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Tech Companies and Their Employees Develop a Philanthropic Bent

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, October 1, 2000; Page L01

They spare no expense when it comes to toys, caffeine and even cruises for key employees. But most technology entrepreneurs are not quite so generous to the people who live outside their cubicle-oriented world.

The high-tech industry's relationship with the less fortunate has been a point of contention at least since the mid-1980s, when wealth began to flow to the geeks who devised new ways to use computers. Back then, the philanthropic-minded charged that techies would rather buy elaborate toys and pour their time and money into new ventures than to share it with the needy. Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, America's wealthiest man, took public relations hits for years before he started a nonprofit foundation with his wife, Melinda, and began handing out billions of dollars to schools and health organizations.

Today, critics still rail against tech workers' tight-fisted control of their wallets and their free time. A signature example is Paulina Borsook's recent book "Cyberselfish," in which she hammers the techno-elite for its aversion to volunteerism.

That's why efforts by start-up companies to make charity a part of their corporate ethic are attracting the attention of like-minded employees and the philanthropic community.

Take Sandi Wolchansky, who in May signed on with Admine.com, a Herndon firm that allows client companies to license and personalize recycled advertisements. Wolchansky recently finished business school at the University of Washington, where she participated in the local chapter of Net Impact (www.net-impact.org), a student group that promotes socially responsible business practices. One of the biggest selling points for her new employer, recalls Wolchansky, was the firm's charitable team.

"It was one of the things that really jazzed me up about Admine," says Wolchansky, who handles long-term strategy for the company. "I've never worked at a place where, even if we're not a full-blown company yet, we're willing to take time out of our day and weekends to commit."

Wolchansky refers to projects like one she organized last month, when nine of the company's 35 employees met in Northeast Washington on a Saturday morning to sort donated food, canned goods and other items at the Capital Area Food Bank.

Associate Creative Director Michael Kristof, who joined Admine in April, says the event was a welcome reminder of life outside the start-up, which sometimes feels all-encompassing.

"It's too easy to get into the fishbowl mentality," says Kristof, who also persuaded his bosses to allow him and three co-workers to take a paid day off last Thursday for a charity golf outing.

Admine, which still is testing its Web site, is somewhat unusual for having a formal volunteer team, says John Putzier, a consultant who advises technology firms.

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