Image for Adam Nash: Finding $1 Trillion More for Charity

Adam Nash

Finding $1 Trillion More for Charity

Donor Advised Funds are savings tools that had been reserved for the ultra-wealthy until now. Nash, a former LinkedIn exec, brings them to the masses

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Adam Nash had just landed a big job at fast-growing LinkedIn when he discovered the problem that led him to where he is today.

Adam's new role at LinkedIn meant he had more resources available. Which meant he could donate more generously to charity. But he didn't immediately know who to give to, or what organizations were doing the best work for the causes he cared about.

Turns out there is a solution for this problem, called Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs. As Adam discovered, DAFs allow people to set aside money which can be donated to charity later.

But at the time, DAFs had another issue.

FRANK BLAKE: So let’s start with a question on your personal blog, you describe yourself as being inevitably optimistic. Now that is an unusual phrasing. So begs the question, inevitably optimistic, what does that mean?

ADAM NASH: Call it a clever turn of phrase that kind of stuck from early social media days, but it probably does reflect my disposition. I do believe that in general people have different dispositions, different centers that they come to. And it just turns out that for me, my balance, whatever that is just turns out to be biased optimistic. I think that’s why I got into technology eventually in my career and why I’ve been involved with building new businesses. To build a new business, a new product, you have to have some sort of belief that says things can and get better. We can do better. The future isn’t written. We have agency, we can achieve things.

And I think it helps in the entrepreneurial world to be optimistic. But it just, by the way, sometimes, I’ll be honest with you, this drives my wife crazy because we’ll have arguments sometimes and I always end up retreating back to a, like, “Oh, but we could do something better,” which turns out it’s not always what people want to hear. But it is my nature for better, for worse. And it’s served me well.

FRANK BLAKE: Obviously it served you well, and it’s a good attitude to have. You’ve written about the $1 trillion generosity gap. And I take it that that maybe was part of what got you to start daffy.org. Could you describe what that generosity gap is? How did you come to that conclusion?

ADAM NASH: Yeah, it’s an interesting story because it’s not something that we had figured out right away when we started Daffy a couple years ago, but it does come from a mix of influences. One is this obvious fact that Americans are actually very, very generous globally. Many people talk about this and they quote huge numbers, but in 2020 alone, Americans gave 471 billion – it’s estimated – to charity.

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah, a lot of money.

ADAM NASH: That’s over 2.3% of GDP. That’s actually a very big number. I think all of agriculture is less than 1% of GDP just for scale. And so most of what I’ve seen around the philanthropic space and around giving is how can we help people give their money better? How can we use that money more effectively? But what’s interesting is that when you come from the personal finance world, and as you mentioned before, I do teach a class on this at Stanford, it turns out that if you don’t set a goal, if you don’t make a commitment for a savings goal, you rarely hit it. You and I probably both know that if you had to save for retirement by writing a check into that account every year, well, most people won’t get around to it. They won’t write as much, other things come up.

That’s why it’s brilliant to have money come out of each paycheck. They just go into a 401k or an IRA. Same thing with college savings or saving to buy a house. If you automate this saving, people do better. And the estimate is actually they do about 32% better.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow.

ADAM NASH: And so we asked the question, wait, if that’s true for saving, maybe it’s true for giving. And it turned out some academics had done research in this area which we quoted, but it’s true. If Americans set a goal for their giving, it’s very likely that they would give even more than they give today. And when you have a base, out that 471 billion, over 300 billion of that is from individuals, not giant corporations, not giant trusts or foundations, individuals. Well, 32% more than 300 billion gets you an extra hundred billion a year.

And so the question I asked was, wouldn’t it be better if over the next decade, we freed up another trillion dollars for charity? And so it’s an aspirational goal, but it’s something that as an organization, we have rallied around and we’re trying to push the industry to think more constructively about how we can help people be more generous, basically be the generous people they want to be.

FRANK BLAKE: Would you describe for our audience the three questions that you asked and what you found from those three questions? Because I thought they were really interesting questions and the answers equally interesting.

