Comparison of Projections and Results for 2012

In the 2012 Donor-Advised Fund report, we projected that donor-advised funds would continue to increase in assets, grantmaking, and contributions through 2012. In fact, for fiscal year 2012 we find robust increases in contributions (34.6%), assets (18.9%) and the number of donor-advised fund accounts (7.0%), and a modest rise in grantmaking (6.7%).

To explore this apparent paradox of dramatic asset growth with modest changes in grantmaking, we used NPT’s experience and explored the data further. Many NPT donors contributed to their accounts in late December 2012, as Congress and the President debated the charitable gift tax deduction. No changes to the deduction occurred in 2013 (at the time of this publishing), yet donors remained aware of the possibility and seemed to time their contributions as though the deduction might change. Merely the policy debate on this one hundred-year old U.S. tradition—exclusive of any decisions or actions—affected the growth of donor-advised funds.

What Lies Ahead?

Because of the mismatch in fiscal years and calendar years among some donor-advised fund sponsors, the impact of the “Fiscal Cliff” at the end of 2012 will be felt over a two-year period—and two Donor-Advised Fund Reports. This report captures the first of the two years reflecting the policy event.

In this report, 58 percent of contributions to donor-advised fund accounts went to charitable sponsors that have a June 30 fiscal year end. These charitable sponsors would not have captured the 2012 calendar year end (including the “Fiscal Cliff”) in their data. Several charitable sponsors that hold a large percentage of donor-advised fund assets fall into this category. It is highly likely that these donor-advised fund sponsors will report a significant increase in their contributions for fiscal year 2013. As such, next year’s Donor-Advised Fund Report will continue to capture the flurry of activity in December 2012, as well as a period during which the stock market began a steady increase.

Contributions to donor-advised funds are irrevocable and can only be granted to qualified charities. It is reasonable to assume then that we will see an uptick in grantmaking as assets in donor-advised fund accounts grow dramatically following the “Fiscal Cliff.”


Fiscal year 2012 marks the second year in a row of double-digit growth rates for assets and contributions to donor-advised fund accounts. It was also a strong year of growth in the number of donor-advised fund accounts. These increases are consistent with broader economic trends, as the nation came out of the recession that ended in mid-2009 and experienced somewhat more robust growth in 2012 than it did in 2011. The growth in assets presumes there will be increased grantmaking in years to come. The growth in the number of accounts suggests that more donors are turning to donor-advised funds, thereby solidifying them as the fastest growing philanthropic vehicle in the U.S.

Trends since 2007 show rapid growth at National Charities that sponsor donor-advised funds in number, assets, grants, and contributions. Donor-advised funds sponsored by Community Foundations stayed fairly stable through 2011 then rose dramatically in 2012, driven in part by very large contributions to a small number. Donor-advised funds at Single-Issue Charities, which include Jewish Federations, universities, international giving programs, and women’s foundations, among others, have grown steadily, without dramatic increases or decreases.

Donor-advised funds are a popular tool for donors, allowing them to allocate assets to philanthropic giving when they are available, yet make decisions about specific beneficiaries over time. If the economy continues to rebound and charitable giving continues its slow climb back to pre-recession levels, be assured that donor-advised funds will account for a significant and active portion of U.S. giving.