Over winter break in 2008, eight Highland Park graduates birthed the brainchild that would become Cards Against Humanity, an irreverent-bordering-on-offensive party game that has since become one of the most popular games on Amazon.
Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof, Max Temkin and Eliot Weinstein are all presumably quite “comfortable,” but not one has quit their day job. Munk and Temkin, who both still live in Chicago, attempt to split their time 50-50 when it comes to Cards Against Humanity and other endeavors. Temkin has worked as a political aide. Dillon recently completed a PhD in astrophysics at MIT. The rest have gone on to do other, likely less offensive things — although the group meets every Monday night via Google Hangout for a weekly State of the Union.
Cards Against Humanity can most accurately be described as an X-rated version of Apples to Apples, the word and phrase association game. With card options like “Michelle Obama’s arms” and “lumberjack fantasies” (just to name two of the tamer options), Cards has long been the darling of boring parties and liberal progressives.
“We were cool for a long time, close to the Bush administration [when it was] still subversive and cool to make jokes and poke fun at authority figures,” Temkin says. “Then we elected Obama and now the liberal progressives became the cultural power and we’re still doing the same thing and it’s like no you can’t make fun of Obama.”
But they are. They’re making fun of everyone — from pretentious hipsters to the Oregon militiamen who until recently occupied a wildlife preserve. In fact, Temkin attempted to send the militiamen a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant after the men released a statement asking for food and supplies.
“It was part of our philanthropy efforts, actually,” Munk jokes.
They also aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. In 2015, they offered their customers “the ultimate Black Friday experience — the ability to buy nothing from us for $5.”
They took their entire store offline, put up a simple payment form and watched the money roll in — ultimately making a windfall profit of $71,145, which they divided among their employees.
Though Cards has donated close to $4 million dollars to various charities since 2012, their Black Friday funds were not specifically earmarked for donation.
“[On] Black Friday we’re just making fun of Black Friday,” Temkin says.
“We don’t want people to walk away feeling good,” Munk agrees.
“We hope to sell things during the holidays too, but it is a really gross day and it makes us feel bad so we like to make fun of it and parody it as much as possible,” Temkin says. “When we parody something, we go all out. We become the worst version of Black Friday.
“The fact that people gave us as much money as they did … that is probably one of the funniest things that’s ever happened in the history of our company.”
The Cards employees donated “maybe 30 or 40 percent” of their respective windfalls independently to organizations ranging from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to the Greater Chicago Food Depository to “$50 in $1 bills to keep in my purse and hand out to people with signs because I never carry cash and always feel guilty.”
Temkin notes that when Cards does philanthropy projects, they’re “usually pretty upfront about it. There’s usually advocacy that goes with it.”
“So when we did a fundraiser for the Sunlight Foundation, we sent everyone campaign finance reports on their elected officials,” Temkin says. “We try to teach people about an issue and then give money away.”
In 2012, Cards released their first “pay what you want” holiday extension pack for the game and raised just over $70,000. They elected to donate the money to the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia.
“We’re looking for something that would resonate with our core audience,” Temkin says. “We’re always looking for something that people will feel good about and something [where] we can make a big difference in their fundraising. And Wikimedia, that’s like their entire fundraising drive.”
For Temkin and the other Cards founders, Wikipedia is more than just a “silly website,” it’s an access to information issue.
“It used to be really difficult to get your hands on an encyclopedia; if you lived in countries that didn’t have encyclopedias you didn’t have access to the same quality of information,” Temkin says. “People forget that’s a very new idea that you can just look something up and have the facts on it for free if you don’t have access to a public library, or if your public library is no good.”
In 2015, Cards organized the fundraiser “8 Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah” and donated $150,000 to WBEZ, Chicago’s National Public Radio offshoot.
“This country has always had for-profit media and probably always will,” Temkin says. “But there’s another side of media, the disinterested public media that reports just the facts in context.
“There’s a reason people can’t sell the news like NPR does. It’s too global, it’s too smart, the words they use are too big. That’s why that’s a public good that’s funded by taxpayers and run as a nonprofit and that’s something I think we feel pretty strongly about.”
Another year, after 8 Sensible Gifts, Cards used the $150,000 to give their factory employees in China a week-long paid vacation.
“I remember being pretty doubtful that it would work well,” Munk says.
Temkin agrees, noting that nothing really got figured out until the very end.
Although Cards makes a point of only using factories with the very highest pay standards and working conditions in China, they wanted to do more to recognize the work their Chinese cohorts do to make the game possible.
Because the factory in China didn’t have any formal procedures for paid vacation, the Cards founders bought 100 percent of the capacity for a week and paid them to produce nothing. You can see what the factory workers did on their vacations here.
When it comes to donating in his private life, Temkin offers pro bono political consulting to organizations including Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail and the Paul Rusesabagina Foundation, which advocates for truth, reconciliation and de-escalation of conflict in Rwanda and the Congo.
Munk, on the other hand, has chosen to support causes that hit closer to home, including homelessness in Chicago and juvenile diabetes.
“My father’s a type 1 diabetic and I have a cousin that’s a juvenile diabetic so that’s just something that personally affected my life,” Munk says.
Their favorite charity project? Donating more than $100,000 in 2013 to the website Donors Choose, which allows people to fund classrooms all over the country.
It was very much educational guilt that led the Cards team to partner with Donors Choose, Munk and Temkin say.
“It was startling to be in the bubble growing up where everything you [need] is there,” Munk says. “But my brother is a high school teacher now in Memphis and it’s very different. That’s a different reality, so it hit home pretty hard.”
Temkin says the Donors Choose project was some of the most fun he’s had with Cards. They divided the budget up between all the founders and picked different projects.
Dillon, the astrophysicist, funded almost every single science project. The Cards founders were able to help close to 8,000 students in Illinois alone. Being able to contribute to a charity that will resonate with the people who play Cards is one of the most important parts of philanthropy for the founders.
“How do we use this money to do something really surprising that really impacts people’s lives?” Temkin says. “It’s a feel-good, everyone who plays our game can connect to it and that amount of money could make a huge difference.”
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