Making an Impact in Challenging Times: A Profile of Donor Advised Funds' Giving

For many donors, DAFs are ‘ready reserve’ for giving in difficult economic times

Since 1991, Fidelity Charitable has made more than $14 billion in grants to some 160,000 nonprofit organizations recommended by account holders in its national donor-advised fund program.

On Monday, the organization issued a report detailing the demographics and giving patterns of some 94,000 individuals who advise on DAFs at Fidelity.

At present, Fidelity’s DAF program has 57,774 giving accounts, many of which have more than one individual with advisory privileges. Donors come from all 50 states, and range in age from 20 to 100.

The average primary account holder is 62 years old and sets up an account at age 54. Forty percent of donors have maintained a giving account for more than a decade, and 13% have had an account at least 15 years.

In 2012, donors recommended grants totaling $1.6 billion across all charitable sectors. The number of grants per giving account averaged about seven. The average grant size was $3,773, though more than $900 million was granted in amounts of $50,000 or more. 

Over the past decade, the total volume of grants grew each year, rising from 154,000 in 2003 to 429,000 in 2012. This was true during the worst years of the financial crisis (2008–2009), with more than $1 billion granted out each year.

Fidelity said in a statement that the consistent number of outgoing grants through the financial crisis demonstrated that donors used their accounts as a “ready reserve” of funds to maintain their charitable impact during challenging economic times.

The number of grants recommended in advance or recommended for recurring distribution rose at an even faster pace than overall grants, showing donors’ planned-giving approach. In 2012, scheduled grant recommendations accounted for 21% of all grants, up from 17% in 2008.

By sector, religious organizations accounted for the largest proportion of grants made at 27% in 2012, but education attracted the largest proportion of grant dollars at 26%.

Fidelity also analyzed giving accounts by size. This showed that the proportion of grants made to religious organizations decreases dramatically as the size of the account increases.

The proportion of grants to nonprofits in education, human services, society benefit and health go the opposite way, increasing as the account size grows. Grants to environment and animals, arts and culture, and international affairs remain steady regardless of account size.

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