Giving in all its forms — time, talent and treasure — is in our DNA, and I’d like to think it’s not tied to a tax deduction, but rather to a desire to do good — to love humankind. That’s why I give, and why I believe our donors give too. Maybe I’m a bit ‘Pollyanna’ about philanthropy, but especially this time of year, I lean on this sentiment.
Recently, there’s been a lot of press about why people give, often in the context of tax reform and policies that may (or may not) change the behavior of donors, and the levels of giving. One of the most popular forms of philanthropy, the Donor-Advised Fund (DAF), has come under scrutiny in the last few years, both in the press and on Capitol Hill. The first DAF was created in 1931, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990’s and with the creation of DAF vehicles at commercial investment firms that they really began to gain traction as a giving platform.
As a result, they seem to be getting a bad rap. Philanthropy pundits and lawmakers are starting to question whether or not these vehicles serve the donors more than the community and nonprofits, since the donor maximizes his or her tax benefit, and there are no legal requirements of distributions over time.
True, the DAF provides a way to invest long-term philanthropic assets and let the donor advisor, often in concert with their local community foundation, recommend how the money is redistributed to nonprofits doing work that match their charitable interests. But while there isn’t a spending requirement, each year DAFs distribute on average 10% or more of their assets. In comparison, a private foundation is only required to distribute 5%.
What donors may not realize, however, is that in addition to DAFs, there are other charitable vehicles available to them through their local community foundations: field of interest funds allow them to define an area of giving while taking the burden of individual nonprofit selection off their hands. Designated funds allow them to identify a nonprofit — or nonprofits — to receive funds over an extended period of time — even perpetually through an endowment. Scholarship funds can be established to offer tangible, individual support to schools or students that will directly benefit from donors’ generosity. A great, and often unexplored, benefit to these types of funds: they can even be established using an IRA charitable rollover, something currently not available for gifting to DAFs.
But in this debate over the merits of DAFs, let’s not forget the tremendous charitable impact that these funds can achieve. Last year alone, the Foundation’s DAFs invested nearly $15 million in local organizations that help educate our children, feed and house families, protect our environment and create a thriving arts region. Nationally, DAFs distributed $15.75 billion in 2016 — a growth of 10.4% from the previous year.
More importantly, the Donor-Advised fundholders that we partner with at the Foundation see us as more than a charitable vehicle. They are learning with us, collaborating with us, and co-investing with us. Our recent Giving Together campaign has allowed our donors to match with us, dollar for dollar, $150,000 to support impactful nonprofits addressing poverty in our region through programs that support housing, healthcare and access to employment. And there are many other opportunities through our Fund for the Triangle, addressing the most pressing needs of our region.
As we near the end of 2017, many will be looking to their professional advisors for ways to amplify their giving and maximize their tax benefit. And that’s ok. We will continue to monitor how our lawmakers view the DAF vehicle and make sure that our donors understand their options and opportunities.
Because for our fundholders, I truly believe that the joy and satisfaction of making an impact in our community is the biggest benefit of all.
Contributing Writer Lori O’Keefe is the President & CEO of Triangle Community Foundation.