ADAM NASH: This comes from my background – one of my degrees is in human computer interaction, which is how people interact with technology. And one of the things they teach you is to ask questions, actually talk to real people. Do everything in theory. And so before we wrote a line of code for our new application, we went out and talked to dozens of people across the country just to hear what they think about giving. But you’re right, the first three questions we asked were always the same. The first question was, how much do you think people should give to charity every year? Now I have to admit that this question, I was surprised at the answer because no one agrees. Like you talk to 20 people-

FRANK BLAKE: All over the map. All over the map.

ADAM NASH: … I thought at least you get something biblical, maybe like 10%-

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah, the 10%. Yeah, yeah.

ADAM NASH: … 2%, 1%. But no, people get absolute numbers. They have this context. If it’s a good year, maybe if there’s a recession, all these sorts of reasons. But the good news behind that question is, well, it was unhappy for me to find out there was no consensus. It would’ve been easier to build a product if everyone agreed, I’d just build that. But what was interesting is that almost everyone agreed that you should give something. And I took that as a positive that most people believe you should give to charity every year.

Then the second question was, well, how much do you think you should give to charity every year? And I tried to personalize it. And the good news here is it might have been the interview format. User research is not the same as anthropology. But fundamentally people were fairly consistent. And they would adjust and say, “Well, I’m doing better than average” or “I did better than average this year.” Especially during the pandemic, people were very conscious of the fact that maybe if they were in an industry that wasn’t hit as hard by the pandemic that they were doing better than those who had. And so they might say, I give more than I expected the average person to or less. But they were consistent.

FRANK BLAKE: So whatever they answer to that first question, the second question was more than the first question, whatever the-

ADAM NASH: Usually.

FRANK BLAKE: Right. Usually. Okay.

ADAM NASH: Usually, which is actually very interesting. It shows how people see themselves-

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah. That’s good. That’s good.

ADAM NASH: One of the basic facts of life, everyone thinks they’re better than averages in most things. But the third question was where we really got to the heart of what became Daffy which is that the third question was, well, how much did you actually give to charity last year? There was always a pause and not just because people didn’t remember. It’s because that they knew that they had not met their own goal. Whether we talked to someone who said that everyone should give at least a thousand dollars to charity every year or 1% of their salary, or even 10%, we actually had one interviewee who said 20%, which I thought was a very, very high bar. But no matter what bar they said, almost everyone to a tee had failed to hit their goal. Now the reasons why were pretty obvious. Life is complicated.

People are busy with work, they have family, they have social lives. As you know, we also had a pandemic going on. So there was plenty of reasons why people may not have done everything they needed to do. But I also like to focus when you do this research on the emotion underlying it, people did not feel good about their answer. They clearly felt that people should give to charity regularly and they had some bar for that. And facing the fact that they didn’t hit their own bar, that’s a problem. That’s actually a fundamental identity issue. It’s an emotional issue. It’s a moral and ethical issue. And so the basic idea behind Daffy was like, “Well, what if we took all this great technology, all these ideas that we’ve rolled out in FinTech and in finance in general the last 20 or 30 years that help people save for their goals, and what if we applied those same lessons to giving?”

So like when you download Daffy, we don’t have a strong perspective on what your goal should be, but we do advocate that everyone should have a goal. And we ask the simple question, how much do you want to give to charity every year? And we give you data, by the way, very interesting data that we licensed from several companies on maybe what the average household in your city gives to charity every year. We have a calculator. So whatever percentage you want to put in, you know those tipping calculators?

FRANK BLAKE: Yep, yep, yep.

ADAM NASH: Similar thing. Whatever number you want to pick though, you pick it. And then we say, “Okay, well, do you want to put money aside every week? Every month? Every quarter? You want to do it right now one time, automate those contributions? Do you have nonprofits you already support?” You can set up recurring donations, automate that as well. And then you have everything in one place. And then we celebrate with you as you meet your goal hopefully. And so that’s the basic idea, but yeah, those three questions were the heart of what Daffy became.

FRANK BLAKE: The first part of your name, Daffy, D-A-F is a donor advised fund. And that sounds very august and serious and sort of trusts and estates kind of stuff. But describe how it works and how it’s of interest just for everyone.

