DAF Grantmaking in Times of Economic Uncertainty
Charitable giving in the United States is an important part of our culture and the broader economy. Total giving has grown as a dollar amount over the last 40 years but has consistently hovered around two percent as a share of gross domestic product. Several economic indicators can help analyze what donors may give in any given year, with the stock market being a strong predictor of giving.¹
Historically, total charitable giving increases during times of stock market growth. A strong stock market signals economic and financial security, which can empower Americans to give more generously. The same is true of grantmaking from charitable vehicles like donor-advised funds (DAFs).² In short, when economic conditions are good, charities receive more support. So, what happens during market downturns, periods of higher inflation or economic uncertainty? Donors are less likely to give money when their personal financial situations are more tenuous, which means nonprofits may raise fewer dollars.
Donor-advised funds can help insulate nonprofits from the full weight of challenging economic conditions because DAF donors often have a reserve of charitable assets to use for grantmaking. DAF assets belong to the DAF sponsors and are not part of the donor’s personal assets, so donors are still prepared to give, even if economic conditions negatively impact their personal financial circumstances. This is evidenced by the fact that DAF grantmaking has increased every year since 2009, even in years when economic conditions have caused other types of giving to decline.
In this edition of our Donor-Advised Fund Spotlight series, we share observations about DAF grantmaking over the last 15 years:
- Changes in DAF grantmaking year-to-year;
- Comparisons to other forms of giving;
- The impact (or lack thereof) of economic conditions on DAF grantmaking.
DAF grantmaking has increased every year from 2007 to 2021 with one exception during the Great Recession in 2009. Overlaying 15 years of DAF grantmaking data with other charitable giving, we also found:
- DAF grantmaking increased 630 percent from 2007 to 2021, which is 13 times faster than the rate of change for individual giving.
- The 15-year growth rate of DAF grantmaking is nearly identical to the 15-year growth of DAF charitable assets, with periods of strong growth in charitable assets immediately followed by large increases in grantmaking.
- DAF grantmaking declined once (2008) while annual charitable giving from individuals declined five times in the past 15 years.
- Even when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) has declined or remained relatively flat, DAF grantmaking increased.
DAF Grantmaking Overview
Like overall giving trends, DAF donors tend to give more to their DAFs when the stock market grows. Donors receive an immediate tax deduction at the time of their contribution to their DAF account and can recommend grants to the nonprofit organizations they support over time. The charitable assets in a DAF are outside of the DAF donors’ personal assets and can only be used for charitable purposes.
DAF grantmaking has been on the rise for over a decade, more than doubling in the past five years alone. To understand DAF grantmaking trends and their changes from year to year, it is important to look at total grants from DAFs.
Figure 1 shows total grants from DAFs to qualified charities from 2007 to 2021, the most recent year for which we have full data.
Total grant value from DAFs has increased every year on record except one, which was during the Great Recession. Historically, DAF grants experience the largest increases in the years immediately following rapid growth in charitable assets from both contributions and stock market gains.
Figure 1: Total Grants ($) from DAFs
2007-2021, In Billions
Comparing Changes in Individual Giving with Changes in Grants from DAFs
Total charitable giving from individuals in the United States increased from $223.05 billion in 2007 to $326.87 billion in 2021, not adjusted for inflation, an overall increase of 46.5 percent. Grantmaking from DAFs increased 629.5 percent during the same period, from $6.27 billion to $45.74 billion.
Annual charitable giving from individuals declined five times year-over-year in the past 15 years, whereas DAF grantmaking declined only once. In most cases, when total charitable giving declined, DAF grantmaking increased at a faster annual rate of change than the previous year. This data point underscores that DAFs provided sustainable support for charitable organizations when individual charitable giving fell. For example, DAF grants grew 13.8 percent between 2007 and 2008. Giving USA shows a change in individual giving of -4 percent in that time period.3 Even more pronounced, DAF grants in 2021 grew by 36 percent, while individual giving increased by just five percent.
