Are the Donors in Donor-Advised Funds “The Promised Land” or Just Regular Folk?

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Little-boxes

 

Fidelity Charitable Funds has just released its latest report on its donors, 2016’s “Giving Report.” This year’s report focuses on how the Fidelity Charitable Fund’s donors differ from other donors surveyed. If we were to sum the picture up, we’d venture that these donors appear a bit more organized; that’s probably a good thing, especially if you are focused on donor retention over time or on the idea that your relationship with the primary donor may expose you to others in their circle.

Donor-advised fund users generate greater impact than others who give in other ways:

  Fidelity Charitable Donors Similar Donors Who Do Not Use a Donor-Advised Fund
Give to six or more charities per year 85% 36%
Give more than $10K per year 71% 42%
Give more than $10K per year in retirement 70% 27%
Engage others in household in decisions about giving 82% 53%
Donate appreciated assets 60% 19%

But one important thing to understand is that the halls of donor-advised funds are not teeming with high-dollar donors hiding behind the giving intermediary for anonymity. More than half (61 percent) of the donor-advised funds in Fidelity contain $25,000 or less, and average grant sizes have hovered around $4,000 for the past decade with a predictable dip in the recession years. In other words, they tend to be regular but relatively modest donors.

That said, the size of the fund as an intermediary has grown by leaps and bounds. The number of charities supported by the donors at Fidelity increased by 100% to 106,000 in the last ten years. Last year, the combined giving by 132,000 donors from more than 80,000 donor-advised funds managed by Fidelity was $3.1 billion. If you take the Fidelity funds as a whole, they are second only in charitable distributions to the Gates Foundation.

Other trends seem to track with other segments of donors. According to this report:

  • Spikes in giving to some of the most popular charities correlate to humanitarian disasters; this past year, that included the earthquake in Nepal and humanitarian crisis in Syria.
  • Some charities saw an increase due to social or group giving focused on healthcare and medical research. The Alzheimer’s Association saw a 39% increase fueled by this type of giving; Pan-Mass Challenge saw a 26% increase.

Charitable Gift Fund donors also give related to such stuff as charity athletic events…in other words, all very much like other donors—just with an increased ease in giving.

These two facts put together—the rise of the number of Fidelity’s donor-advised funds married to the stability in the size of average grants—points to a normalization of the use of these funds, which provide support services even for average donors. If our takeaways are right, the funds will continue their growth, and nonprofits will understand that the money is actually just making a quick stop between the donor and the donee and that the magic still lies in that relationship between nonprofit and beloved donor.

  • Rob Mitchell

    Where are the critics like Alan Cantor? Congress and the IRS are ‘examining’ the best thing that has happened to charitable giving since the recession. Critics are arguing for a ‘floor’ like private foundations have (give away 5% of assets annually and reveal donor names) Why? DAFs are the biggest game changer in giving since the recession… let’s fight to keep them just the way they are. They work! Critics like Cantor are ignoring the facts and have a solution seeking a problem. Give it up… or debate me on Non-profit Radio. Facts are not your friend.

    Rob Mitchell
    CEO, Atlas of Giving

  • Rob Mitchell

    Nice job Ruth!