After earning millions with Quark, Tim Gill founded a powerhouse of gay and lesbian advocacy
Tim Gill, the founder of Quark, exited the software company in 2000 with several hundred million dollars. That allowed him to endow Denver's Gill Foundation, a powerhouse of gay and lesbian advocacy. He spoke to Staff Writer Amy S. Choi about passion, snowboarding, and why politics is too expensive.
Q: When did you know it was time to leave Quark?
A: Quark had gotten big enough, with more than 300 employees and operations in seven countries. I was spending all my time doing management-related things, and while I'm an O.K. manager, I'm not a great one. And I don't enjoy it. So I decided it was time to stop the moneymaking phase of my life and start the giving-away-money phase of my life.
Q: Why did you start the Gill Action Fund, your political group?
A: The Action Fund is less than a quarter of the size of the foundation. Generally, I like to minimize my political involvement because it costs more—you're not working with pretax dollars. But sometimes you can't achieve your goals unless political action is taken first. In Colorado we needed a political solution to the legal problem of providing insurance to gay and lesbian partners.
Q: How does your life as an entrepreneur shape how you run your foundation?
A: I am very results-oriented. My ultimate goal is to make life better for gay and lesbian people, but I want people to focus on short-term goals that we can accomplish. We continuously evaluate each of our grantees to see how they are moving forward toward our ultimate goal. We don't want to fall into the trap of giving again and again just because we have in the past.
Q: How did you know this was the cause you would devote your life to?
A: Colorado passed an amendment to the state constitution that basically stripped gay and lesbian people of all protections against discrimination. It was a life-changing moment. And you can't take money with you. So if you care about where it goes and would like to give intelligently, the only way to do that is to give it away while you're still alive.
Q: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
A: Follow your passion. The number of people who are going to fund gay and lesbian issues who aren't gay is pretty small, so I had to take a leadership role. It's your passion for something that's going to make you great and drive your decisions. And you have to remember that every one of these philanthropic organizations is a sales organization. You need to determine with rigor what the best use is for your money, as you would in your business.
Q: What are your other great passions?
A: Snowboarding! I've been snowboarding for 15 years. And I have given several grants to snowboarding-related groups. We've given grants to a snowboarding group in Vail that does philanthropic work and some small grants to pro snowboarders so they can compete. Of course, it's not a big part of our work.
Q: Are there any great philanthropists that you admire?
A: No. It's not that there aren't people doing wonderful things, but that's not how I think. The person that made a $200 million difference in my giving was a guy I met at a conference. He said to me: "As I get older, I'm more afraid of giving away money." And I thought, "Oh, God, I don't want that to happen to me." So I created the endowment at the foundation.