How to give through a donor-advised fund for your philanthropy

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are one of the simplest ways to protect your charitable intent. The National Philanthropic Trust reported that in 2018, 728,563 individual DAF accounts held assets totaling just over $121.4 billion. During that year, donors used these funds to recommend $23.4 billion in grants to qualified charities. 

Here are some pointers for opening a fund: 

If your goal is broad philanthropic giving, your best choice might be a national fund (Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, National Philanthropic Trust, etc.) that gives you the leeway to support most tax-exempt charities without geographic or ideological guardrails.  

If you have a specific geography in mind for your giving, then a better choice may be the community foundation that focuses on that area, and can provide you with the knowledge and experience of both staff and fellow donors—an especially important advantage if you do not reside in the region your DAF supports. 

If you wish to pursue giving in higher education without much control over how the funds are disbursed, some universities also offer alumni and friends the opportunity to open a DAF fund that will be managed within the school’s endowment. 

If your philanthropy is oriented around a specific set of values—religious, philosophical, or ideological—then you may find that a mission-driven intermediary is the better sponsoring organization for your DAF account. Examples include the National Christian Foundation, DonorsTrust, and the Bradley Impact Fund

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Should you choose a donor-advised fund for your philanthropy?