire region.
We will be back talking about some new things that they’re doing, some major issues, like homelessness and other things here in San Francisco, and then what the tech community should do, because I do think they sit down on the job a lot of times and the enormous wealth that they have to deploy and fix these problems.
I’m here with Daniel Lurie, who runs the Tipping Point Community, which is a philanthropy ... It’s more than a philanthropy. It’s become something rather major in the tech industry. You have a lot of tech fans.
We do, we do. Board members, leadership council members, donors.
Yeah, it’s the party they like to go to, in terms of ... You’ve gotten them to show up and do charity, which I find to be some of the most self-involved people around, but somehow, you’ve managed to pull them in. Can you talk about that? I find it fascinating, your events, because you tell stories, people’s real stories, and they’re heartbreaking. I’m always crying at one of your events. You create a great environment where people feel good about it. You do something totally bizarre where they put up their hands, “Who’s going to give a million dollars?” And like 10 people put up their hands, which is ...
I wish it was 10.
I know, but it has been in the past. It’s a really interesting event where you sort of push tech people, heavily. Talk about that, because I guess in any community, Robin Hood Foundation talks to investment people because they’re in New York. Here, you go where the money is and the money is in tech.
We live in an incredible moment in time and you cover it every day. Tipping Point sits right in the middle of this incredible tension between incredible wealth and incredible poverty. We have 600,000 people living below the federal poverty line and 1.3 million people too poor to meet their basic needs. We need people with means to stand up and to get involved. And, we need to tell the stories. We are always thinking about how to walk that tightrope, because we have to walk with humility. In telling a client’s story in a setting like that ...
Sure, they’re not like a marketing opportunity for you.
Yeah, it’s really, we have to be careful of how we do it, and I think we do it by how engaged and involved we are in the work. You talk to a lot of people in tech, I get to talk to people in tech that care. My father often says that my role is a little bit like a rabbi’s role. I get to see the best in everybody, even people that others don’t see such good things. And yet, there are a lot of people that are getting involved. You know them well. We have Marc Benioff, we have now Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
They really seem to get it. I could talk about a couple of Twitter founders who have been incredibly supportive. We have more people that care than I think most people realize. We have to do more, they need to do more.
Talk about the tech community, because they do get dinged for having these beautiful headquarters in the sky —Twitter, for example. Meanwhile, down below, it’s a little like that movie that nobody watched called “Elysium” where the rich people live above, the poor people live below and there was a lot of pushback on tech people. Vomiting on buses, stopping, that kind of thing. They don’t care, there’s all this fighting going on, the Mission. How do you look at that? I mean, obviously, you see it as an opportunity to get people involved, rather than a flashpoint, which it’s become. Why do you think that is?
It should always be a flashpoint if these businesses are not taking care of their community because it’s just, it’s good business to be a good community member.
But why don’t they? You think about Wells Fargo and Bank of America, back in the old days. They supported all of the civic institutions, the opera, the museums, poverty, and these do not.
Absolutely, we don’t have the 24/7 media and we didn’t have Recode back in the 1800s to monitor what those companies did in their first five and 10 and 15 years. What I’ve seen from ...
Well, I don’t care, they’re really rich. They really should do a better job with their piles of cash.
You can, I’m not an apologist.
See, I would be good at doing your thing. I’d say, “Give me the money now, idiot.” You don’t do that.
I’ve worked with people that do do that. I’ve teamed up with them and we’ve been successful.
I’d have a mallet, Daniel. I’d say, “Give me your money or I break your hands.” I’d go the Godfather route.
I like the velvet, the velvet casual.
You are, it’s so nice, but you do get the money the same way.
We do get the money.
I’d still get more. I feel I would get more by hitting them, but anyway.
$22 million in our 10th year in one year is pretty good.
I ran into Sheryl Sandberg the other day and she had given a million dollars to Planned Parenthood, I don’t know if you know that, just recently.
I do know that, yeah, I’ve been trying to get her for years.
She said to me, she said ... I will get her.
Let’s work on her together.
We’ll work on her together.
I’ll be velvet, you can be the hammer.
Sheryl, we’re coming for you. I have a hammer. Daniel is going to be nice. It could go either way, it doesn’t matter. She gave a million dollars and I heard her say it and I go, “$10 million, that’s pretty good.” She goes, “No, a million.” I go, “What? That’s cheap.” She’s like, “What? That’s a lot of money.” I go, “Ugh.”
Will you go on my fundraising days with me, we can make a good team.
