Keith Leaphart has a big dream for Philanthropi, the doctor/entrepreneur’s four-year-old company that works to turn everyday people into individual foundations: He wants a nonprofit from every zip code in the U.S. to have received a donation through his app.
Philanthropi helps users keep track of their charitable giving, volunteer efforts, and receipts for tax purposes; share their giving with family and friends; and take advantage of any donation-matching programs their employers may offer. And so far, it’s made a good start towards Leaphart’s goal: Since its launch, Philanthopi’s users have given nearly $3 million to over 700 nonprofits all over the country.
Now, Philanthropi has launched a partnership with American Express that will get Leaphart even closer to his ultimate goal. Amex’s Round-Up pilot is giving 25,000 card members access to Philanthropi’s services this year.
Why and how it works
Cardmembers who participate in the pilot program can choose to round up spending on their purchases to the nearest $1, $5 or $10. If you buy a salad, say, for $12.50 and your account is set to roundup to the nearest dollar, that 50 cents will go into your Philanthropi Impact Account. When an account accrues $25, its owner can donate it to one of the millions of charities in Philanthropi’s database. Nonprofits can partner with Philanthropi by reaching out through the business’s website.
Leaphart connected with American Express through Josh Kopelman, one of Philanthropi’s early investors. Kopelman introduced Leaphart, who is also chair of the board of the Lenfest Foundation and, until recently, a practicing physician, to members of the Amex Ventures community in late 2020.
At the time, Lisa Yokoyama, head of product for Amex Digital Labs, was looking for a way to offer users increased options for charitable giving. And Leaphart was looking to further expand.
For the fastest growing cohort of American Express cardholders — millennials and Generation Z — giving was especially important. Sixty-one percent said they wanted to increase their charitable giving.
Over the past 10 years, Amex cardmembers have given about $110 million to charitable organizations using their credit card points, Yokoyama says. A survey conducted this summer by the company found that for the fastest growing cohort of American Express cardholders — millennials and Generation Z — giving was especially important. Sixty-one percent said they wanted to increase their charitable giving. One third of those respondents said they wished their credit card had a set-it-and-forget-it feature, where their card would automatically set funds aside for donations.
“Our current members really care about charitable giving,” Yokoyama says. “What is attractive about that is that it makes it very easy to direct card member funds to an impact account.”
The Philanthropi app, Amex believes, is perfect for this kind of service, since it will essentially allow cardmembers to set up their own donor-advised funds. Donor-advised funds, sometimes known as charitable investment accounts, are bank accounts where the wealthy can set aside funds for charitable giving and receive an immediate tax deduction. Such accounts typically require a minimum $5,000 investment, which makes them inaccessible to most people.
With Philanthropi, Yokoyama says, Amex members “get access to this Impact Account with no minimum threshold.”
Inspired to come full circle
Leaphart, a doctor by training, considers himself an “entrepreneur by birth.” When The Citizen first wrote about Philanthropi in 2019, he said the platform and his work more generally is inspired by the legacy of cable news mogul and philanthropist Gerry Lenfest, who gave away $1.3 billion of his fortune before his death in August 2018.
In an oft-told story, Leaphart met Lenfest in the late 1990s while running a commercial cleaning business that had the mogul’s Suburban Cable as a client. A dual MBA/MD student at the time, Leaphart gained Lenfest’s attention, and admiration, after a series of conversations in Suburban’s offices. More than a decade later, that led to Leaphart becoming chair of the Lenfest Foundation’s board of directors. That friendship, forged by a mission to help kids like Leaphart — who grew up in impoverished West Oak Lane — is what inspired Leaphart to launch Philanthropi, his way of coming full circle back to what he learned from Lenfest.
When Leaphart launched the business (then known as Philanthropos) in 2018, he knew something most charities did not: Small, individual gifts made up 67 percent of all gifts. (In 2021, that amounted to $326 billion.) Nonetheless, he’d watched worthy nonprofits chase larger, one-off gifts from companies or big foundations (like the one where Leaphart chairs the board).
“Despite being a very active individual giver … 99.99999 percent of the time when I met with a nonprofit, they never asked Keith Leaphart, the individual, for any funds. It was always, hey, is there anything that I can get from the Lenfest Foundation?” he says.
The app launched as an employee benefit, or, as Leaphart says, “a 401(K) but for philanthropy.” In 2021, Philanthropi raised $4 million from Amex Ventures, Live Oak Ventures and Darco Capital to expand the company, its reach, and to support the Round-Up program. They’ve since grown from 19 to 25 employees, with plans to grow the team to 35 over the next year.
American Express began selecting and inviting personal cardholders to join Round-Up earlier this month. Leaphart and Yokoyama declined to share projections for how much their partnership might raise.
“We want to make it easy for people to help people,” Leaphart says.
Leaphart also declined to share his app’s revenue figures. He did share that the business has partnered with dozens of employers including Live Oak Bank, Bryn Mawr Trust and Penn Mutual. They’ve been so successful that upon the birth of his son, Leaphart left medicine to focus on the business full-time. The move was helpful during the pandemic, when Philanthropi rolled out a feature that allowed member companies to raise hardship funds so employees could support colleagues impacted by Covid.
“We want to make it easy for people to help people,” Leaphart says. “We believe that through this Impact Account, and through this partnership with American Express, we are providing them a frictionless and seamless way to fund their account and we’re going to be able to empower lots of people to give.”
As for himself, Leaphart has named his personal Impact Account Shelley and Etheyln Leaphart Family Fund, for his late mother and sister. He says every time he gives, he pays homage to them.
“It’s their honor. It’s their legacy,” Leaphart says. “It keeps them with me even today.”
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