May 6, 2010; Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy | Sometimes big news doesn’t get picked up as widely as it should. Last week, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund announced that contributions in the first quarter of 2010 to the Gift Fund (as you know, a 501(c)(3) entity) rose 109 percent compared to the same period last year (from $129m to $270m) and grants from the donor-advised funds at Fidelity to charities were up 35 percent (from $199m to $269m).

The Chronicle of Philanthropy added that the number of new accounts (presumably mostly donor-advised funds, through Fidelity offers various kinds of charitable remainder trust and pooled income fund options as well) increased by 145 percent over the same quarter in 2009. Fidelity’s press release said that this was its best first quarter showing ever.

Interestingly, almost half of the contributions to the Gift Fund—46 percent—were in the form of appreciated securities compared to 27 percent in the same quarter a year ago, the implication being that donors with substantial investments in mutual funds and equities have benefited from the strengthening stock market to up their charitable giving. Some of the increase in grant distributions is undoubtedly attributable to donors’ responses to the earthquake in Haiti. Fidelity acknowledges that its donors made more than 10,000 grants amounting to north of $14 million to Haitian relief efforts after the earthquake, but that is one of the benefits of a national fund like Fidelity. Fidelity is generally able to process donors’ charitable gifts online as rapidly as any entity in the nation, which is exceptionally useful in disaster relief circumstances.

A long time ago, there was much suspicion from community foundations and others about the upstart “commercial” gift funds such as the national funds sponsored by Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, and others. As mechanisms for speeding the flow of charitable funds through middle income donors using the device of donor advised funds, Fidelity and its peers have proven their mettle.—Rick Cohen