ADAM NASH: Yeah, happy to. And yes, it turns out having an engineer in charge of naming might mean that the name is a little too on the nose. Daffy does stand for the Donor Advised Fund For You, which is kind of a cute little acronym. But yeah, most people haven’t heard of the donor advised fund and there’s a number of reasons for that. Right now, it’s a product that’s actually very common with the wealthy. If you have a financial advisor, if you have a high-end accountant, they probably will recommend that you get a donor advised fund at some point. There’s over a million in the U.S. right now, but most people have never heard of it. But when people ask me what a donor advised fund is, I explain to them, “Well, listen, it turns out there’s a lot of benefits, when it comes to money, of putting money into different buckets for different goals.”

We have accounts like the 401k or the IRA for retirement. There are 529 saving plan for college. A donor advised fund or a DAF is just a special account for charity. And it solves a couple problems for people. The first problem it solves for people is that it turns out it’s good to put money aside for charity, just in general. I talked about the goal, putting money aside. If you have a separate account for charity, the money’s already there and it makes it easier to give. And most people who have donor advised funds actually report that it is easier to give. And that makes sense because giving is a hard problem. You have to figure out two things. One, what can I afford to give? And second, who do I give it to? And the donor advised fund makes it very easy to set up a separate account. The money’s invested. It grows over time. And then any time you want to give to charity, you can just do it.

The second reason though, of course, donor advised funds are very popular is because they’re very useful from a tax perspective. It turns out in the U.S., one of the deductions that’s out there is the charitable deduction, but it’s hard. Our tax system is annual. It’s from January to December. If you came to some money, realize in November that you’d like to give some money to charity, well, not everyone has a charity on the tip of their tongue or an organization they’ve researched. And so the donor advised fund lets you have the best of both worlds. You can make a charitable contribution and get the tax deduction today, and then you can spend time figuring out which organizations you want to contribute to on your own schedule.

And so I think that people tend to come to donor advised funds for one of those two reasons. At Daffy, we basically embraced both of those reasons as valid reasons for people. Like, as you mentioned in the beginning, our mission is very simple, is to help people be more generous more often. If separating an account for charity is a great reason for you to join Daffy, fantastic. If that helps you give, we think it’ll help you give more. If taxes are your motivation to put some money aside for people less fortunate than yourself, that’s a good reason too. Anything that helps get money to organizations and causes who will do good with it, we’re supportive of.

FRANK BLAKE: So that’s a great set up for those who haven’t heard of donor advised funds. They are a terrific vehicle for everyone because it disassociates the time that you give your money to the who you give your money, and allows you to accumulate money and be a little more intentional about your charitable behavior. That’s one of the ways I think about it. But so somebody says, “Gosh, I listen to Adam. This makes all kinds of sense. I want a donor advised fund and it’s great because I see my friends that,” or not my friends, “but the people at Fidelity who I work with or the people at Schwab that I work with or the people, all these big firms have donor advised funds. Why do I go to Adam’s? Why don’t I just sign up with Vanguard or one of these big firms?”

ADAM NASH: Well, listen, these firms have done a fantastic job and they’re some of the biggest providers of donor advised funds in the U.S., Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard. But the problem with the existing industry is that their business model is based on charging for a percentage of assets. That’s how they make their money. And unfortunately what that means is that they’re mostly focused on large accounts. They manage billions of dollars. And so they tend to either have very high minimums, or very high fees, or both.

So Vanguard for example, which is a firm that I deeply respect and love, has a minimum on their donor advised fund of $25,000 and they charge 0.6%, which I know sounds like a small number, but that means if you had a hundred thousand dollar account with them, you’re paying more than $600 a year if you add on investment charges. Daffy, of course, we’ve set up more like a community center, a religious institution, a typical nonprofit.