“Ten isn’t even enough. Fifty is what you really should be giving, you rich person.” She was like, “Oh my God.” It was very funny. So I felt like I wouldn’t be good at the business that you do.
How about, let’s talk about Google for a second. Google, under someone named Rachel Whetstone, who I know you know.
Who’s now at Uber and not taking my calls, sadly.
She and Jacqueline Fuller of Google, I think, really changed how they view ... Now, a flashpoint, I think, had to occur for them to focus on local giving. Now they have a guy named Justin Steel running some of their Bay Area giving. They just announced $11 million in racial justice funding.
They did, right, which is critical.
This is what we need to do, this is what we need to see from companies like Google. We need to see it from Facebook. I believe it’s coming. If you look at the Facebook executive team, this is a remarkable group of people, right? In their individual lives, I think are very philanthropic and at the corporate level, they had a policy of just, they said no. I think that’s changing and I think they’re understanding now in a way that is really, that’s why I’m so optimistic, they need to be a part of the community.
Is that push by the bad press that they got around the buses and everything else, or ...?
I think in some cases, absolutely.
Or, a function of growing up?
I think it’s a little of both. Marc Benioff called me about two and half or three years ago and said we need to do something about these tech companies.
The hammer, he’s the hammer.
He called me and he thought Tipping Point would be an excellent vehicle in which to make his idea happen and the two of us then went out together and we got 20 companies in 60 days to commit. Now, you’re now going to say it’s not enough, $500,000.
It’s not enough.
We raised $10 million in 60 days from companies that everyone said ...
No way they would give. I think that’s the tip of the iceberg, but we got companies like Box and Dropbox and Okta.
The smaller ones, too.
We got some of the smaller ones giving. We got Popsugar. We got all along the line up to Apple and Google and Salesforce and Microsoft.
I have an idea, legislation that we pass that every time they get a venture capital investment, you’ve got to give some.
That’s funny that you say that. I don’t think the private money likes seeing their money go out the door to philanthropy.
Really? They’ve got a lot of sins to cover up, so why not. To be forgiven.
That has not been a winner in going to some of these private companies. Actually, when we did SF Gives and the private companies gave to Tipping Point, it was the CEOs that gave their own ...
The individual CEOs.
Aaron was amazing and Frederic Kerrest and Todd McKinnon of Okta, they gave of personal [wealth].
How are the venture capitalists? Are they ...
We go after the CEOs and the entrepreneurs.
You do, because why?
Because I think, actually, the VCs follow what their entrepreneurs do.
I have not seen VCs leading on this issue.
No, they’re sheeple. I don’t know if you know that, but I can instruct you on that situation.
Maybe in our meetings together, we’ll be able to ...
Just bring me along, I’ll stand in the back of the room and glare at them.
You’re not standing in the back, you’re going to sit right next to me.
No, I’m just going to glare, and that will be enough because they don’t know what’s coming, you see what I’m saying?
I like that.
Let’s get back to what tech owes, because I do think they abrogate their responsibility rather heavily and that they benefit from the city, they’re young people, they live in the city, they take advantage of the things. They’re messing up the housing prices, etc., etc. How do you create a sense of civic responsibility around companies, even if they’re young? Saying they’re young is really no excuse.
It has to come from the top, because it’s going to come from the bottom. It’s going to come from their junior-level employees and so I think it’s so incredibly important to build it into the culture from Day One, which is what we saw Salesforce do or what ... I was just at Okta this morning at their all-hands meeting, and they have built it in from pre-IPO. They put aside shares, they’ve mandated that employees volunteer. I think you have ... First, you have to educate, because not everybody ... For me, I grew up in a family that pushed it and I was very fortunate in every regard, but philanthropy is something that is learned. It’s not innate.
First, there is that responsibility. Second, if a CEO doesn’t get it, and you and I both know the CEOs that don’t get it, you have to explain to them why it’s good business. Their employees want to work at a company that they feel proud about working for. Retention is important to all of these companies. If you lose a talented individual to another company for whatever reason, it’s expensive to replace that person and to train that person up, so you want morale to be high. You want people to feel good about the job and the company that they’re working at. I think these companies are starting to hear that. Whether it’s coming from people with a hammer telling them or whether it’s coming from others.
Do you think it should be mandated? Civic involvement?
No, I don’t think that works.
It gets people down in the trenches, so that they understand the problem, that’s why. They have it at my kid’s school. I think it’s critical.
