Why Altruous


Mike Spear

Co-Founder & CEO


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I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a stable and loving middle-class household, in the idyllic suburbs of sunny San Diego. Mom was an artist and advertising executive, turned full-time homemaker. Dad was a well-respected lawyer and entrepreneur in his own right. While I sensed that money was (at times) tight, safety was never an issue. My sister and I were well-supported. Safety, security, access to healthy food, education, entertainment, nature, and sports was never an issue. For all intents and purposes, we wanted for nothing.  We were the lucky ones.

Piercing the Veil of Ignorance.

Not all kids growing up as I did are aware of their good fortune and privilege. However, it was important to my parents that we were. At 6 years old, inspired by those often-mocked Sally Struthers infomercials, I gathered up my entire life savings at the time, and sent $0.73 to Save the Children. Seeing those ads, and opening the acknowledgement letter in the car while being picked up from kindergarten, will forever be etched in my brain. So too are the stories of antisemitism my father faced growing up in Chicago in the 40s and the road trip we took through run-down neighborhoods of Tijuana with the clear purpose of seeing how less fortunate families lived.

Some time later, my parents posed a particularly memorable question over the dinner table. Challenging my sister and I to think deeply over dinner was a favorite pastime of theirs. They asked, “Would we rather spend our lives being wealthy, happy, or good?” After some debate, prevarication, and attempts to essentially “wish for more wishes,” the “right” answer, according to my parents, became clear: should, above all else, be good.

We didn’t do a lot of volunteering as a family, and philanthropy as we typically think about it was not one of our pastimes. However, as the Jewish descendents of Russian immigrants, who had faced generational antisemitism, morality, integrity, and standing up for what’s right, (especially) in the face of powerful opposition, was always part of our ethos. It’s part of what inspired me to become a filmmaker and journalist (my first career), and what ultimately led me to social entrepreneurship.


In 2013, Dan Pallotta ended his powerful TED Talk by saying, “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low…’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”

For those of us just getting started in the impact space, those words were a revelation. I was at Classy.org at the time, beginning to shed the idealist naivete required from early-stage entrepreneurs, and grappling with what it meant to become leaders in the space we’d set out to disrupt. We’d experienced firsthand the challenges faced by grassroots fundraisers out to make a difference in a centuries-old culture of philanthropy that was still in many ways, foreign to us. We were climbing the mountain step-by-step, and discovering it was really just the peak of a very deep iceberg.

So, Why Altruous?

Put simply, not much has changed. Mistrust in institutions and economic uncertainty are on the rise, and as a result, individual giving is in decline for the first time in generations. $300BN sits languishing in Donor Advised Funds, the stewards of which have long-since claimed their tax deductions and are under no real pressure to take further action. That funding could (and should) be deployed immediately to incredible effect, yet there it sits.

Check out our Cause & Purpose episode talking about Altruous!

The worth of social good organizations is still judged largely by its percentage of overhead. The slightly more modern focus on efficiency misses the point by a mile - when did efficiency become the goal? A virtue indeed, but surely it’s secondary to value of the positive impact created - the quality of the work, alignment with the needs and customs of the clients, the longevity of the impact, the minimization of harm, should all take priority. What about the ability of the organization to compete for top talent? What about the ability of the team to earn competitive wages and benefits, and work in safe, inclusive, environments? What about a culture of learning and rapid improvement? What about innovation, and the spark that comes with new potentially game-changing solutions? We know these things lead to better outcomes, yet they still seldom enter the conversation. As a mentor of mine is fond of saying, “It’s a war on sense-making!”

Until now, Impact-minded funders aligned with these ideas haven’t had any reasonable resources to help guide their decision making. Philanthropists, family offices, foundations, and businesses intent on making an impact with their philanthropy are inundated with conflicting messages, and irrelevant (and at times) misleading information. It’s no wonder that the majority of philanthropic funding goes to the established giants year after year, while leaner, more impactful, more innovative, and high-potential programs are starved for resources. It’s no wonder that decision-paralysis keeps so much money locked away in DAFs and prevents us from “expanding the pie,” as it were.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” - Mick Ebeling

When I think about Altruous, I think about all those challenging dinnertime chats. I think about the neighborhoods I’ve toured in Mexico and The Dominican Republic, the improvised roadside communities in Bombay, and the townships surrounding Capetown and Jo’burg that stretch on for miles. I think about climate change and social justice, entrenched racial and ethnic conflicts, hunger, equity in education and healthcare. I think about the reasons I became a journalist and filmmaker, and I remember why joining the founding team in those early days at Classy felt like home. I remember why I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and why it’s incumbent on purpose-driven leaders like those I’m privileged to have in my community to take meaningful actions and break the status quo.

Launching Altruous, I know we have a long way to go. We have a lot to learn and some big mountains to climb, and we’re very likely to face some pretty harsh criticism and resistance from people and organizations out there invested in maintaining the status quo. I also know, no project has felt more necessary or more aligned, and I’ve never had a greater sense of purpose or determination. Game on!

About the Author:

Mike Spear

Mike Spear

Co-Founder & CEO


Mike Spear is a social entrepreneur, content creator, and social impact strategist. He’s the host and producer of the Cause & Purpose Podcast, founder of Moonshot.co and Altruous.org. Before launching Altruous, Mike was part of the founding team at Classy.org, where he helped raise more than $5 Billion for social impact causes, en route to a successful acquisition by GoFundMe. Before that, he spent several years as a journalist and filmmaker, and holds a master’s degree in journalism from NYU.

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