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Amy Brown headshot

Putting Consumer Digital Banking at the Heart of Philanthropy

This new new fintech platform is designed to scale up donor-advised funds by making philanthropy about as easy as online banking.
By Amy Brown

Most of us are not one of the Bill Gates of the world and don’t see ourselves as philanthropists. But that could soon change with the introduction of the new fintech platform Amicus.io, designed to scale donor-advised funds by making philanthropy as easy as online banking.

While philanthropy has been around for a long time, it is a vast, fragmented landscape, with approximately 1.3 million charities in the U.S. Many people would like to make a bigger impact with their hard-earned dollars but don’t know where to start. Amicus.io founders Walt Ruloff and Cor Hoekstra hope to solve that with an integrated platform that connects people with charities to create a “virtuous giving cycle.”

The idea is to tap into the $121 billion currently sitting in donor-advised funds (DAFs). With the Amicus platform, individuals would be able to use their bank accounts to access DAFs for their charitable giving. The company says it is now in the early stages of implementation with a tier-one global bank.

Tapping into the uptick in charitable giving

In a recent interview with TriplePundit, Ruloff and Hoekstra discussed why such a platform is urgently needed and how it can make a difference in charitable giving — not just during a crisis, but consistently. In the wake of crises like the novel coronavirus pandemic, charitable giving tends to rise, studies show. DAFs showed substantial increases in grants to organizations as well as in inflows to the funds themselves during the pandemic. The key is to find a way to keep the donor funds flowing steadily post-crisis.

In 2005, Ruloff, founder and chairman of Amicus.io, started to investigate nonprofit technology. Recognizing immediately that the sector has no underlying technology infrastructure, he started to design a system that would re-engineer the philanthropy value chain starting from the donor through to the nonprofit organization, and finally to the beneficiaries on the ground. Ruloff started Amicus.io Global Relief Solutions, Inc. in 2013 and Amicus.io four years later to bring charitable giving into the consumer banking experience. He was joined by Hoekstra, a 30-year veteran in the supply chain management technology sector who is now CEO of Amicus.io.

Democratizing philanthropy

Ruloff’s story begins after selling a software company he had founded; he wanted to direct some of that money toward charitable giving but found the world of philanthropy complex, with little transparency.

Quite frankly, if you're a donor, and you give money away and you're not the Gates Foundation or some sophisticated foundation, you don't know how it's spent, you don't know where the money goes, and you don't know ultimately what the effectiveness of your donations have been,” he told 3p. 

At the same time, Ruloff noticed two important trends: people’s desire to be more engaged in giving to causes they care about, and “a massive digital transformation that was taking off, transforming corporations, but not the world of philanthropy,” he said. “Fast forward to the advent of the cloud, and we realized we could roll out a solution like Amicus at scale.”

Scaling to millions of donors

The result, Ruloff explained, is to take an entirely fresh approach to philanthropy. “We're approaching it from the idea of acquiring tens of millions of donors at scale with our bank partners, to bring those donors to the charities, and then offer the charities on the cloud. It’s a complete operational tool, allowing the charities to build, post, fund and execute their projects through a pipeline with tracking capabilities.”

Hoekstra added: “Our vision is a form of automated philanthropy, with monthly automated contributions, as easy as online banking. To mobilize donors at scale we want to bring the tools of the 1 percent and the level of sophistication and intentionality to the 99 percent. DAFs are a proven, time-tested tool but they have been only available to high net-worth individuals. It is time to change that—so that everyone can be a philanthropist. We can write checks all day long, but the idea is to be intentional - to be a savvy donor, just like we are savvy investors.”

The platform is ready to go, and Amicus hopes to make an announcement soon about its upcoming bank partnership, Ruloff told us. “We’re excited to be creating a standardized platform that brings charities and donors togethers in a new way," he said. "Our goal is to really change the way philanthropy works.”

Image credit: Daria Nepriakhina/Unsplash

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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