I had it in high school. I had to go volunteer. I’m all for that. I think that’s the other way to do it, you go through the kids, right? Or you go through ... and we’re talking about companies that the founders or the CEO’s don’t get it, right? If you’re going to mandate it, you don’t want people begrudgingly there. You want to incense people to be part of the community. Frankly, there are enough people that care and want to be involved, but they don’t always know how to do it, and so let’s get all those people involved first. I’ve given up on some people because 11 or 12 years and nothing and guess what? There’s not enough time in the day for our incredible staff to go out and get to people that do want to be involved, let alone trying to go after people that are ...
That don’t care.
That don’t care.
They’re going to go to hell. When we get back with Daniel Lurie, who is from the Tipping Point Community, we’re going to be talking about some new things that they’re doing, that they’re going to announce here.
We’re here with Daniel Lurie, the founder and CEO of the Tipping Point community, a nonprofit that fights poverty throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the past 12 years, Tipping Point has raised and invested more than a $120 million dollars in the community. What are you doing now? You’re doing something special now, you’re going after one of the biggest, intractable problems in San Francisco, homelessness.
That’s right. To date, we’ve funded just direct services organizations, the 44 groups that I mentioned and spoke about earlier. We’ve never jumped into the policy arena.
Right, you just fix things, you’re not ...
Well, we try to support people that are on the front lines, doing the work. What we’ve realized is, we can’t direct service our way out of the issues of poverty and that we need to leverage city dollars, state dollars and federal dollars.
And you need to influence policy: Are we doing the right things?
That’s right, and so we’ve hired a team inside Tipping Point, it’s a four-person team that is going to go after the chronic homeless population by some counts, and these are, there is no good count where ... You send out 700 volunteers to count the homeless, which we did just about a month ago here in the city, it’s not the best way to count people, but it’s the only way we have, the only count we have. We think there is somewhere between 1,700 and 2,000 chronically homeless people. The definition of that is someone that’s been sleeping out on the street for more than a year and has a disabling condition.
Right, mental illness or something.
Mental illness, drug addiction, mental health issues. We have other people going after veteran’s homelessness, we have other people going after family homelessness. Chronic homelessness is not sexy.
Which is where all the costs come from, correct?
Chronic homelessness. It’s interesting, I was just up in, where was I, I can’t remember, Chicago, and I went to the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and how these women went door to door and counted who was in each of these hovels, essentially, and really did an amazing map of poverty in the Chicago area, which is the first step to solving it.
We’re actually talking to a couple of the local universities about doing something similar.
It was fascinating. These are hand-drawn maps that are absolutely accurate, which was really interesting. Again, they were able to identify the problems before they could fix the problems, which, I think that’s one of the big issues. Who are they? What are they costing?
You have to get proximate, at Brian Stevenson says. You have to get proximate to this problem and this issue. We, as citizens ...
And have data.
And have data. And what better place to team up with great companies that can help us get that data than right here. If any region could tackle and solve this problem, it’s the San Francisco area.
What are you doing with this? You’ve done a poll or survey.
No poll, well, the city did it. We realize that this is the issue of our time. This is the signal of income inequality that everyone sees every day — which makes everybody an expert, by the way. You walk down the street, up to your office today, and you see someone lying on the sidewalk, and that isn’t compassionate. We’re not taking care of our fellow man or woman. People living on the streets deserve better.
We have kind of a three-point plan that we’re going to go after. I think what makes what we’re going to do unique and different from all the other efforts from over the last 35 years is that we’re going to team up with government and not just let government do it all by themselves. There’s some incredibly hard-working people in government. We want to help build new housing units and help mine existing units that are already out there that are being underutilized. You might say there’s no way there’s underutilized housing units in this city. There are.
And actually there’s Section 8 vouchers that are going unused here in San Francisco. We’re going to change that. We’re going to do this in partnership with the city. We’re also going to help optimize and support the city and optimize the public sector, which means that we’re going to actually help the department of housing and Jeff Kositsky hire a couple of people to get better data, to talk across departments.
They probably don’t even know where they’re wasting their money, would be my guess. Like, they don’t have a real good sense of where the most high-cost individuals are, for example.
We don’t know the names of the people that are living on the street. We need, to your point, we need to know the names of everybody first.
I’m guessing, I would have to guess, I’ve heard this before in other cities, because ... When they’re really trying to use data. A certain small segment tends to overwhelm the system. I was talking to Megan Smith; they were doing that in cities, and certain small groups of people tend to overwhelm the costs. And if you fix two or three small things, like in Miami and other places, you can fix the problem much quicker.
