What Are Donor Advised Funds and How Can They Help My Organization?

Defining donor advised funds

According to the IRS, a donor advised fund (DAF) is a separately identified fund or account that is maintained and operated by a section 501(c)(3) organization, called the sponsoring organization.  

Each DAF account is composed of contributions made by an individual donor.  Once the donor makes the contribution, the sponsoring organization has legal control over the funds.  However, the donor or her representative (advisor) retains advisory privileges with assets in the account.  At any time afterward, the donor and their advisor can recommend grants from the account to qualified charities.

Donor advised funds were first established in the 1930s but have grown in popularity since the 1990s.  They are now the fastest-growing philanthropic vehicle, accounting for more than 3% of all charitable giving in the United States.

So it’s like retirement savings, except for donating money?

Think of a DAF like a normal investment account, such as a 401(k).  With the help of an advisor, the investor contributes money to an account based on their financial goals and risk profile.  Over time, that investment grows and returns dividends to the investor (and respective management fees to the investment company and advisor).  Depending on the type of investment account, the investor may qualify for a tax deduction (as in the case of the 401(k)).

Donor advised funds are similar in many ways.  After consulting with an advisor, a donor invests money in a DAF and is immediately eligible for a tax deduction.  The DAF becomes the owner of the funds and collects management fees. The donor, her advisor, and the fund manager work together to prioritize philanthropic goals and recommend grants to various nonprofits the donor cares about.

Why wouldn’t a donor just set up a foundation?

Many do!  But for some philanthropists, administering a private foundation simply isn’t an appealing use of time and energy (not to mention money tied up by operating costs).  Therefore, investing in a donor advised fund is a great strategy to avoid administrative red tape while making impactful charitable donations.

Is there more than one type of DAF?

There are four different types of donor advised funds:

  1. Commercial Funds
    Ex: Fidelity Charitable, Schwab Charitable, Vanguard Charitable
  2. Community Foundations
    Ex: Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Community Foundation for the Capital Region
  3. Boutique/Hybrid
    Ex: Single-family office or investment-management firm
  4. Institutional DAFs
    Ex: Higher education, The Nature Conservancy

Sounds good, but how can our organization solicit donors with donor advised funds?

Before solicitation, you first need to identify donors who have DAF investments.  There are many ways to do this:

  • Start with your CRM.  Search for gift records that include “advised” or “fund.”
  • Log in to iWave!  iWave offers access to the fastest-growing and most up-to-date charitable donations database (called VeriGift), not to mention an extensive public and private foundations database.  Try searching terms like “advised” and “fund” in the search bar.  You can also download the .pdf source material (ex: Form 990 or annual report) to verify the DAF and gift amounts.  Just how many results can you expect? You’ll have to try it yourself to find out! Hint: there are more than 12,000!
  • Ask your gift officers for help.  They can establish relationships with financial advisors and inquire about DAF opportunities with current donors and prospects.
  • Google it.  It’s surprisingly easy to find many DAFs and details about their giving profiles online.  If you identify any potential leads, you may be able to learn more with a simple Google search.

After identifying DAFs and the donors who invest in them, treat the rest like any other prospect outreach.  If you can effectively align your mission’s values with a prospective donor’s values, the donor will be much more likely to make an impact investment in your organization.  

Remember that DAFs often have different and sometimes exclusive areas of focus.  You can tailor your prospecting strategies based on a DAF’s giving profile. For cause-based funds, the donor is probably the influencer and should be the main point of outreach.  If the fund is regional-based or non-exclusive, the philanthropic advisor can be influential.

Can Canadians get in on the action?

Of course!  iWave’s charitable and foundations data includes donor advised funds from Canada, the United States, and International sources.  To learn more about DAFs from a Canadian perspective, read this article by Wealth Professional Canada.

Alright, I’m ready to get started.

Great!  Log in to iWave to start researching donor advised funds, or book a demo to see how iWave can help you attract your next major gift donor.  

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