Meet Philanthropist Jennifer Stefano

The following interview is part of Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.

“Like most couples, my husband and I have our share of disagreements. But the one thing we have never fought about was our giving.”

“As Roman Catholics, we agreed before we were married that our faith called us to give away a percentage of our income each year, but we used to think the amount was not significant enough for us to think strategically about using those dollars to make an impact. We thought you had to be wealthy to invest time thinking about philanthropy.”

“It turns out, that was some wrong-headed thinking. We discovered we could stop just putting our small dollar donations to a ‘good cause’ and instead focus our giving on a ‘good outcome.’ How? We discovered donor-advised funds. DAFs helped us create a bigger impact in three key ways.”

“First, we realized DAFs could help us slow down and evaluate how and why we were giving. We had supported certain nonprofits for years but were they really helping the people who needed it most? Were they really in line with our values? Our faith requires us to be thoughtful, merciful and generous with our money, but we asked ourselves if we were really doing that. The answer was no.”

“Sure, we were giving and we thought we were doing some good. What we really were doing was patting ourselves on the back for good intentions without burdening ourselves by taking the time to investigate the results. Working with DAFs changed that.”

“With DAFs, we were able to give away what we wanted month to month but did not have to make an immediate decision on where it went. As our incomes increased, we took the extra money for philanthropy and put it in DAFs. We could evaluate the nonprofits we supported and reflect on whether they were making the difference we had hoped.”

“Second, my husband and I did not and do not have the capacity to give at the major gift level. Giving away money weekly or monthly leaves little room to have a big effect on a cause you care about. DAFs allow us still to give away a yearly percentage of our income while also building a reserve for a strategic need. Through DAFs we can give when there is a crisis, without taking money away from the nonprofits we support month to month. We can also make a larger gift to address a need that may not be happening right now. We feel better poised to make an impact and a difference in people’s lives when it matters.”

“Third, my husband and I are private people. We love giving anonymously and sometimes that makes the most sense. I work at a nonprofit and I know how much joy and gratitude an anonymous gift can bring. My husband and I feel that anonymous giving can spark joy among a nonprofit team. It can help build a sense of camaraderie among a team knowing someone is watching and loving the work you are doing. DAFs protect our privacy and allow us to create joy in our own lives at the same time.”

“Since we opened DAFs, we feel we’re having a bigger impact on the causes we care about the most: supporting Catholic education, advancing individual rights and civil liberties, supporting our veterans and care of national monuments — particularly national cemeteries. DAFs help us make wise giving decisions that are impactful even though we are not major donors.”

“Regardless of the size of donor-advised gifts, they are always such a meaningful and generous act, one that has allowed my family to make a lasting impact on the causes that speak to us.”

“The ability to make an impact philanthropically does not belong to the wealthy. My husband and I feel our giving is more meaningful and impactful now. Donor-advised funds give all of us the power of ‘good’ giving.”

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