We just charge a simple membership fee of $3 a month. Some people are big fans of Daffy just because it’s much less expensive. Some people like Daffy because it’s just very open. It’s so easy. Most donor advised funds don’t have a modern technology platform. And so I know this sounds amazing, but in the year 2022, if you go to the Apple app store and you want to download an app to open a donor advised fund and fund it and give to charity, not a lot of choices. In fact, when we launched six months ago, we were the first fully functional donor advised fund in the app store. And then of course, for some people they want access to more modern investments or contributions. So with Daffy, we support contributions from cash. You can use Apple Pay, credit or debit cards. You can also donate stock or donate crypto, which has been very popular the last few years. Or you can transfer money from an existing donor advised fund.

And I probably underestimated when we launched how many people would get excited about this ability to donate stock and crypto. We really saw a lot of donations, like most donor advised funds last year who accept stock. Crypto though has been surprising. There’s a lot of folks who were early, especially in the technology industry, who were early with crypto, have gains there, don’t really want to go through the IRS and figure out what the tax implications are and have figured out that they take that crypto and donate it for charity, they can get a phenomenal tax deduction and also really benefit a large number of organizations and never have to figure out what those capital gains are.

FRANK BLAKE: All right. Well, that’s probably not a topic we want to get too deeply into. But I’m kind of curious, and this may not be a very fair characterization but I’ll make it anyways, which is you’re up against some financial behemoths who, given the numbers that you said at the start in terms of how much, I don’t know the specifics on how much money is in these large DAF organizations, but it’s got to be enormous. They can’t be thrilled with Daffy’s existence. As you’ve started this, just a couple of years, have you found a lot of resistance, difficult to get people who are in the money management advice industry talking about your product, or is there pretty wide open arms for it? Or somewhere in between?

ADAM NASH: It’s hard to predict the future and I’m sure and what we hope to see happen, of course, is Daffy grows. There may be more competitive feelings. But I’ve actually been blown away. This is an industry sector where I think people come to because they want to have a positive impact – on causes, on society, on organizations. And so actually I was surprised when we launched Daffy how many employees from different existing donor advised funds, including the giants, reached out to talk to us and were excited about what they’re doing. I think a lot of these organizations for a number of reasons have trouble innovating quickly. They have a lot of ideas about how giving could be better. And in some ways, new startups like ours are both an inspiration and proof that some of these things are possible.

And we haven’t seen a lot of competitive pressure. I also want to be clear that most of the people we are pursuing as customers for Daffy as members…we want to be a site for everyone, but we’re not going after the ultra wealthy as our primary audience. If you have tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions of dollars, we do have some customers like that. We have a fair set of investors. But we know that there’s a lot of services and other reasons that people would pick other providers. We see Daffy as a way to extend the benefit of the donor advised fund to millions of people who, as you mentioned earlier, just haven’t heard of it before. And those aren’t the customers that all those institutions are going after. Like I said, Vanguard has a $25,000 minimum. If we can help millions of people who give to charity every year, but don’t just have $25,000 lying around, I think that’s a fantastic way to contribute to the community.

FRANK BLAKE: I’ll say.

ADAM NASH: Hopefully it will inspire some of our competitors. I know you have a lot of great experience and so you’ve probably seen this yourself, but one of the great things about competition too is you can be an agent for change. I felt this way at most of my previous companies, but I used to tell the folks at Wealthfront, I used to tell them about Vanguard actually and say, “Hey, Vanguard has grown to a giant that helps millions of people, but there are far more people that Vanguard has benefited than their customers alone because Vanguard with their push and their success has forced all of their competitors to offer similar features at similar prices, which has benefited millions of customers of their competitors who wouldn’t have gotten as good a price or as high quality product.” And so you can say that with Daffy, we’re also hoping that our features will find their way into the incumbents.

FRANK BLAKE: And it’s a great ripple effect. I want to call out one – because I saw it on your site as I was preparing for this interview and I’m really curious about it because it seems to me very creative and something that’s not provided within that industry – is you’ve unveiled a family account. How does that work?

ADAM NASH: And it’s a very simple feature and I think it makes sense, but you’re right, it does differentiate us a little bit from a traditional financial services company who probably thinks about accounts as either being a solo account or a joint account, et cetera. We rolled out family accounts just a few weeks ago because what we discovered is that a lot of couples, a lot of households, are together on this idea of putting money aside for charity, but they have different causes and organizations they like to support. And the typical joint account concept doesn’t quite adapt for that. I don’t know if you remember back in the day, I know we’re not supposed to talk about Netflix account sharing anymore.

