Schwab Charitable, a national provider of donor-advised funds and other philanthropic services, reported this week that it had facilitated some $1.5 billion in grants to charities in 2016, a 41% increase from the year before. This was the second consecutive year grants exceeded $1 billion.
Schwab’s DAF account holders supported 61,000 charities last year, and recommended approximately 273,000 grants, 40,000 more than in 2015.
The report said donors mobilized support around several domestic and international causes in 2016: the global refugee crisis, relief efforts for Hurricane Matthew and flooding in Louisiana.
Charitable activity surged in the fourth quarter, as DAF account holders recommended 128,000 grants totaling more than $670 million. This was an increase of 75% from the 2015 fourth quarter, and represented 45% of the total value of grants in 2016.
Schwab reported that noncash assets made up 68% of contributions into its DAF accounts last year. By contributing appreciated noncash assets, it said, DAF account holders can generally eliminate capital gains tax on the sale of those assets, and at the same time increase their giving by as much as 20%
“Many investors turned to charitable giving to offset higher capital gains and income taxes associated with earnings from a strong economy and high-performing stock market,” Schwab Charitable’s president, Kim Laughton, said in a statement.
“Uncertainty over the new administration’s tax policy also encouraged donors to maximize the significant benefits of charitable giving under the existing tax code.”
Donor-advised funds are on a roll. In 2015, the latest year for which data are available, the number of accounts in the U.S. grew to 269,180, up 11.1% from the year before, and assets in these vehicles grew by 11.9% to an all-time high of $78.6 billion.
Last year, several national DAF providers numbered among the top U.S. charities for fundraising from private sources — including, for the first time, the no. 1 spot.
DAFs are not without their critics, however. Complaints include that donors use them to avoid taxes, that financial firms impose excessive management fees and DAFs undermine American philanthropy by not distributing their assets in a timely manner, in some cases for many years.
A report released in December found these criticisms largely misplaced, and said that on balance, DAFs were a boon to the charitable world.
In a year-end survey, Schwab reported, 67% of client donors said they gave more than they otherwise would because they had a DAF account. In addition, more than 90% of contributions into Schwab Charitable accounts are fully distributed to charity within 10 years.
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