Tag Archives: DAFs

Charity, Incorporated

It seems that every time I set out to write about topics other than donor-advised funds, fresh news explodes on the scene that requires my attention, and yours. This week it’s the astounding – but not at all surprising – announcement by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that six of the ten top fundraising organizations in the nonprofit world in 2016 were donor-advised fund sponsors.

Five of those organizations – Fidelity Charitable (#1 on the list for the second year in a row), Schwab (#6), National Christian Foundation (#8), Silicon Valley Community Foundation (#9), and Vanguard Charitable (#10) were among the eleven top fundraisers the year before. The newcomer at the top of the charts, bursting onto the scene at number three, with a jaw-dropping one-year increase in donations of 450%, was the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, which brought in over $3.1 billion.

That Goldman Sachs, the corporate embodiment of Wall Street avarice and power, should appear on the list of top charitable fundraisers is not surprising to those of us following this story: there’s money to be made in donor-advised funds, and if the folks at Goldman Sachs know one thing, it’s how to turn a profit. It’s only surprising that it took them this long. Continue reading

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Strange Math

[A version of this piece appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on July 13, 2017.]

Here’s the world’s simplest math problem.

My wife Pat and I often meet a pair of friends for a movie. If there’s a risk that the show will sell out, I run over to the theater ahead of time and buy all four tickets in advance. When our friends arrive, we hand them their tickets and they pay us back what they owe us.

So the question is this: how many tickets did the movie theater sell?

Four, of course.

But in the parallel universe of donor-advised funds (DAFs), where double-counting comes as naturally as breathing and dissembling, the answer would be six.

Let me try to explain the inexplicable. Continue reading

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Partial Score

The late comedian George Carlin had a shtick back in the 1970s where he played a television sports anchor. With mock seriousness, he’d stare at the camera and say, “Here’s a partial score: Notre Dame 6.”

I thought of this as I read David Callahan’s perceptive interpretation in Inside Philanthropy of Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF)’s recently-released sortable listing of its 2015 grants. Through this listing SVCF, the largest community foundation in the country, shares how much money it has distributed from donor-advised funds and its discretionary grantmaking programs, and it lists which organizations received the bounty. SVCF is clearly trying to show how vast and diverse its giving is, and the foundation implies that sharing its grant table is a great act of transparency. But SVCF only tells us part of the story – and the parts that are left unexplained underscore the inherent problems with donor-advised funds. Continue reading

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