Figure 2: Rates of Change in Giving USA reports of Individual Giving and Grants from Donor-Advised Funds
2007 – 2021
Comparing Changes in DAF Charitable Assets with Changes in DAF Grants
Since 2007, charitable assets in DAFs have increased at almost the same rate that DAF grantmaking increased, both growing more than 600 percent in the past 15 years. Historically, periods with very strong growth in charitable assets (20 percent increases or more) are immediately followed by large increases in grantmaking. Both assets and grantmaking have increased at faster rates of change than individual giving. DAF charitable assets increase because of additional contributions and stock market gains when those occur.
Figure 3: Rates of Change in Donor-Advised Fund Assets and in Donor-Advised Fund Grants
2007 – 2021
Comparing Changes in the Dow Jones Industrial Average with Changes in DAF Grants
The changes in DAF charitable assets between 2010 and 2013 were immediately followed by increased DAF grantmaking in 2014 to 2016 that was significantly greater than individual giving in the same time period.
Looking at stock market trends, we can observe why DAF donors may have given more: DAF donors who contributed to their DAFs during the early recovery from the Great Recession had already dedicated charitable assets for grantmaking and continued to recommend grants from their DAFs even in years when the stock market performed more moderately.
From 2007 to 2021, DAF grant growth rates outpaced that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) nine times and have remained consistently higher than the DJIA, particularly during years when it declined or had modest growth.
Figure 4: Changes in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and Changes in Donor-Advised Fund Grants
2007 – 2021
DAF Grantmaking in Times of Need: Comparing Changes in the DJIA with DAF Granting
The Great Recession
- During the Great Recession, the DJIA fell 33.8 percent between 2007 and 2008 while DAF grantmaking grew 13.8 percent that year.
- The only decline in DAF grantmaking on record came the following year, but the loss was far less severe than that of the DJIA, at -7.4 percent.
- Individual giving took three years to recover from its pre-Great Recession high, while DAF grants returned above their 2007 total in 2009 after only a one-year decline.
- The fastest rates of annual DAF grant growth happened in the most recent two years on record in response to COVID-19 and racial justice efforts, when the need was substantial.
- DAF grantmaking grew almost 30 percent annually for each of the two years from 2019 – 2021, even as the DJIA saw more modest growth.
DAFs Provide Sustainable Support
Grants from DAFs have grown consistently and significantly over the past 15 years, with only one declining year (2008). The two most recent one-year growth rates were the highest on record: 28.3 percent from 2019 to 2020 and 28.2 from 2020 to 2021, both of which served to provide critical support to charities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2007, DAF grant growth rates have consistently outpaced growth rates in individual giving in the United States. DAF grants are also less likely to be impacted by changes in the stock market.
Each of these facts challenges the argument that DAF donors are growing charitable assets in their DAFs without increasing grantmaking. Instead, the data highlights how actively DAF donors are supporting charitable organizations and how DAFs are a sustainable source of funding for nonprofits in times of economic distress.
NPT began gathering and reporting aggregate national DAF data in 2007. Since that time, NPT has analyzed a total of 1,127 DAF sponsors. This Donor-Advised Fund Spotlight relies on data from all charitable sponsors that reported DAF assets in any year from 2007 through 2021. For Fiscal Year 2021, which can begin as early as April 1, 2020, and end as late as December 31, 2021, represents the most recent year for which sufficient data is available for analysis. More information on data sources and continuous updates can be found in the 2022 Donor-Advised Fund Report’s Methodology section.
- DAF Spotlight: Complex Assets
- DAF Spotlight: DAF Grant Payout Rates
- DAF Spotlight: COVID Grantmaking Survey
1 Giving USA Foundation
2 Individual household giving, also called individual giving in this report, uses the same definition applied by Giving USA and includes tax-deductible donations to nonprofits by individual citizens. It does not include those made by corporations, foundations or bequests. Individual giving is consistently the largest share of total charitable giving in the US, often representing around 70 percent of total giving.
3 All individual giving values are from the 2022 edition of Giving USA. All rates of change in this summary are in current dollars, not adjusted for inflation.