This post details the activities we pursued in 2016, what went well, and what we learned from them.
2016 was a record-breaking year for REG; we succeeded in raising over $1.4 million for highly effective charities, constituting $17 raised for every $1 spent. We pursued several high-variance opportunities in 2016 to explore the possibility of establishing REG as an industry-neutral giving platform. We also procured valuable contacts in daily fantasy sports, gaming, and finance, and we have detailed our experiences in each industry below.
Based on our experiences in 2016, we’ve concluded that we should focus more heavily on the poker community, rather than actively trying to expand to other areas. We believe that we succeeded in poker due to our strong initial connections. Such connections are hard to replicate in other fields. We will continue pursuing highly promising leads in other industries that might facilitate a broader entry. However, we will commit less overall resources to such activities. We plan to release a post with more details of our 2017 plans soon.
Continue our outreach to the poker community and at major poker events
What went well: We improved our brand recognition in the poker community, as evidenced by the increased media coverage of our activities. Our activities have been covered by major poker news sources, such as PokerUpdate, HighStakes DB, CalvinAyre, and the PokerStars blog. Also, last year Griffin Benger wore the REG patch at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, after Martin Jacobson and Jorryt van Hoof wore the patch in 2014 and Max Steinberg did so in 2015.
What we learned: At the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), we ran the #SCOOP4CHARITY fundraiser, which encouraged SCOOP participants to pledge 3% or more of their final table winnings to highly effective charities. This was an experiment for us, as it was our first fundraising event for an online tournament. #SCOOP4CHARITY received support from many prominent poker players, such as Martin Jacobson, Daniel Cates, Andre Akkari, Luciana Manolea, and Jeff Gross. However, our #SCOOP4CHARITY fundraiser didn’t yield as many donations as we hoped it would (it raised $6,400). Our preparation for this fundraiser was not optimal, which contributed to the underwhelming result. In the future, we want to start planning earlier and get major endorsements before going public with our campaigns.
We also learned that we need a stronger in-person presence at poker tournaments. The events that REG representatives were present at declined this year, which we felt affected how many new relationships we formed in the poker community. We now believe that meeting previous donors in person is more important than we thought, even if we already had a solid relationship.
Expand our matching campaigns
What went well: We collaborated with Dimi and Dan Shak to successfully raise $70,000 in donations. This challenge started with a matching goal of $35,000, which the poker community successfully completed. The donations from the matching challenge were allocated by REG, and a breakdown of where the donations went can be found in our annual transparency report.
We were also happy to see the success of Dan Smith’s donation drive, which raised a total of $1.7 million. A significant portion of this drive (just over $1 million) was counted towards REG’s total donations figure.
What we learned: We were very pleased to see the success of last year’s fundraisers, and we are looking into the significance of this for REG. We learned that the success of such matching challenges often depends on major contributions from a few dedicated donors.
Establish corporate partnerships
What went well: In 2016, we were contacted by quite a few organisations interested in partnering with us. We were able to explore plans for a formal partnership with many of these organizations. One notable result of these explorations was our partnership with Matchbook for the Bilzerian-Perkins biking challenge.
What we learned: The time-investment for partnerships is only justified in the case of very motivated and aligned partners, as some resulting contributions were substantially lower than expected. We have revised our selection process to heavily weight the motivation and commitment to the idea of effective giving of all our potential corporate partners.
Establish a charity poker tournament
What went well: While we weren’t able to make a charity poker tournament happen in 2016, we secured many valuable contacts that make this goal achievable in 2017. We have multiple routes for establishing a tournament, the most likely being a collaboration with PokerStars. Together with our cofounder Igor Kurganov who recently joined the PokerStars Team Pro we hope to establish a charity event at one of PokerStars‘ main tournaments. Other routes include collaborating with a private individual for a tournament, or working with another corporate partner.
What we learned: We obtained a better understanding of the difficulty of establishing such a tournament. While we generally expected it to be hard to set up such a tournament with high-value partners, the number of regulatory hurdles in many jurisdictions was higher than we had hoped for. This has led us to believe that it is more promising to collaborate with corporate partners in the poker community. They are more likely to have the necessary expertise and experience to make such a tournament a success.
Expansion into other industries
Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)
What went well: In December 2015, we set up a website targeted at the DFS community , and ran a successful matching challenge raising $150,000 for effective charities.
We also gained connections with some very motivated and altruistic members of the DFS community, most notably Tom and Martin Crowley. They donated an incredible total of $1,025,000 to AMF, GiveDirectly, and SCI in 2016.
What we learned: While we hope to maintain our existing relationships in the DFS community, we are no longer conducting active outreach. In late 2015 and early 2016, the two largest Daily Fantasy Sports websites faced substantial backlash due to allegations of fraud, racketeering, and false advertising. We were concerned that negative views of DFS could hurt our reputation. Additionally, we felt it was exceedingly hard to establish a strong network in an exclusively online community. As a result, we decided to discontinue official DFS outreach.
What went well: We successfully launched a website, facebook page, and twitter account for the GoodGamer project, which has now become independent. As a result of our exploration into this industry we acquired some valuable contacts, including at Twitch. Overall, we invested very few resources into this project.
What we learned: We learned that we needed a much stronger network in the gaming community to emulate REG’s success in poker. Much of REG’s initial success was facilitated by our cofounders’ excellent connections in the poker industry. The lack of such contacts in the eSports industry made substantial progress difficult last year. We still think eSports is a promising industry to target, and we’re currently weighing options for how to proceed.
What went well: REG employees gave a talk at Susquehanna International Group (SIG) on effective giving. We also met with a few ultra high-net-worth individuals. One particularly promising contact is interested in hosting a charity poker tournament with celebrities and people from the financial sector.
What we learned: Our talk at SIG attempted to cover too many topics in a short amount of time; we plan to make our future talks more focused. We still think talks are worth pursuing, but plan to re-evaluate them after speaking at Goldman Sachs and other banks in 2017. Generally, finance is much more diverse and scattered than the poker community, making it harder to establish REG as a recognizable brand in the industry.
We’ve had a difficult time hiring people who are outgoing, persuasive, and still deeply familiar with the literature on effective giving. We were only able to make one new hire in Jeff Jordan, our Director of Outreach. For all our projects in the last year, being talent-constrained was a significant issue, and we believe that many projects would have gone better if we had more qualified people working for us. If you know someone who might succeed at REG, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Communication with supporters
We learned that we need to communicate much more with our supporters about the progress of our different projects. A few of our supporters expressed concern that we didn’t provide updates on our expansions into DFS, gaming, and finance on a regular basis. We are planning to increase our organizational transparency in 2017.