(New York Jewish Week) —Imagine if donating to charity online was as easy as shopping on Etsy or ordering toiletries from Amazon. This is how Chariot, a tech startup with Jewish values at its core, hopes to change the future of philanthropy.
Chariot’s 20-something Jewish founders Salo Serfati, Aaron Kahane and Drew Schneider have one goal in mind: to help the next generation of earners see themselves as active, effective donors — making it easier than ever for anyone Make charitable contributions.
“We want to help people identify as givers,” Kahane, the company’s 24-year-old chief operating officer, told Jewish Week New York from a conference room in his office just blocks from Central Park, where they are currently “borrowing.” Kahane Brother’s few tables.
The idea, he continued, was to encourage young people to “don’t just give when asked to donate to a campaign or hear a tragic news event,” he said. “If you see yourself as someone who is actively giving — saving even before you’re asked to — you start thinking more about philanthropy and helping people more.”
Grow with social media and online giving, Gen Z can shape their activism and charitable giving faster and more broadly than any generation before them. Chariot wants to combine the giving methods of previous generations (through foundations, grants, and foundations) with the online immediacy and convenience that Gen Z expects, and turn donors of all generations into active donors.
It was the founders’ Jewish identity that helped guide them in the way they improved their charitable giving. Both Serfati and Kahane attended Jewish schools when they were growing up—Sefarti attended Scheck Hillel Community School in Miami after leaving a tight-knit Jewish community in Venezuela when he was born, while Kahane attended SAR, a modern Orthodox day school in the Bronx Study in high school. Both attended Judaism in Israel before going to college. Schneider grew up in reform and is active in his local BBYO chapter.
In launching the chariot, the young founder drew on principles known as Judaism ma’aser or tithing – Donate 10% of your personal income. “We grew up with Jewish values,” explained the company’s 25-year-old CEO, Serfati. “It’s funny how everyone told us we should donate tzedakah, but we never got a good structure on how to actually follow it.”
Chariot’s main idea is to change the way donor-advised funds (DAFs) — investment accounts dedicated to donated funds — are used to donate to charities online. According to the National Charitable Trusts, these funds are now some $160 billion and are one of the fastest-growing vehicles in philanthropy. An annual report on DAF indicators.
While there are tax benefits to depositing charitable funds in the DAF, Chariot’s founders recognize that withdrawals from these accounts can be intermittent: By law, donors pay only 5% per year, and the rest can grow tax-free. Most Jewish communities have donor-advised funds, usually tied to local Jewish federations, whose donation process can be cumbersome and sometimes limit the organizations people can donate to.
Meanwhile, to donate in an individual capacity or to a personal event, donors need to find a routing number, a nonprofit EIN identification number, and fill out a form page to withdraw funds from their fund and donate to a charity—this is A process may turn away some donors.
So, Serfati said, they thought: “Why not solve the biggest pain point of DAF, which is payment infrastructure?”
Serfati has been working hard to improve the convenience of charitable giving. When he graduated from Penn in 2020 and started earning his first salary, Serfati opened a separate checking account with 10% of his income and tracked him on an elaborate Excel spreadsheet of all donations.
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When his friends and family took notice, Serfati and college friend Kahane launched MyTenPercent, a short-lived company in the summer of 2021, that offers users a debit card to help make charitable giving easier. But they hit a stumbling block when they realized that similar ideas and companies already existed.
They eventually turned their minds to improving the user experience and set out to build online payment buttons. The button will allow donors to access and donate from their DAF with one click – similar to using PayPal or a credit card. Chariot then sends a request to the fund for approval of the donation, usually a form. Friends chose Schneider, 23, a former colleague of Kahane’s at Bain & Company who became Chariot’s head of product. The company was formally established in March.
Nonprofits can add Chariot’s payment buttons to their websites; Chariot will work with third-party payment platforms to integrate their buttons into their systems. Similar to a credit card, Chariot charges donors a 2.5% transaction fee every time the button is used, which is how they make money.
The idea was enough to earn a place in Y Combinator, a prestigious startup incubator whose alumni include AirBnb, Coinbase, Instacart, and other now-famous companies. Selected startups will receive $500,000 in investment and a three-month crash course to pitch investors and solve problems in their ideas.
As it happened, the three friends were watching “Silicon Valley” together, a show about a tech startup, when they got a call in early May that they had been accepted. “We went in and we were like ‘this changes our focus, our motivation — everything in every way,'” Serfati said.
“Aaron and I called our parents and quit the next day,” Schneider said.
Just four months after that call, the startup just closed its first seed round, raising nearly $4 million and backed by venture capital such as SVAngel and Spark Capital.
After a week of workshops and networking in San Francisco, they returned to New York, where they live, and are currently hiring a team of full-time engineers, contracting nonprofits and building platforms. Although they plan to go live at the end of September, they are already gearing up for this year’s donation on Tuesday, November 29th, the largest giving day of the year in the country.
Currently, they are spending the time of their lives co-founding the company. “You’re learning every day, and new challenges keep popping up,” Serfati said. “In the beginning, it was just ‘getting the product out’, then sales, then fundraising, then recruiting. There’s always a new mini-game to play.”
“Lines of code are transferring millions of dollars to those in need,” he added. “That’s what motivates us to come to work every morning.”
For Schneider, since joining Chariot, “my whole mindset has changed, and the way I interact with charities has changed – I’m giving more than I used to,” he said. “We want to educate people that making a big impact is actually an incremental change.”