FRANK BLAKE: That’s funny.

ADAM NASH: Back in the day before Netflix had family accounts, it turns out my wife and I don’t always watch the same types of movies and that recommendation engine started recommending stuff from her to me, from me to her, probably she was more upset about my recommendations for sci-fi and action movies interrupting her more legitimate and higher quality movie consumption. But the same reason that Netflix rolled out family accounts, we said, “Well, why can’t we do the same thing with a donor advised fund? Why can’t two partners each have their own account, both contribute from their own bank accounts, et cetera to a common fund, but have their own set of charities and causes to support, their own identity as we could say a philanthropist?” And so that’s what we rolled out. So when you join Daffy now, if you’re the member of a household, you can invite your partner to join.

They get their own account, their own credentials, link their own financials, everything, but you could invest in a common fund. And actually the funny thing is we launched this and the first thing that people said is like, “What about my children?” For our older members, “What about my grandchildren? What about my nieces and nephews?” And so I think this is going to keep us busy for a better part of the year because a lot of people – This is one of the things I love about giving, unlike most financial accounts, which are private, giving wants to be social. People do rally around the organizations and causes that they support, whether they give money, whether they volunteer or maybe they’re on a board, but they like to advocate for the organizations they support. And that’s true within families as well. We’re hoping the family account is actually going to be a very big thing to help people give more and talk about giving as a family.

FRANK BLAKE: I think it’s a great idea because I do think it is just as you say, it’s a behavior that’s great to share and people’s different interests in charitable organizations is actually a positive and finding a way that you can share that with someone you love and within your family, I think will be increasingly important. I congratulate you on that.

Moving for a second off of Daffy and talking about your other interests, because you have a fascinating blog and your other interests include computer engineering and human behavior and the intersection between those two. You wrote on your blog that you’ve been repeatedly, and I’m quoting here, “Repeatedly astounded with the level of value generated from insights into human behavior with technology and economics.” What are some examples of those insights? What prompted that comment?

ADAM NASH: Well, it’s been most of my career and it’s actually one of the reasons I think I found technology so fascinating. People come into technology for a lot of different reasons. And when I went into college, actually my first love in the sciences was actually molecular biology. I actually thought that’s what I was going to go into, genetics, et cetera. I took the entire organic chem core at school, but then got converted over the summer, was looking at different degrees. I went to Stanford, which has a fantastic engineering school. I didn’t know anything about engineering. I had no engineers in my family. Most of my parents’ generation in my family are doctors and lawyers and other types of professionals. And I just fell in love with this idea of solving problems by building new things, to go after it.

But when you try to solve problems, you quickly discover that it’s not all about features. It’s not all about capabilities. It’s about the people using the product. Do they understand it? Do they know what to do with it? Do you understand what they, what problem they’re trying to solve? And I just fell in love with that whole area.

I talk about my evolution as a technologist starting with learning about how to solve problems with amazing speed, like getting a computer to solve a problem measured in milliseconds or these days even nanoseconds. And then realizing what was the point if it takes the human using the software 20 minutes to figure out what to do.

And so then I became obsessed with the design element. And so my master’s degree was very much human computer interaction, very much focused. I had a great advisor at Stanford, Terry Winograd, who was really at the forefront of this revolution of really thinking about, “Well, what problem are you solving for them?” Because if you can solve the human problem with technology, you really create value in a great product. And then of course, what I discovered in my first few jobs, both at Apple and then of course the first startup I was at, was that that’s not enough. If the product isn’t wrapped in a great business, well, the one-oh is never as great as it could be. And if you don’t have a business wrapped around it, you don’t get to build the two-oh, the three-oh, you don’t let the product fulfill itself and really become an organization who will constantly be dedicated to that problem.

