Donor-advised funds are one type of charitable giving vehicle that enables donors to reach their philanthropic goals. The rapidly increasing number of individual donor-advised fund accounts make them the fastest-growing vehicle in philanthropy; and the rising value of charitable dollars granted from donor-advised funds also makes them the most active type of charitable giving vehicle. National Philanthropic Trust provides this report as a public service to those who are interested in this important charitable giving vehicle.

Purpose and Scope

This report provides an up-to-date analysis of donor-advised funds. It is based on data collected during the second and third quarters of 2016 about donor-advised funds and the charities that operate them in fiscal year 2015.

Additional data came from audited financial statements, annual reports, organizational websites and news releases.

Total estimated charitable contributions in the United States in 2015 were $373.25 billion.1 Contributions to donor- advised funds have increased as a share of total giving since at least 2007. This year’s data reflects an increase in contributions to donor-advised funds, which now accounts for 8.4 percent of individual giving — a new high.

Grants to charitable organizations from donor-advised funds totaled $14.52 billion in 2015. This is the second year that grants have exceeded $10 billion. Last year’s total, now revised to include new donor-advised fund sponsors and reflect data from IRS Forms 990, is $12.42 billion, and the total for 2013 is $9.31 billion.

A Note On Payout Calculation Method

In the 2014 Donor-Advised Fund Report, we implemented a new payout calculation method. We have replicated it in this year’s report. The method of calculating grant payout is comparable to how private foundations calculate their payout. We calculate grant payout from donor-advised fund sponsors based on charitable assets held in donor-advised fund accounts at the end of the prior year. For example, the 2015 payout is based on donor-advised fund end-of-year charitable assets held in 2014 and the 2015 grants. The actual payout calculation for foundations as determined by the IRS is complex, as shown in Understanding and Benchmarking Foundation Payout from The Foundation Center.2 The Foundation Center uses the simplified approach: dividing grants made in the current year by the end-of-year investable assets of the previous year.3 Last year, we adapted the Foundation Center method and adjusted past grant payout rates using this calculation. This year’s report uses the same method.

  1. Giving USA 2016.
  2. Private foundations track net assets monthly and average over 12 to 60 months for the denominator of the payout calculation. For the numerator, private foundations include qualified distributions, allowed costs of grantmaking, other charitable uses of funds (such as technical assistance provided to grantees). They also make additional adjustments to account for any grant monies returned, certain taxes paid, and other circumstances.
  3. Steven Lawrence. 2015. Private communication from Director of Research at The Foundation Center to analysts working with National Philanthropic Trust.