Poker pro Dan Smith has achieved a lot as a player, accumulating more than $26 million in live tournament earnings over the past decade.
The 29-year-old has won major titles on the World Poker Tour and in super high roller events, but his greatest accomplishment might very well be the charity drive he founded in 2014. What started out as a personal commitment from Smith to match donations up to $25,000 in donations to the Humane League has grown to the point where the 2017 drive saw Smith, his growing list of collaborators and over 700 donors raise more than $4.5 million dollars for charity.
The fifth annual Double Up Drive is running from Nov. 27 through Dec. 29, and Smith and a group of poker and daily fantasy sports professionals have teamed up to match up to $1.29 million in donations to a group of 10 charities.
The organizations on the list were selected from a range of important issues with an emphasis on finding the most effective charities in order to maximize the impact of the money raised. Anyone interested in donating to any of the selected charities can send their receipt by email to email@example.com in order to have their donation matched.
In 2018 the 10 charities are:
- Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program
- Hellen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program
- Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion
- Massachusetts Bail Fund
- The Good Food Institute
- Animal Charity Evaluator Effective Animal Advocacy Fund
- Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI)
- REG Fund
More information on participating in the drive can be found at the Double Up Drive website or on Smith’s personal blog.
How The Double Up Drive Got Started
Smith came to the decision to do a charity matching drive while dealing with anxiety and depression, which arose despite Smith coming off of some of his most successful years as a professional poker player at the time.
“I just generally felt very disconnected and alone,” Smith told Card Player. “It is easy, in those dark times, to get caught up in negative patterns of thought. At that moment I was looking for a way to feel better, and while doing some reading on the subject I learned that the act of donating to charity is wonderful for your brain chemistry.”
The first drive ended up raising $125,000. By the third year, Smith had decided to personally select the list of 10 charities for the matching drive, which raised more than $1.7 million. The fourth-year saw a total of 714 donors raise more than $4.5 million. This year Smith is hoping to grow that number even further, saying, “I’m hoping to hit 1,000 unique donors.”
Smith says his charity drive has helped him come to terms with his profession as a poker player. He felt that he might not be contributing much to society by trying to win money at a card game, until he realized all of the positive change he could bring about with the cash he won.
“When I was 18, I took my father with me to the Bahamas for my first big live tournament. While there, he had a heart attack and he passed away. As a result, I decided not to go back to that tournament series. So it was six or seven years later that I felt like I had really overcome my mental health issues and was no longer depressed.”
“At this time I noticed that every year the tournament schedule for the Bahamas series got better and better, to the point that I estimated that my expected value for playing the series would be around $40,000. In my research about charitable giving, I read a statistic that essentially estimates the cost of saving someone’s life to be around $3,000. If you follow that line of reasoning, I found myself thinking, ‘Of course I should put myself through some mild mental anguish so that 13 people will literally not die.’ It’s some pretty heavy stuff. I’ve gotten a little more comfortable prioritizing my own health and well being since then, but I believe, that as of right now, playing poker and doing this drive is the most impactful thing I could be doing for the world. That is a large motivator for me to keep going.”
Choosing The Charities
“It is no longer just a project I do on my own,” Smith notes. “The first two people that I teamed up with were the daily fantasy sports professional brothers, Tom and Martin Crowley. They are remarkably enthusiastic and big-hearted effective altruists. I believe that they think the way they can make the most impact on the world is by kicking butt at fantasy sports and using their winnings to donate to effective causes.”
“The best charities seem to be more impactful and better run,” said Smith. “So to me, choosing wisely with where I give may dramatically increase the effectiveness – it can make 5x or up to maybe even 20x the difference in the world per dollar.”
In order to help guide them in their decision making Smith turned to Give Well, a non-profit whose mission is to rate the efficiency of various charities and make it as easy as possible for people to donate confidently.
“Anyone who wants to get involved in this space and is worried about making poor decisions, if you were to blindly follow Give Well’s recommendations I feel that you can’t go wrong. It’s a wonderful and easy way to get involved,” said Smith. “Currently, most or perhaps all of Give Well’s top recommendations for charitable giving are in places like Uganda, Kenya or Rwanda. For instance, Give Directly gives money to literally the poorest people on the planet who are living off of about 65 cents a day. That just makes your donation just so much more impactful than if you were to give the same 65 cents to a person begging on the street in San Francisco, who wouldn’t be able to buy much of anything with that.”
Smith and his collaborators all agreed to include a few of the top-rated charities according to Give Well. Some of the contributors believe strongly in the importance of artificial intelligence safety, so two organizations having to do with that issue were included.
In the end, all it took for the matching group to come to an agreement on the final list of ten charities was a few discussions. “As far as divvying up more than a million dollars among ten charitable organizations goes, I think it all went pretty smoothly.”
Smith had been hoping for years to find a mental health charity that met his standards for efficiency, and this year he came across an organization called Strong Minds that organizes group therapy for depressed women in Uganda. After communicating directly with some of the founders of the organization, Smith pushed for it to be included in the list of ten charities. This campaign resulted in large part from Smith dealing with his own mental health issues, which is why finding an organization like Strong Minds meant so much to him.
“I think it is easy to think that mental health issues are a sign of weakness and that something is wrong with you. I kind of thought I was broken and doomed to be like that forever. I think that my issues weren’t nearly as rare as I thought they were. Two months ago I wrote a blog post about my issues with mental health. I believe that I come across as a very happy and successful person with everything going right, but I was hoping that people might see that even if things are going so well professionally, that it’s still possible for someone to have issues that they are working with on a daily basis.”
How You Can Help
Smith also had some final words for those who want to help but might be concerned that the amount they can feel comfortable contributing won’t make much difference in such a big drive.
“I want to clarify that any contribution is totally relevant. Since you can support somebody for as little as 65 cents a day, there really is no amount too small,” said Smith. “In a non-financial way, helping to spread the news is greatly appreciated. If every person who reads this article forwards the blog to somebody who might be a good fit, I think the chances of me meeting the person who helps me take the project to the next level go up exponentially.”