Donor Desk: Mark Slee

Tell us about yourself:

I’ve been living in the Bay Area for a little over 15 years, since heading West from the Chicago suburbs to attend Stanford University back in 2001. In 2006, I began working for Facebook as a software engineer and promptly moved to San Francisco.

Having been passionate about electronic music since my early teens, I quickly immersed myself in San Francisco’s dance music community, a vibrant scene with a cast of creative characters. Being a part of this world offered me a set of alternative experiences and a counterpoint to the stereotypical Silicon Valley experience. It fed my insatiable musical appetite and allowed me to build a set of meaningful new relationships outside of work. It simultaneously made me grateful for the great relationships and camaraderie that I had in my professional environment, while making me appreciate that work alone does not check these boxes for everyone.

Soon, my friends and I began organizing events of our own. As we sought out venues, we always dreamed of what we might be able to do and create with a space of our own. Fast-forward a number of years, and I found not only that such a dream may be within my grasp, but also that I was in a position to engage philanthropically.

In 2012, I opened a donor advised fund with The San Francisco Foundation. At a high level, the majority of my giving is based on the philosophy of effective altruism, heavily guided by the research of GiveWell. But I also feel that our local culture and creative community are particularly important and difficult to assess or quantify.

In addition to supporting local arts organizations, in 2013, I founded Heron Arts, an independent art space in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. Heron Arts is a combination of a contemporary gallery and a community art space. The goal is to bring people together around creativity and shared experience in an environment in which people can explore and express themselves. Beyond our own curated arts programming, we have enjoyed collaborations with some fantastic local groups, such as concerts by the One Found Sound chamber orchestra, pop-up art shows from Open Color, and graduate exhibitions with the CCA Furniture Design program. The focus has broadened well beyond dance music, but it’s that same spirit that I connect back to whenever I see a room full of people and energy at any one of these events.

Tell us about an organization that you are passionate about supporting:

Outside of global aid and the arts, one of the local organizations that I am most passionate about supporting is the Vision Academy, which began as a youth chess club in 2011 and has since grown into a full community after-school program. The program’s founder, Kian Alavi, shows an unwavering and compassionate commitment to activating the potential of our city’s youth, particularly those growing up in low-income environments. Beyond tutoring and mentoring with a focus on character and values, I believe the personal relationships that Kian and the amazing staff build with the children offers invaluable support.

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