Technology should improve the lives of everyone. It should amplify our own ability for growth and change, and enable people to better their lives and those of their families, communities and complete strangers.
Michelle and I are really excited to share that in March 2018 we founded a new company, Benevolent. We are building a company that uses technology to improve people’s lives.
Benevolent is a Public Benefit Corporation — this means we have both a fiduciary duty to both our shareholders, and also to our mission and the people materially affected by it. Both of these are baked right into the company’s incorporation and governance.
We believe that one of the most powerful ways to make a meaningful difference in the world is to combine for-profit with a strong social impact. For-profit allows companies to hire and retain great people, to invest in developing technology, take risks and try bold ideas. But all this is for nothing without a clear, strong, social mission — a reason.
Michelle and I have seen first hand the power of combining technology with people’s desire to do good. We’ve both spent the last 4 plus years working at Airbnb — connecting total strangers from different cultures and backgrounds, and seeing the transformative positive effect it can have.
For the majority of our time at Airbnb we were focused on growth. We spent years thinking about how Airbnb could reach new audiences, delivering great experiences to first time travelers, and retaining them.
Today, we’re taking those same growth skills and applying them to a new sector: we want to help non-profits grow. Increasingly, charities are having a hard time reaching new audiences and retaining their donors…
Donating to charity is too hard. The donor experience is fragmented across giving platforms, research sites, and the non-profits themselves. Each time you want to give you have to do more research, create a new account, decide how much to give, and often receive little to no feedback about the impact of your donation.
For most Americans, it’s easier to hail a car on your phone than to make a donation to charity.
We can do everything on our phones these days — order dinner, order a car, you name it. But when’s the last time you used your phone to make a donation? Of the $390bn donated each year to charities in the US, only 17% of donations were made online and only 1% of donations were made on a mobile phone.
Non-profits themselves are in an increasingly tough position. Fewer people are giving, and they’re giving less. Plus the 2018 tax bill will cut donations by an estimated $20bn and 220,000 non-profit jobs.
Most non-profits want to grow, and need to raise money to fund their important work. But they have a hard time finding an audience on today’s largest distribution channels. Facebook and Google are pure auctions: the highest bidder gets all the attention. And usually, it’s for-profit companies that win these auctions, so it’s hard for the non-profits to compete.
Yet non-profits in the US spent $65bn on fundraising in 2016, raising almost $400bn, meaning around $0.15 of every dollar raised is spent on fundraising. The majority of that $65b is spent through traditional advertising channels — direct mail, telemarketing, door-to-door fundraising, expensive galas etc. Only about 15% of fundraising expenses go towards online channels — far below their for-profit peers.
Donor retention is extremely low, averaging around 20% annually. The non-profits basically need to restart their fundraising efforts each year.
We imagine a world where it’s simple for everyone to contribute to local causes, and healthy growth is recognized and encouraged for nonprofits.
Our first product is a platform called Alma. Our aim is to connect people to impactful non-profits in their communities.
How Alma will help
Alma is a platform that allows you to discover, engage and invest in non-profits that make a difference in your community. You can see the impact your dollars can have, and invest with confidence that your money is making it to the right place. All your giving in one place.
For non-profits, the Alma platform will allow fundraising in a completely measured, quantifiable and ROI positive way. Non-profits will be able to grow their programs in an efficient manner with costs well below today’s average costs to fundraise.
Where did the name “Alma” come from? In Latin, the word ‘alma’ means kind, fostering, and nourishing. It’s also a nod to Alma Spreckels, known as the “the great-grandmother of San Francisco” who was one of the first and most important philanthropists in San Francisco.
In addition to founding the Legion of Honor museum, Alma’s charitable work included organizing community kitchens after the 1906 earthquake and relief raffles during the Great Depression.
We’re really grateful that some amazing investors have helped us get started.
We’ve known Riley and Sara at Wave Capital from our Airbnb days and recently got to know David. It became clear they have a deep understanding of marketplaces and want to help build meaningful companies. You can read more about them at Bloomberg.
Combine joined, and we’re blown away by their design ability and support in building consumer products. I worked with Adam at Airbnb, and am amazed at meeting Soleio (his wife Kater has started a non-profit to eradicate sexual harassment).
All these investors share our vision for what technology can do, and for improving how people and non-profits come together. Personally, I’d highly recommend them to any founders.
Interested in getting involved?
We’d love to hear from you. Share your ideas on how to improve giving. We’d really value your input.
Do you work for a non-profit?
We’d love to partner with you to help figure out how to make fundraising easier and more measurable. Email us at email@example.com to learn more about participating in our pilot.
Want to help us build Alma?
We’re going to be building the product from Washington DC. If you’re based in DC, or open to relocating there, and excited about the same things we are, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan & Michelle