9 Facts Every Nonprofit Should Know About Donor-Advised Funds

Growing in popularity, donor-advised funds are a vehicle for change that invite nonprofit organizations to establish relationships with funders who can meaningfully contribute to the success of their growth. While it may seem like a no-brainer, many nonprofits pass on pursuing grants from donor-advised funds. But that’s probably because they don’t know that:

  • Donor-advised fund accounts have nearly doubled within the past 5 years
  • The average size of a donor-advised fund is $300,000
  • Over $85 billion are waiting to be distributed to nonprofit organizations like yours

To acquire grants from donor-advised funds for your nonprofit, it’s important to know how they work and how to effectively manage relationships with these major donors. Let’s walk through the basics of donor-advised funds so your team can begin to work this specific type of solicitation into your fundraising strategy.

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What is a donor-advised fund?

A donor-advised fund is a philanthropic giving vehicle administered by a charitable sponsor. A charitable sponsor is a 501(c)(3) organization that has legal control over the donor-advised fund and is responsible for operating and maintaining it. Charitable sponsors include public charities, community foundations, and charitable funds that are associated with an investment firm.

How do donor-advised funds work?

Donors contribute to a fund held by a charitable sponsor and receive an immediate tax benefit. Over time, donors recommend grants from the fund to their favorite charities. The charitable sponsor awards grants to nonprofits recommended by donors. Note that in addition to cash, donors can also contribute appreciated assets such as stocks, real estate, etc., which can provide substantial tax savings for the donor.

Donor-advised funds are typically invested in mutual funds or other investment vehicles that allow the value of the funds to grow over time, increasing the donor’s ultimate philanthropic impact.

9 donor-advised fund facts for successful fundraising

  1. Gifts from donor-advised funds should be credited to both the charitable sponsor and the donor.
  2. Thank-yous should come in pairs.
  3. Charitable sponsors don’t decide who gets the grants.
  4. Donor-advised funds are often the simplest and least expensive way for donors to make a gift of appreciated assets (stocks, real estate, etc.) to your nonprofit.
  5. Grants from donor-advised funds can’t be used to fulfill a pledge.
  6. Grants from donor-advised funds can’t be used to purchase tickets to events or provide benefits to a donor.
  7. Donors have different strategies regarding how they use their donor-advised funds.
  8. Many donor-advised funds allow the donor to recommend recurring annual grants.
  9. Donors who give through a donor-advised fund are some of your best major gift candidates.

While donor-advised funds are increasingly common, many nonprofit organizations have not had to manage the intricacies that arise when receiving gifts from these entities. We’ve put together a useful list of details to keep in mind about donor-advised funds and how they will impact your record-keeping and operations.

1. Gifts from donor-advised funds should be credited to both the charitable sponsor and the donor.

When you receive a gift from a donor-advised fund, the charitable sponsor is the official donor, so you should record the gift in a donor record for that organization (ex: Vanguard Charitable Endowment).

The gift should also then be “soft-credited” to the specific donor that recommended the grant. Typically, the owner of the donor-advised fund will be identified as the grant-maker, unless the donor has requested that the gift be made anonymously.

2. Thank-yous should come in pairs.

The same way you credit both the charitable sponsor and the donor, you’ll also want to thank both of them, even though the donor is only soft-credited in your records. Be sure to create a specific acknowledgment letter that recognizes the donor as the one who recommended your nonprofit to receive the grant.

3. Charitable sponsors don’t decide who gets the grants.

Sending sponsors solicitations and other donor mailings is a waste of resources. For that reason, mark donor records for these organizations as “Do Not Mail.”

4. Donor-advised funds are often the simplest and least expensive way for donors to make a gift of appreciated assets (stocks, real estate, etc.) to your nonprofit.

When these types of gifts are given from a donor-advised fund, your organization doesn’t need to have a brokerage account, manage selling the assets, or provide the necessary paperwork for recognizing the gift. Through a donor-advised fund, your organization will just receive a check for the proceeds. Simple as that!

5. Grants from donor-advised funds can’t be used to fulfill a pledge.

Although the IRS prohibits the use of donor-advised funds as pledges, you can always ask a donor to commit to recommending a grant for your organization.

6. Grants from donor-advised funds can’t be used to purchase tickets to events or provide benefits to a donor.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give a donor event tickets to thank them for having recommended a grant.

7. Donors have different strategies regarding how they use their donor-advised funds.

For example, some use it as a philanthropic savings account, while others use it as an immediate gift conduit and recommend grants soon after they contribute. Some donors use their donor-advised funds to give to many different organizations, and some give to just one charity. Engaging donors in a discussion or conducting a survey about how they use their donor-advised funds can help your organization’s outreach better support those efforts.

8. Many donor-advised funds allow the donor to recommend recurring annual grants.

This eliminates the need for the donor to initiate the grant each year. Asking a donor to make a recurring grant will significantly increase the likelihood of the donor’s continued support.

9. Donors who give through a donor-advised fund are some of your best major gift candidates.

By setting up and funding a donor-advised fund, a donor demonstrates a great commitment to philanthropy and a demonstration of capacity. The average balance of a donor-advised fund is about $300,000. All those funds (and likely more) will eventually be given away.

How DonorPerfect helps nonprofits manage donor-advised funds

When you credit a grant from a donor-advised fund to a charitable sponsor in DonorPerfect, you should also soft-credit the donor who recommended the grant. These gift records can be linked together for easy reference, tracking, and reporting.

Screenshot of DonorPerfect Fundraising CRM soft-credit entry for donor advised fund pledges and gifts

Instantly (and effortlessly) send personalized acknowledgments using DonorPerfect. With DonorPerfect’s Thank-a-Donor feature, you can store letter templates for both charitable sponsors and donors that will auto-fill their information and acknowledge their gifts the moment a grant is received. This smart feature helps build relationships while making personalized communication simple and seamless. In addition to letters, you can use this feature to instantly send a thank you email to charitable sponsors and donors.

Side-by-side comparison between charitable sponsor thank you letter and individual donation acknowledgement letter

With these recommendations in mind, you may just be ready to begin pursuing donor-advised funds for your mission. But don’t go at it alone. Get the tools and support to bolster your team’s success from DonorPerfect.

Learn more about donor-advised funds in 5 Ways Philanthropists Use Donor Advised Funds and How Fundraisers Can Benefit

by Emily Patz

Jan 25 21
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