That’s why we’re going after the chronic homeless.
If you talk about how many homeless there are on a given night, you can say anything from 8,000 to 10,000. That’s why we’re focusing on the 1,700, because one of those individuals can cost the city upwards of $100,000 a year. We have it pegged at around $80,000 a year.
Which is enormous.
If you house them, it only costs $20,000 a year. You made my point perfectly.
What is the amount San Francisco spends on the homeless?
The San Francisco Chronicle will use the number $242 million a year. That is not a number that we believe is accurate. We believe that they’re spending that much on actually preventing people from falling into homelessness. That’s where a lot of that money is being spent. We think the number is somewhere between $500 million and $600 million a year.
The city knows it’s incredible, they know they have a major issue. That’s why Mayor Lee said it’s his No. 1 issue. They’ve developed a new department of housing. We have Trent Rhorer of the Human Services agency and Barbara Garcia with the Department of Public Health. Trent’s shop is about $1 billion a year; Barbara’s, we believe, is $2 billion a year. We sat down with all three of those leaders of those departments this week. They’re all committed to working with us on this. The mayor has committed.
What does that mean?
It means that we’re going to work in ... We’re not going to be in the system, we’re going to be outside pushing them, but it means that we’re going to fund staffing positions inside the Department of Public Homelessness.
Wow, so you’re going to pay for government positions, or people that are going to help them.
People that are going to help them be more strategic and more effective.
What do you get for that? What is your goal?
We get moving people off the streets. We get people living with dignity instead of living on the sidewalks or individuals living in ...
I think the most difficult thing in San Francisco is how mentally ill so many of them obviously are. Then you create a compassion vacuum among people because when you walk down the street and get screamed at and even though it’s mentally ill, you start to develop a real shell that you don’t want to. It’s really hard.
That’s right, and I think as we say in the office, it’s a test of our compassion and our humanity and what I and we believe is breaking down in this city. You cannot explain, I walk my daughter to school in the Mission district each day, and we literally have to step around people and she’s like, “Why is he sleeping on the street?” I say, “He doesn’t have a place to go,” and then you kind of want to move on. You don’t want to talk to your 5-year-old about it. Or, you try to ...
Or engage with these people.
Or you try to take your kid, I’m sure you’ve seen this with your children, you try to take them and you see people openly shooting up on the street. This is not okay. It’s not okay for them, it’s not okay for our kids, and we need to do better. What do we get out of it? We get a better city for those people that are homeless and we get a better city for all of us.
One of the tactics of some cities is just to remove them and ship them elsewhere.
San Francisco has not done, has not had that.
Well, we actually, we do have a Homeward Bound program that Gavin started that we’re going to actually work with, but it’s sort of a family-finding notion that ...
Yeah, but I’m talking about, some people just round them up and move them to Nevada or wherever.
No, you can’t do that. We are a compassionate city. You and I both believe in San Francisco values, but what we are seeing on our streets are not San Francisco values.
Has that changed? Because there’s been several instances of tech people writing idiotic pieces. I see where they come from, as douche bro as they are, it’s usually a guy, it’s never a woman. They’re really fascinating in their almost complete lack of humanity.
Yeah, there’s no empathy.
You have that image of tech people like that.
Yeah, and then for every other one of those tech people, I’ll show you a David Marcus.
PayPal, used to be at PayPal, now at Facebook.
I’ll show you an Aaron ... I’ll show you people that do care.
But back to your earlier point about what we get out of it, it’s we get a better city. We’re going to try to help finish off funding on 34 respite beds for really mentally ill people so that they don’t have to be sent to SF General.
Which costs even more.
Which costs even more. SF General gets overwhelmed, they’re at max capacity, they have to do a 72-hour hold.
You get worse care.
Well, SF General does great care, but this is not something that you can take care of in a maxed-out hospital. Thirty-four respite beds, we’re going to help finish that funding for the Department of Public Health. They put in a few million dollars, we’ll put in half.
You get special funding for this, right? A $5 million ...
We got an anonymous grant to launch this with $5 million. By the end of March, we hope to have raised a lot more than that to tackle this problem. It’s a separate fund. We’re going to still continue our core work of funding the four groups because what comes out of that work is the ability to dive deeply into an issue like chronic homelessness.
Which seems to be the key issue in San Francisco at this point.
We think so.
