Since then, the foundation's assets have fallen with the rest of the technology market, and the foundation is worth about $5 million now. Lawrence said the sudden depreciation hasn't lessened the couple's ambition to aid educational, health and environmental causes.
"We feel it's important to help other people with their vision and help them succeed," Lawrence said. He added that developing a foundation brings the same sense of satisfaction that came with developing their business. "Plus, we can influence the direction of our giving more closely."
Jim Banks and Marie St. Germain stand at the other economic end of the foundation scale.
The couple formed a foundation in 1995 to qualify for tax deductions for the more than $2,000 a year they spent caring for feral cats near their home in Huntington Beach.
Banks, a lawyer, prepared the paperwork, cutting the costs associated with obtaining nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.
For most people, establishing an independent foundation can cost $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the complexity, said Shelley Hoss, president of the Orange County Community Foundation. Annual legal and accounting fees vary.
Some Recipients Can't Even Say, 'Thank You'
The Feral Felines Feeders Inc. of Huntington Beach began after St. Germain spotted a neighbor tending to a colony of more than 40 cats on vacant land south of downtown Huntington Beach.
St. Germain said she and her husband believe stray cats are neglected by animal control officers.
"People abandon [cats], thinking they can take care of themselves," she said.
Taking over for the neighbor, who has since moved, St. Germain and her husband began feeding the cats. They also rounded them up for trips to the veterinarian to get spayed, neutered and inoculated, then returned the cats to the colony.
It got expensive. IRS forms the couple filed for Feral Feline Feeders list more than $6,700 in expenses for 1997-2000. That spending pace dropped two years ago after the couple moved the dwindling colony of about 18 cats to Rancho Lotsa Cats Feline Rescue in San Diego's Valley Center.
Now their donations to Feral Feline Feeders are passed on to the sanctuary. "We feel responsible for them," St. Germain said about the cats. "We took them down there. A lot of other people do similar things, but lots of people don't have a way to write off what they spend."