And so that’s actually one of the reasons I ended up going back to business school and that whole process. But when I think of all the companies I’ve been at, the organizations, et cetera, it still follows that same theme. What can we do with technology today that used to be difficult, used to be expensive, used to be impossible? What are the human problems we can solve now with technology we couldn’t solve before? And then how do we turn that into a self-sustaining organization that won’t just solve the problem once, but be around to constantly innovate and push that solution forward? And so that’s how I think about things, not just Daffy, just almost all the organizations I’ve been a part of.

FRANK BLAKE: So that’s such a great framework. Then back to Daffy, what prompted the change in your attention to generosity and giving money away? So you could have taken that same framework and applied it lots of different directions as your career has shown. What was the trigger that says, “You know what I want to do? I want to help people be more generous.”

ADAM NASH: Well, there’s a few. Steve Jobs gave this wonderful speech at Stanford graduation back in 2005. I think it’s often quoted where he talked about connecting the dots of your life. You can only see it going backwards. And when I look backwards at the formation of Daffy, I can see all the different points. As I wrote about on my blog, I’ve actually thought that the donor advised fund is a phenomenal financial product that was somehow hidden away that most people didn’t know about and needed to be reinvented. Some of it is the fact that FinTech is coming so far. I will tell you, we went from concept with Daffy to launching a fully featured donor advised fund with support for cash, stock, crypto, iPhone app, the whole in less than a year. That wasn’t actually possible 10 years ago.

The fact that we can lean on a company like Coinbase to handle crypto or Apex to handle securities or even traditional firms to help us with cash transfers, et cetera. There’s a dozen platforms that we used to build this that didn’t exist before. But I think the pandemic also affected things. It affected things in a number of ways. And I think this very much is a company, an organization that came out of 2020 for a reason. I was certainly home with my kids a lot more and thinking about the lessons that we teach them and what’s important in life. And I talk about how my kids go to this school where every Friday they bring in change, spare change. They put it in a little piggyback every Friday. And then once a quarter, they vote what organization in the local community to give it to.

FRANK BLAKE: Really?

ADAM NASH: And it’s such a wonderful tradition. And then I said, you can go on Amazon, all these piggy banks. I have four kids by the way. I didn’t mention that. So it turns out when you have four kids, you go on Amazon a lot for different kid things. And you see these piggy banks and they all have a section for spending, but here’s the section for saving for a rainy day. And then here’s the section for giving for those less fortunate than yourself. And I just was really struck with this question of why do we teach our children this, but as adults, we don’t do the same thing? And so it’s hard for me to tell which of those pieces really came together here. But at the basic human level, you mentioned before, I do think giving is a very fundamental element to living a better life.

And I think that the pandemic reminded me and my co-founder Alejandro very much that we could do something with technology to help people with this problem. But I’ll also say that having been familiar with FinTech and the financial services industry for more than a decade, I’ve also learned that business models really matter. They really do affect the future of an organization. I work with a lot of founders and I tell them to be more conscious and intentional about the business models they choose because a lot of their future history will be written by thousands of people they don’t know yet who will end up working for this great company they built, but they will optimize the business that they lay out for them. That’s what smart people, ambitious people, trustworthy people do. And so this A-1 business model for the donor advised fund just always rubbed me as the wrong approach.

It’s always going to skew towards the wealthy and not the millions and millions of people who give regularly to organizations they care about. And so that combination came together, that framework came together here and I said this is something that should exist. And I’m fortunate enough to be at a place in my career where I felt like there were enough investors, enough people who would take a bet on someone like me trying to get an organization like this started and decided that if I spend the next decade trying to convince more people to be more generous more often, it’s a decade well spent.

FRANK BLAKE: And how has the reaction been so far if you say, okay, this was my theory of the case. And obviously as you’re aiming for the broader audience, the first question is, have you seen a receptive audience? Do you go, “Boy, this has surprised me at how quickly it’s disseminated.” Or do you go, “Oh my gosh, I know I’ve got a great idea, but I’m still looking through the plate glass window trying to get in.”

ADAM NASH: Well, I think the good news is the market has changed, I would say, for funding technology startups than even five years ago, let alone 10. Let’s be honest, there are easier ways to build a business than trying to build it around generosity and giving.

