Startup Company Philanthropi Gives Corporations a Powerful Tool for CSR


With his latest venture, former Lenfest Foundation chairman Keith Leaphart is revolutionizing how charitable giving works in the workplace.

Keith Leaphart knows philanthropy. For a decade, he served as board chair of the Lenfest Foundation, the charitable organization founded by late entrepreneur and corporate executive Gerry Lenfest that gave more than a billion dollars in grants to nonprofits in Philadelphia and beyond.

Today, Leaphart spends the bulk of his time focused not just on philanthropy but on Philanthropi, a startup tech platform he founded that aims to transform workplace giving with an all-in-one giving solution that allows companies to make a more powerful impact through Corporate Social Responsibility.

Here, Leaphart, whose company is the sponsor of the Satell Institute’s Spring 2023 Private CEO Conference, talks about how Philanthropi benefits companies, the growing importance of CSR, and why he’s proud to be associated with the Satell Institute.

My work at the Lenfest Foundation…
…was the inspiration for what I’m building here with Philanthropi. It gave me an excellent insight into what I describe as “big philanthropy”— high-net-worth individuals and the foundation infrastructure that’s in place in this country, where big checks are being written to specific organizations. But what you realize is it’s not necessarily the large foundations that are driving the giving ecosystem.

When you look at the numbers, individuals are the most active givers. Over 67 percent of total charitable giving comes from individual donors. However, these individual donors don’t have the same tools that high-net-worth individuals have. That’s why we created our platform to democratize giving and to create the ability for the everyday philanthropist to create their own personal foundation. Our main interest is how do we transform workplace giving from being top-down to bottom-up.

One of our products, Employer-Sponsored Impact Accounts…
…empowers your employees to participate in your external giving. An Impact Account is a micro-donor-advised fund—allowing your employees to set up their own personal foundation, which guides your corporate giving without any of the administrative headaches you’d otherwise have. We allow employers to do matching and seeding. One CEO described it as like a 401(k), but for philanthropic giving. Meaning: the employer is matching into the individual’s fund and getting the tax deduction, but the individual has the ability to direct where the funds go.

Another one of our products, the Hardship Relief Fund…
…lets companies supply internal support to their employees. How do you take care of your employees in times of hardship? Someone gets sick, someone gets deployed to the military, or someone’s house burns down — your employees aren’t going to be capable of being their best selves in these times of hardship. Philanthropi’s platform makes it easy to create a supportive environment without any paperwork from your HR department. We will customize a fund for you, allowing your employees to easily apply for funds within your specifications. We take the level of bias out of the equation as we allow the employee complete anonymity throughout the process.

Even though this product came from a pivot our company made in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have found it wildly successful for many other purposes — helping those suffering from domestic violence or assisting someone whose family member passed unexpectedly. Even though so many try to keep their work and personal lives separate, there is no way to do so entirely — so why not be the light for those experiencing hard times within your organization? And let’s be honest — the tax deduction to the corporation is also a pretty massive perk.

For employers, Philanthropi can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool because…
… we provide them with data. That’s what they love. They get to know where their employees are giving and the types of organizations they’re giving to. Ultimately, what this does is help them align their Corporate Social Responsibly strategy with their employee recruitment and retention strategy.

For instance, at a corporate level, a company might be giving to, say, arts organizations. But through our platform, they can see that their employees might actually be more interested in human services or education or something else. So they can align those strategies. That’s what the platform is designed to do.

When it comes to giving these days, Millennials and Gen Z …
…are the most active givers, which is always shocking for people to hear. Eight out of 10 Millennials have given to charity in the last year. Three-fourths of them define themselves as philanthropists. It’s not that they have more money to give. But they’re more intentional about making a difference.

Philanthropy used to be a destination, meaning you had to get to a place in your life — sell a company, have an exit, retire —then you started thinking about giving and philanthropy. Now it’s a journey. People are giving what they have now, and then as they continue to mature in their careers and finances, they’ll ideally continue those gifts. I’m optimistic that, as a society, we should be approaching the most generous generation.

For companies, committing to Corporate Social Responsibility…
…is no longer optional. Being part of a company that aligns with your core values is no longer a “nice-to-have,” people expect it. They do not want to align with companies or brands that don’t have a public purpose or are offering the bare minimum. We are proud to offer a tool that gives companies the ability to support employees in times of hardship and empowers employees with the tools to support their community.

The feedback we get from CEOs…
….has been incredible. A CEO told me,“Keith, as a company, we have always matched 401(k) contributions for our employees, and no one has ever said thank you. It’s just kind of expected. But as soon as we set up the Employer-Sponsored Impact Accounts with Philanthropi and we started matching their donations to their favorite charities, I’ve had so many people come up to me in the hallway and say, hey, thank you so much for putting a little extra in there and allowing me to give to the organization of my choice.”

The feedback we get from employees…
…has been heartwarming. I was on a launch call recently with Buchanan Ingersoll, a Satell Institute member, who is enrolled in our Hardship Relief Fund program. And I just watched the chat light up. Employees were saying, “I am so proud that our company set this up. This is so cool; it makes me feel good to work at this company.” The types of applications my team receives and the heartfelt thanks we get to share with the employer for the relief this provides them is beyond anything we could have imagined when we created this program. The impact of what we do is being felt across the country, which is incredible.

I’ve been really proud…
… of the growth of the Satell Institute. It started just with Ed’s vision. But it’s been great for me to see Satell get the leaders in the room talking about what it means to be a company that values Corporate Social Responsibility. There has to be someone who is the great convener, and Satell has become the great convener in the Pennsylvania community. I am excited to see the Satell Institute grow nationally with its message. If you’re not part of Satell, it may say something about your company’s commitment to CSR. For companies, it’s a genuine seal of approval.

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