What other things do you think are important that the community here, because it is, all these headquarters are moving back to San Francisco. Some of them are moving to Oakland, Uber will continue to have a location here. Salesforce tower, the LinkedIn tower, I don’t know which one is sinking, but when you have that, when you have these tech companies headquartering here, in the city versus the suburbs, and you guys work all over the Bay Area ...
Yes, the whole region.
How do you conceive of a city going forward? How should a city live with all of these incredibly wealthy people and very poor people at the same time? Are those just impossible?
I’m the eternal optimist, and I think you are too. I think we have to keep pushing people. I think the one thing that I would say is whether it’s Uber moving to Oakland, I think all of these issues are no longer just a city issue, I think it’s a regional issue. I think we need to start working more closely with Mayor Schaaf and Mayor Liccardo. When Tipping Point first started, people would say we’ll just focus on San Francisco. You can’t just focus. The homeless problem is not just a San Francisco problem.
I drove to Oakland yesterday and I saw 100 people living in a tent encampment underneath one of the Oakland freeways. We need to work better as a region and actually, I think that’s where these companies can play a role. They have to move their employees back and forth. They understand the importance of transportation. For somebody that’s poor, working here in San Francisco, a lot of them have to commute an hour and a half, two hours, one way. They’re spending $20-$25 to get here. Public transportation is actually quite expensive for many people. We have to figure out how to get people in here more cost effectively.
With the housing prices going up.
Then, we need to build more housing at every income level. We have to build more housing here in San Francisco. We will never build enough housing to house everybody here.
Because it’s a peninsula.
But there’s some neighborhoods in the peninsula that have more NIMBYs, not-in-my-backyard folks, than we do here in San Francisco, and that’s saying something.
Really? There’s a lot of NIMBYs here. I’m a YIMBY, are you a YIMBY?
I’m a YIMBY, absolutely.
Why the resistance? Let’s explain that. It’s yes in my backyard, not in my backyard, and essentially, the NIMBYs don’t want more development.
I think you’ve got ...
We don’t have dense development.
It’s Jeremy Stoppelman, one of the YIMBYs, I’ve seen him at Yelp. I like his posts. I think if we’re going to house more homeless people in San Francisco, which we should, every district should have housing put up.
Absolutely, every district. They never work across districts.
Forget, you know, you’ve got, I think it’s Malia and Jane Kim feeling that everything goes up in SOMA or in Potrero, but every person in this person in this city should commit to helping some on this issue.
Absolutely. One of the issue arguments that I’ve had with others when I get into arguments with them is that development, the developers win, they’re only going to make rich-kid housing. I go, “You know what, rich people always win.” Let’s make them build, let’s mandate housing, make a dense housing situation here.
We have to go up. We have to go up.
In the end, the rich people will take over everything and develop it themselves and then it will be gone. Then it’ll be finished. Going up and having dense housing. Every city in the world has dense housing. Every single city except ours.
If we want to be the great city that we think we are, and right now, I’ve always loved this city, but there is a lot of problems that we have to hold a mirror up and look at ourselves.
Also every neighborhood, you’re right. It’s got to be every neighborhood.
If you think that by not building housing in your neighborhood it’s going to somehow help you, I would just tell you, how are you feeling when you’re walking down many streets in this city. You’re not feeling good about how we’re treating our common man. Stop saying no and start saying yes and saying I’m going to be a part of the solution.
Is that a problem? The political stalemates that happen here in San Francisco?
It’s a problem in every ... I mean, it’s a problem in this country.
They seem noisier than ever here.
You know, I grew up, I worked for a supervisor when I was in high school. My high school mandated that you go do community service and I went and worked for a supervisor, Barbara Kauffman, at the time, she’s still around, she’s awesome. It was pretty noisy back then. During Gavin’s time, you talk to Gavin. I mean, he and Erin and Chris Daly.
Yeah, nothing like left-wing people yelling at lefter-wing people. I always enjoy it.
I actually think it’s a relatively quiet time.
I almost thought about becoming a right-wing Republican here just to be different, except I’m not, unfortunately.
You’ll come into these meetings with me and yell at people. That will be different.
We could start there.
Yes, that’s true. I’m more of a, I’m more of a populist, Daniel. You’re a lovely guy. I’m a little different in that regard. That begs that question, are you going to run for office? Do you ever see yourself running for politics? People talk about it.
People do talk about it and my answer is I, honestly, I’m upset about walking down the street and figuring out what we’re going to do next week at Tipping Point.
