Using Donor Advised Funds vs. Donating Directly to CharitiesSubmitted by American Endowment Foundation on July 24th, 2017
By Ken Nopar
Advisors ask American Endowment Foundation(AEF) why their clients should use a donor advised fund rather than donating directly to charities they want to support. The advisors usually understand how donor advised funds (DAFs) work, their tax benefits, and how they can manage the investments in their clients’ DAF accounts at AEF. However, advisors sometimes ask for help in explaining many of the other benefits of using a DAF.
There are still many reasons why clients should donate directly to their favorite charities. But, along with their financial, tax, and legal advisors, they should also evaluate different charitable vehicle options. Together they can determine which one of these options may be most beneficial in order to make their donations, receive the maximum tax deduction, and have the greatest impact upon the organizations that they care deeply about.
While the number of private foundations has barely increased over the past decade to just over 80,000, the number of DAFs has more than doubled to 270,000 as of the end of 2015. This number is most likely over 300,000 since so many were opened during 2016 and especially in the months after the 2016 election.
Even though many of the following advantages pertain to all charitable vehicles, this list below applies primarily to donor advised funds. Those advantages include:
- Clients can “deposit” money for future giving. It is easier to donate to a vehicle while earning a significant income rather than dipping into retirement savings to make donations. Consequently, many clients set up vehicles while working and then make donations from it during retirement when their income is significantly less.
- They can donate assets to receive significant tax benefits at the time of the donation. This is especially applicable during the year of a liquidity event or when they earn a large income.
- They can use the assets in their vehicle to maintain a consistent level of donations to their favorite charities, even if their income or investments drop during a year. When a donor's donations rise and fall, it can be challenging for their grantees to budget accordingly and it can be awkward for a donor to explain the reason for a drop.
- Clients can still continue to make grants from their DAF account without fearing that they are dipping into their savings or investments.
- Many charities may not be able to accept complex assets such as real estate, privately-held stock, LP or LLC interests, insurance or even simpler assets such as appreciated stock. Instead, clients can donate these to a DAF and then the DAF can send checks to the charities. In many cases, donating these to a DAF instead of a private foundation results in greater tax benefits.
- Donors may want to make large donations to charitable organizations over time to make sure that they utilize the donation wisely, but want to donate the entire asset to a DAF so they receive the entire tax deduction at one time. So they are not overwhelmed by a large gift, some charities prefer to receive the donation over time. The donors can thus also monitor the work and outcomes of the charities rather than make one gift at one time to a charity and lose control.
- Clients may not want to donate an entire asset to one charity and may want to split it up among numerous charitable beneficiaries. It is easier to donate this to a DAF and then make separate grants from it.
- Clients can instruct their advisors to transfer shares of many different stock holdings to one DAF sponsor rather than to many different charities. Many clients realize this is much easier for their advisors, especially at year-end.
- Clients’ charitable vehicles can be used to teach philanthropy to children and keep the family close during the parents' lifetimes or in the years after their deaths. Children often use these to honor and continue their parents’ charitable legacy.
- DAFs are simple to establish and easy and inexpensive to use. Instead of receiving numerous tax receipt letters from all of the charities they would otherwise directly support, donors receive just one annual tax-receipt letter from the DAF sponsor. To quickly make grants, most DAF donors only need to go online, and they can often schedule grants in advance.
- Past grants from and donations to the donor advised fund can usually be viewed online. This enables donors to see what they have done in the past, avoid having to keep track themselves and avoid mistakenly making duplicate contributions or grants.
- For clients who have difficulty saying “no” to charities that solicit donations on the phone, online, by mail or in person, having a DAF with a stated mission allows them to politely decline. They can state that they only support charities that their mission addresses, and that they make all of their grants from their charitable vehicle.
Clients should talk with their advisors to determine which, if any, charitable vehicle makes the most sense. There are tax advantages of donating to DAFs, private foundations and other vehicles, though donating to DAFs and 501(c)(3) organizations are treated the same and usually more favorably by the IRS. It is essential that clients know whether they will be entitled to a tax deduction of the full fair market value or the cost basis of donated assets and the deduction limits.
Regardless of which, if any, vehicle is selected, the charitable conversation between clients and advisors is beneficial to both parties as well as to the charities that are most important to the clients. This discussion enables clients to feel a greater sense of satisfaction and pride in knowing that their generosity is helping the causes and issues of most concern and interest to them.
A version of this article originally appeared in Advisor Perspectives, July 3, 2017.
At American Endowment Foundation, we look forward to discussing how DAFs can play a role in better charitable giving. Contact us or call at 1-888-660-4508 to learn more.