FRANK BLAKE: That’s for sure.

ADAM NASH: And these days with crypto as hot as it is, Web3, software as a service, FinTech, you can pick the area that’s… There’s certainly easier businesses to be built. And so there’s a certain crowd that looks and says, “Adam, why? You could make more money faster by doing other things.”

FRANK BLAKE: Well, that’s without a doubt.

ADAM NASH: Well, but the great thing about the market right now is that – maybe this is the pandemic, maybe it’s just the maturity of the technology industry and Silicon Valley as a whole – but there are a lot more people now who want to see tougher problems taken on, more serious problems, more fundamental issues. There are more people now with patient capital who say, “Well, if this organization takes a decade to build, that’s still worth doing.” It’s not going to happen some other quicker way. And so I would say from the investment community, we’ve had amazing support. And actually, by the way, if you look at our about page and you look at the investment, I’m really humbled by the number of people who voted with real dollars to support this organization.

FRANK BLAKE: Quite a list of amazing people. Yeah.

ADAM NASH: But from individuals though, it has been uniformly positive. I think that this is – and once again, I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or if it’s just where people are given how many really stressful and difficult problems and situations we’ve collectively been dealing with over the past decade – but most people when they come to me and they hear about Daffy, they’re just happy that it exists. They love the idea of being more present and putting money aside for those less fortunate than themselves. Some people feel bad that they don’t give more and know that there’s a truth to the fact that they would if it was easier, if it was automated. A lot of people support the same half dozen to a dozen organizations every year. And yet somehow that it’s still work to do it.

And then some people just look at it and say, “Yeah, that’s right. Why don’t we think about giving as a fundamental part of your financial life?” People really do enjoy that. I will tell you, there’s a lot of things I do in my financial life – and some of them are actually quite entertaining and enjoyable, some are not by the way. But giving is one of those things that touches you. I think that when I told the whole team, when we started the design process for Daffy, our inspiration was less financial applications and more these applications that help people with their health, with their fitness, things that make people feel better that they know that they do a little bit every day, every week, every month they’ll be better off for it. And we see giving that same way. And fortunately, most people who have come to us have just been very excited to see a product like that in the market.

FRANK BLAKE: I think your product and your business model is so great because I think we don’t have enough celebrating people’s generosity. And as your children learn with your example of the small change, for the most part, what people give in that repetitive way that you’ve set up for them, they don’t miss as they’re going about their life. They get used to it, you adjust. And then you’re shocked at how much money you have to give away. And it’s a great feeling of satisfaction. I suspect that’s what you get from some of the folks who use your platform.

ADAM NASH: Well, it is and you’re right. I think this role of using software to bring people together, bring communities together, I think we’re just scratching the surface. One of the early features we rolled out is that when you make a donation recommendation with a donor advised fund, when we see you’re going to donate to an organization, you can always leave a note for the charity, something specific. Maybe you want the money to go to a specific fund or a specific cause or organization, that sort of thing. We did something a little bit different. We also asked our members for a public note, why is this organization so important to you? Why are you donating today? And we publish those notes on the pages of the charities. If you look up that organization on Daffy, you don’t just see the basic information that you see everybody else, you see real words from real people about why they support. And the notes, there’s something so powerful about hearing about, sometimes it’s personal tragedy, they donate to an organization where a loved ones succumb to an illness and they donate every year on an anniversary.

Sometimes it’s a school that educated their children and they just want to see it continue and be available for their grandchildren, et cetera. Sometimes it’s as simple as that they volunteered there years ago and realized that those people are great people and they want to see that organization always exist. I know it sounds obvious. We’re all drowning in reviews, book reviews and product reviews and Yelp reviews and all these different reviews, but this is a different thing. This is a different level of meeting. And I’m hoping that as we evolve the product, we’ll find more and more ways for people to inspire each other, not to just give to the same causes or organizations, but see that other people give for meaningful reasons and that it’s okay. Not just okay, but that actually it’s a part of life to actually share what you’ve done with others who you believe need it. And so hopefully that will make a big difference in the industry and be part of that whole trillion dollar generosity gap that we talked about earlier.

