For charitable individuals and families looking to maximize their giving impact and tax benefits, donor-advised funds (DAFs) have become increasingly popular ways to support charitable causes.

In fact, due to their simplicity and flexibility, DAFs are among the fastest-growing charitable giving vehicles in the U.S. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, DAF activity increased in 2022, with grants from DAFs and contributions to DAFs reaching all-time highs. Grants from DAFs to charitable organizations reached $52.16 billion in 2022, a 9% increase from 2021.

Download the Essential Guide to Donor-Advised Funds

What is a Donor-Advised Fund & How Does it Work?

A donor-advised fund acts as a charitable giving account for you or your family. You can contribute an array of private or public assets that extend beyond cash to a DAF, including gifts of stock, real estate, cryptocurrency, private equity, mutual funds, retirement assets and more. Opening a DAF takes three easy steps:

1. Make a tax-deductible contribution

Donate cash, non-cash or complex assets to your DAF, which is maintained and operated by a section 501(c)(3) sponsoring organization. Your contribution is eligible for an immediate tax deduction at the time your gift is made.

2. Grow your donation, tax-free

While deciding which community initiatives or nonprofit organizations to support, your charitable assets grow, tax-free. Sponsoring organizations, such as community foundations and commercial banks, typically offer a variety of investment options for your charitable assets based on your projected grantmaking time horizon.

3. Grant when you are ready

Support public charities, causes or community initiatives that align with your passions or to meet emerging, critical needs through grant recommendations from your DAF.

Donor-Advised Fund Rules & Contribution Limits

Each sponsor organization has a set of rules for donor-advised funds they manage. In general, the following are fairly standard with any sponsor:

  • Contributions to DAFs are irrevocable, meaning assets cannot be taken back once they are gifted.
  • Although donors maintain advisory and grantmaking privileges for their DAF, once assets are gifted to the account, they belong to the sponsoring organization.
  • There are no contribution limits on how much you may donate to a DAF. Sponsors may, however, require a minimum contribution to start a DAF and/or a minimum grant amount.
  • All grant recommendations from DAFs must be approved by the sponsoring organization. Although rare, a sponsor can block a grant recommendation if the donor doesn’t abide by the organization’s standards or guidelines.
  • Grants must go to a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization recognized by the IRS. No grants to individuals are allowed. DAFs may, however, fund scholarship opportunities based on a defined set of student criteria.
  • Donors cannot receive a personal benefit from DAF grantmaking.

It’s important to read the documentation at sponsoring organizations to understand rules, limits and guidelines before opening a DAF.

Donor-Advised Fund Tax Deductions

The popularity of donor-advised funds continues to rise due to asset flexibility, charitable impact and tax benefits. Immediately following a DAF contribution, donors are eligible for a tax deduction that calendar year – similar to giving to a public charity. Other tax benefits include:

  • Donating cash, via check or wire transfer and generally be eligible for an income tax deduction of up to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Donating long-term appreciated securities directly to charity to help maximize both your tax benefit and the overall amount you have to grant to charity.
  • Becoming eligible for an income tax deduction of the full fair-market value of the asset, up to 30 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Eliminating capital gains tax on long-term appreciated assets (assets held for more than one year)
  • Donations exceeding limits can be carried over for up to five tax years

Donor-Advised Fund Pros & Cons

Older adult and child

In addition to tax deductions, benefits for donors include:

  • Leveraging investment expertise from sponsoring organizations to grow charitable assets over time and strengthen grantmaking and social good power
  • Actively engaging in grantmaking to support community initiatives and nonprofit organizations when you are ready
  • Opting for privacy by giving anonymously if donors do not want to be identified publicly.
  • Centralizing recordkeeping to simplify documentation for tax planning
  • Supporting family philanthropy and/or legacy planning for future generations

Community foundations provide the added benefit of connecting donors to giving experts who have insights into community needs, regional challenges and impactful nonprofit organizations.

While DAFs provide many benefits, they may not be for every philanthropist. Some donors and families may prefer complete control over every aspect of their philanthropy, in which case a private foundation may be an option, assuming they have the capital to begin one. Also, some DAF sponsoring organizations require a minimum initial contribution of $25,000 or more, pricing some out of the DAF market. At the same time, other sponsors require a minimum grant amount that is too high for individuals who donate less than $250 each year.

All DAFs come with annual administrative costs and investment fees. At community foundations, fund fees are reinvested into the community through programmatic work, staff support and grantmaking. Fund fees at commercial banks, however, benefit stockholders.

Lastly, if a sponsoring organization does not enforce time requirements for grantmaking, charitable assets may sit in DAFs for long periods rather than be granted into the community.

Download the Essential Guide to Donor-Advised Funds

Comparison: Donor-Advised Funds & Private Foundations

Couple doing paperwork

DAFs and private foundations are similar in that they are both charitable vehicles to invest and grant our charitable assets.

“There are many advantages to a private foundation, especially family control that can last for generations. But, there are other ways to achieve similar results,” said Lynda Sands, JD, MBA, who has advised nonprofits, families and businesses in high-net-worth philanthropic planning and creating private foundations and new public charities for 40 years.

DAFs provide the benefits of a private foundation without the complexity, administrative burden or added expenses. Although donors have complete control over a private foundation, they can be challenging to start and maintain over time. They require a lot of time and resources, not to mention a degree of expertise to ensure all legal requirements are met.

DAFs, on the other hand, offer the charitable benefits of a private foundation without being subject to start-up costs, tax-exempt status or annual income excise tax.

While donors may maintain complete control over branding, investments and grantmaking with a private foundation, they are also subject to IRS requirements, must research and secure their own investment vehicles, and are burdened with startup costs, taxes and administration fees.

Donor-Advised Fund Private Foundation
Startup costs
Grant anonymously
Annual taxes
Annual 5% payout required
Maximum tax benefits
Grant and admin services
Form 990 required
Community knowledge
Fees re-invested into community
Network with local donors
Philanthropic advisors
Donor owns brand

 

Also, donors can deduct their donor-advised fund gift up to 50% of their adjusted gross income compared to 30% of a private foundation gift.

If a private foundation already exists, it can be converted to a DAF. Otherwise, DAFs can be considered private foundation alternatives.

Maximizing DAFs at Community Foundations

While any sponsoring organization can manage the compliance and basic functionality of donor-advised funds, community foundations provide local community expertise and connections for donors to maximize their impact.

As San Diego’s only regional community foundation, we have helped passionate philanthropists create positive impacts across our county for nearly 50 years.

Contrary to its reputation of affluence and prosperity, San Diego County grapples with considerable economic hardship, according to the San Diego Economic Equity Report. Grantmaking from DAFs helps address the greatest need in our region.

If you want to learn more about maximizing your impact through donor-advised funds to address San Diego’s greatest needs, contact us at (619) 235-2300 or donorservices@sdfoundation.org.

Or download the Essential Guide to Donor-Advised Funds eBook to learn more about DAFs.