A Donor-advised Fund for Conservative Policy Reform

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1999

Twenty-three years after the Tides Foundation invented the funding collective for public-policy causes (see 1976 entry), liberty-minded donors created a counterpart organization. Called DonorsTrust, it helps philanthropists create donor-advised funds that encourage “limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.” The entity was founded in 1999, just as donor-advised funds were taking off as funding mechanisms for all sorts of charitable purposes.

Since opening its doors in northern Virginia, DonorsTrust has channeled $850 million toward causes favored by its donors. Philanthropists attracted to DonorsTrust run the full spectrum of the Right, from libertarians to conservative traditionalists. The beneficiaries of their grants range widely—economic-research organizations, religious groups, hawkish foreign-policy advocates, outfits working to reduce imprisonment rates, you name it. Grants also go to hospitals, schools, camps, and other causes not related to public policy.

Like the Tides Foundation, notes co-founder Kim Dennis, DonorsTrust was inspired by the creativity of its donors to eventually expand beyond just administering donor-advised funds. The group can now also help incubate new charities and projects. And as with Tides, part of the power of DonorsTrust is that it helps philanthropists magnify the effect of their donations by bundling them together with funds from other likeminded contributors.

To make sure that donations go to the purposes philanthropists actually intend (rather than causes favored by administrators acting after the donor is out of the picture—a problem at many foundations), DonorsTrust recommends that accounts should “sunset” (be fully spent) while givers are still around to help set priorities. As a “fail-safe” to preserve donor intent, the organization allows no perpetual trusts. “Only the original donor can name successor advisers, and accounts should be closed 20 years after a donor’s death,” explained then-president Whitney Ball.