FRANK BLAKE: Incredibly exciting. And again, congratulations to you for taking this on. I ask every guest, who has done a crazy good turn for you? So someone in your personal life and you go, “This person just did something crazy good for me.”

ADAM NASH: I’ve been really fortunate in that I can think of almost every phase of my life of someone who did something above and beyond what they needed to do and gave me some guidance or gave me an opportunity and so many of them are wrapped around Daffy. John Lilly, who’s on the board of Daffy, he was actually the first person who hired me to help teach computer science at Stanford. Known him 30 years. Amazing. And that was a crazy good turn. I can’t imagine what my career would’ve been like if he hadn’t added me to that organization. And by the way, that was not such an obvious hire back when I was 17 and in tank tops that I cut myself. It was not obvious that you would want to back this person.

I think of Reid Hoffman at LinkedIn, the founder. I don’t think I would have the confidence that someone like me could build an organization like Daffy without someone like him who actually spent time with me every Sunday. When I worked at LinkedIn the first two years, every Sunday I spent two to three hours with him without fail, not just learning and talking about what we were going to do with the company, but also just understanding more how he thought about building organizations and scaling organizations. I don’t want to go through the whole list. We can spend another hour on this whole thing, but those are the folks who come to mind when I think about Daffy and I think about just those little things that people do that make a huge difference over the long term.

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah. Well, those are great, great examples. For everyone listening who, and I hope everyone, if they haven’t as they listened, after they stop listening, go and check out Daffy. What’s the path to finding out about Daffy?

ADAM NASH: Oh, it’s very, very easy. If you want to go on the web, daffy.org. Just type it into your browser. You can get started right away. We have a great web interface, whether on a mobile device, desktop, tablet works fantastically well. You can sign up and get started with as little as $10 a week or a one-time deposit of a hundred dollars. Or if you want to transfer money from an existing donor advised fund, you can do it. Anything you want to do. If you are a fan of native applications, you can just go to the Apple app store, search for Daffy, will come up, and download the app and get started that way. But either way, it’s very easy. Should just take a matter of seconds to get set up with an account and hopefully be on a path to being more generous.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, Adam, this has been really a privilege talking with you and congratulations. We’re fortunate. Just listening to this, I just feel as a country, we’re fortunate that people with your accomplishments and what you’re able to do – surely you could do a lot of other things that would enrich yourself dramatically more than this, and yet you’ve turned your attention to I think one of the most important things for everyone, how do we get more generous? How do we be more generous and how do you make that easier for folks? So congratulations. It’s been a privilege having you on the show.

ADAM NASH: No, I really appreciate it. And Frank, thank you for having me on and very happy to talk about Daffy or any other related topic in the future.

  • Why Adam calls himself "inevitably optimistic" (2:05)
  • Two lessons for personal savings that can be applied to giving (4:07)
  • Why product development is also about understanding people (25:57)
  • How financial technology is bringing communities together (36:49)
  • Why inspiring each other is vital to charitable giving (37:13)
  • The activity Adam's children do that helped inspire Daffy (30:02)
  • What Adam learned from spending Sundays with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (40:06)

Finding the Next $1 Trillion for Good

In 2020, Adam co-founded Daffy, which stands for Donor Advised Funds For You. Daffy is a nonprofit with an app — the first of its kind — which encourages users to set a giving goal, and enables them to donate their funds easily whenever the user wishes to give.

The app also allows families to give collaboratively, and asks community members to leave public notes about why they are donating to specific charities.

The result: A more connected and more generous world.

Just like automatic deductions help you save for retirement or college, people are better at charitable giving when they set goals and automate the process. In fact, research shows that giving can increase by more than 30 percent.

Adam and his team believe that if everyone set a giving goal and met it, we could increase the money given to charity by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Adam brings to his business enormous experience and past success. He is an entrepreneur, business leader, lecturer at Stanford, angel investor, and blogger. Throughout his career he's led innovative and disruptive companies including Apple, eBay, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Wealthfront, and more.

If you're interested in how to give better and have a greater impact, I encourage you to hear this episode.

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