There’s an old saying which is “put your money where your mouth is.” Jen and David Risher, founders of #HalfMyDAF believe you should put your money where your mouth is, and they’ll match it for you.
Jen and David started #HalfMyDAF in May 2020 to inspire more philanthropic giving from Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) which could be used to support different non-profits across a wide range of missions. There is currently over $234 billion in Donor Advised Funds. If donors deployed a small amount of those funds, it could have a profound impact on the world.
David and Jen, along with the support of Stasia Obremskey & Dan Carroll, the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation, and Laura & Greg Spivy matched $1.4 million to a wide range of nonprofits in 2020. Fast forward four years to 2023 and #HalfMyDAF is continuing to help inspire giving. In July 2023, #HalfMyDAF made 226 randomly selected grants to give a total of $650,000 in matching funds! #HalfMyDAF will do a second drawing on September 29th giving another $700,000 in matching grants. All told, the #HalfMyDAF community has contributed an astonishing $41 million to non-profits across the United States over the past four years.
Jen Risher, the author of We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth and co-founder of #HalfMyDAF, answered some questions regarding the history of this wonderful organization.
What led you and David to start #HalfMyDAF?
#HalfMyDAF was really an emotional response to COVID. It was Spring of 2020. David, my husband, and I were sheltering in place at home and, as you probably remember, it felt as though everything was falling apart. The stock market was crashing, there was food insecurity, and you couldn’t buy toilet paper at Costco. At the time, my husband was running a nonprofit, and he felt the funding drying up. Funders were pulling back. We had doubled-down on our own giving and accelerated multi-year gifts, but we wanted to do more.
What is #HalfMyDAF?
Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs, are charitable vehicles to make it easy to give to non-profits. Opening a DAF is like opening a charitable checking account. Donors get a tax break up front and can then give over time. However, while there is a tax incentive to open a DAF, there is no urgency to move the money out. In 2020, there was $120 billion in DAFs – and this was at a time of our country’s greatest need. David and I wanted to figure out a way to inspire people to give. We came up with the idea of offering matching dollars to inspire people. We offered $1 million of our money to be given as matching grants when donors agreed to move at least half of their money from their donor advised funds and put it to work.
We didn’t put any limits on the organizations people could support. However, we stipulated that we wouldn’t match any organization that promoted hate speech or gun violence. We found partners to join us in the matching pool and ended up having $1.4 million to give in match grants. We announced our matches in mid-July and the end of September. That year, in five months, we moved $8.6 million out of DAFs into the hands of nonprofits and put that money to work.
How did you determine which non-profits received matching grants?
It was pretty simple. We kept a spreadsheet (see below) of all the different non-profits that were given grants. We chose the non-profits at random and matched the chosen grants dollar for dollar up to $10,000. We also did a couple of $50,000 grants. We continued to match grants until the money ran out. It turned out that we were able to match one-third of the non-profits that received donations.
Have you been surprised by the community reaction to #HalfMyDAF?
Yes, we very surprised by the amount of positive reaction we generated. #HalfMYDAF was in the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. It was a bit unsettling to think we could be the most creative thing going on in philanthropy. How can that be true? It was also interesting to get feedback from the donors and the non-profits. One donor told me, “Jen, I feel vulnerable because you’re actually seeing how much we’re giving. My siblings don’t know what I’m giving.” We tend to be secretive with our giving and the amounts but I think it’s important to discuss our philanthropy. We need be talking, especially within our families, telling each other, “I’m going to put $10,000 here, I’m going to put $20,000 towards this cause.” Discussions can help create some gentle familial peer pressure that helps people recognize they could be doing more with their wealth.
Clearly, more change is needed to get more money moving. So, that first year, when people started asking if we were going to do #HalfMyDAF again the following year, the answer was yes. We hadn’t planned on continuing, but we saw the positive impact of #HalfMyDAF. We’re now in year four and have moved $41 million through #HalfMyDAF.
NxtGens tend to talk about impact more than philanthropy? Can you discuss that the terms mean to you?
Covid has reinforced the importance of community and NxtGens feel that more than anybody. #HalfMyDAF is founded in the principle that by giving money as part of a community it allows you to take part in something bigger than yourself. People are desperately seeking ways to create connections with like-minded individuals. #HalfMyDAF brings this model to philanthropy.
There are other opportunities for NxtGens and others to use their wealth to bring value to society. As an investor, I wanted to make sure that my investments are creating the world I want to live in. Gender, racial, and economic equity are really important. Right now, women get less than 2% of venture capital. I’ve started investing in funds run by women and focused on people of color. I want more products and services out in the world that create more equity.
It’s very exciting to think about the different ways we can have an impact with our financial, social and political power. It’s also great to be able to speak up and show up to help solve problems and create the world we want to live within.
What’s next for #HalfMyDAF?
Next year will be year five for #HalfMyDAF. I’d love to see the matching pool grow. We need support to get us to the next level. If you’re interested in participating on the matching pool side, we can work with you and funnel money to whatever cause you care about most.
Our goal is to continue to inspire more giving through the community. Please join us and feel free to contact me if you have questions.
Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.