You’re almost too nice for politics, Daniel. I’ll be honest with you. It’s just a compliment.
The question is, when are you going to run?
Soon enough, when I’m tired of it. I told you, I’ll be the Trump of San Francisco, except not awful.
But similar things. There is an interesting ... I do not want to compliment Donald Trump, but there is a certain thing that he is expressing about people and politics and the feeling that politics has gotten away from citizens. Not that he’s one that deserves getting towards.
He tapped into something that’s there, on both sides. Bernie did, too.
It’s a very genuine feeling, that feeling that you’ve been played and played and you pay and you pay and you work hard and you don’t get, everybody, at every level, not just poor people, rich people, middle class people all feel. I don’t think the poor people are doing rather well, but still, it’s the feeling that you don’t have control of your government, which is interesting. All right, so when is this going to happen, when is this going to start happening, this new thing?
We’ve actually already made a couple of small investments, but we’re going to launch this week, the week of March 27th.
Great, congratulations, and after this, you’re just going to keep fixing our city for us?
My team, our board, our leadership council, we have a lot of work to do. We need more supporters and I need you to come to some of these meetings.
I shall come to whatever you want. Two things, what could a regular person do? Someone who has some means, makes a good living here in San Francisco, in tech, what could they do? What’s the first thing they should do?
I think you should advocate for your company to volunteer hours.
Hours or monetary?
Hours that you can go and get paid, whether it’s 20 hours, whether it’s 40 hours a year, where you can go out and volunteer in the community. Join a board, a grassroots organization. Use your time, your talent, your treasure. Give $50, give $100. Go volunteer and find out if and what gets you fired up. Is it kids? Is it the housing issue? Is it getting kids ready for jobs at these tech companies?
SF Gives is doing a job shadow week in a couple of weeks where 10 companies from our SF Gives portfolio are going to host students and kids from some of our programs so they can see what it’s like to work in a tech company. You know this better than I do, there are millions of jobs that are unfilled at these tech companies and they need talented people. We need help to help scale up some of these programs like Genesis Works and You’re Up that can help place some of these people in these jobs. Don’t think because you’re a 25-year-old or a 30-year-old that you can’t give back. You can.
Yeah, bring your kombucha with you but get doing something, right? Your homemade kombucha.
Absolutely, bring your Philz coffee.
I don’t care what you bring. Last question that I ask everybody, what’s a thing, a mistake that you made that you learned from? You’re an entrepreneur, you are an entrepreneurial personality. What’s something you would give in advice to someone?
Be transparent. I’m pretty open with my team. We’ve grown up to about 40-plus people in our office and I think some people think that you as the leader and the CO always have to have the answer, and I don’t.
You don’t? I do.
You have all the answers.
I’m good at pretending I do.
I’m honest with my team.
You’re honest with your team, so be honest.
What’s your answer to that question?
To that? What’s the mistake I made? When I didn’t do something that I wanted to do. When I edited myself. Editing yourself is always a mistake. I think people do that, they question good instincts.
You’ve started a couple of things, how about ...
How do you deal with your team in terms of leadership when you’re not sure.
I’m pretty transparent. We’re leaders, though. We say this is the way we’re going. I like feedback but at some point, you make a decision. I’m not a ... Given that I’m a lesbian, I don’t like lesbian collectives, you know what I mean? Not everybody gets to decide. We make decisions and I think that helps a lot of people. They may not like it but we listen and then we do what we think is important. I think leadership is always important, like Gavin Newsom around the gay marriage issue. That was leadership.
It wasn’t good for him. I mean, it wasn’t good for him politically, but he displayed, it’s called leadership.
My wife was working for him at the time.
Was she? It was a great moment and I always will value Gavin. I almost named a child after him but then I pulled back, intelligently, not to do so. Sorry, Gavin. It’s a very nice name, but not for my children.
Gavin’s got enough children.
He does, doesn’t he have like 53 now?
Yeah, he and Jen.
Yeah, his poor long-suffering wife, I know.
Oddly enough, my brother, I think, has been the anesthesiologist on all of them. I know, small world. Anyway, thank you, Daniel Lurie with the Tipping Point Community. It’s a nonprofit that fights poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area and has done more than your fair share of helping fix the city. We didn’t talk about the Super Bowl, but I don’t actually care about the Super Bowl, so that’s fine.
That’s okay, I’m good with not talking about it anymore. That was a year ago.
Go team. Thank you, Daniel, for being here.
Thank you for having me.
Thanks for coming by.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.