August 28, 2017

He started a club that asks members to donate $5 each week—in lieu of coffee—to charity

In Lieu Of is a movement to get Bay Area residents to turn their caffeine habit into a giving habit

Bay Area resident Sam Buck wanted to create an easy way to turn his fellow residents' disposable income into a giving opportunity. Photo courtesy of Sam Buck

Coffee isn’t so much a drink in San Francisco, it’s a way of life. It borders on religion. At the very least, it’s breached the level of high art. Seriously, you can grab a drip coffee on the second floor of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at Sightglass before meandering through a collection that includes Matisse, Richter, and Munch. Coffee is important here. It’s also stupid expensive.

Last year, Blue Bottle introduced a $20 cup of coffee. A $20 cup! It’s egregious even by Bay Area standards, but it got me thinking. Who are the people standing in line outside of Blue Bottle, Philz, and Ritual? Are these people actually thinking about the sticker price on their daily habit, or are they just on autopilot? Are they aware of how much they are spending per day? Per week? Per year? At an average of around $5 per cup, it adds up quickly.

I looked at my bank statement and realized … I am one of them! I go to fancy coffee shops and shell out what amounts to a yearly wage in many developing countries. But it’s not just me, it’s hordes of people just like me–young professionals that file into the Bay Area for jobs in tech, academia, finance, etc.

What if there was a way to divert even a small portion of our purchasing power towards good? What if, in lieu of buying a cup of coffee, we each pitched in $5 towards a new charity each week?

What if there was a way to divert even a small portion of our purchasing power towards good? What if, in lieu of buying a cup of coffee, we each pitched in $5 towards a new charity each week? With that, the idea for In Lieu Of was born.

I decided to go on a philanthropic adventure and invite the rest of the world to join in the fun. Each week, In Lieu Of features and supports a new nonprofit in the Bay Area. A growing community of friends, family, and strangers (new friends!) are joining me and automatically donating $5 per week to support each featured nonprofit. Once someone signs up, they can expect a quick blurb and a story about each nonprofit sent straight to their email inbox every Wednesday. We all need a little extra excitement in the middle of the week.

In Lieu Of has been live for just over two months and it has been hands down the most rewarding experience of my life. I knew that donating would be fulfilling, but I vastly underestimated how humbled and inspired I would be seeing nonprofits’ work up close. In addition to sharing the facts about the organization, I’ve been “getting my hands dirty”—volunteering with the orgs, going on tours, and speaking with staff—to get the inside scoop on each nonprofit and its impact. I am now convinced that for as many problems as our society has, there are infinitely more solutions.

Want proof? Here are just a few of the ingeniously creative nonprofits that I’ve come across so far:

  • Five Keys Schools and Programs runs a charter school inside of a SF County Jail, helping inmates earn their diploma. Thanks to their work, recidivism rates are dropping dramatically.
  • Rebuilding Together Peninsula helps those less fortunate by reminding us of old school community values and a time when neighbors helped neighbors.
  • EARN uses principles of behavioral economics to solve America’s saving’s problem by giving away free money (with an important catch).
  • Back On My Feet hosts a running club for a totally different (and wildly successful) approach to addressing homelessness.

There are over 7,000 registered nonprofits in San Francisco city alone. The Bay Area isn’t just a tech mecca, it’s a caring community.

While I started In Lieu Of to assuage my guilt over a growing coffee tab, I ended up stumbling upon the most inspirational stories and people in the Bay. The best part? The journey is just getting started.

If you’d like to come along for the ride, you can join the ILO Club here.

Pro tip: Use the code LOVENOTHATE when you sign up and an extra $10 will be donated to a charity of your choice. Don’t have a charity in mind? No sweat! The nonprofit of the week will get 10 extra bucks thanks to how awesome you are.

Sam Buck

In Lieu Of

Sam Buck is a philanthropic adventurer and the founder of In Lieu Of. He passionately believes in the human capacity for kindness. With several years of fundraising experience under his belt, he is currently an Associate Director of Development, Business School Fund at Stanford. He lives in San Francisco with his rescue cat, Bader (named after Ruth Bader Ginsberg).