The time period we analyze in this report is fiscal year 2016, which begins as early as July 1, 2015 for some charities and ends as late as December 31, 2016 for others. This particular 18-month period was marked by a presidential election cycle in the U.S.; the “Brexit” vote in favor of Great Britain leaving the European Union; several natural disasters, including Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, parts of the U.S. and the Caribbean; and humanitarian crises, such as the massive displacements of Syrian refugees.

Ultimately, there was steady growth in various U.S. economic indicators: the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 2016 up by 13.4 percent over 2015;2 the U.S. economy overall slowed its rate of growth to 1.5 percent for 2016, down from 2.9 percent in 2015 (adjusted for inflation);3 and the official unemployment rate fell further in 2016 to 4.9 percent, down from 5.3 percent the prior year.4

In 2016, donor-advised funds saw similar steady growth in every metric, including grant dollars, contributions, charitable assets and number of donor-advised funds (Table 1). The rates of growth however were slower compared with the annual average growth rates since 2012.

Of particular note:

  • Grants from donor-advised funds to qualified charities totaled an estimated $15.75 billion, representing an increase of 10.4 percent compared to 2015, which is revised to $14.26 billion. The average annual rate of growth from 2012 through 2015 was 18.8 percent.
  • Contributions to donor-advised funds increased to $23.27 billion, or a 7.6 percent increase compared with the prior year’s contributions, which are revised to $21.62 billion. This rate of growth trails the 8.8 percent rate from the previous year. On average, from 2012 through 2015, contributions rose 15.6 percent a year.
  • Charitable assets in donor-advised funds grew by $7.52 billion in 2016 to $85.15 billion. This represents a 9.7 percent growth from a revised total of $77.63 billion last year. On average from 2012 through 2015, charitable assets increased by 20.2 percent annually.
Table 1: Donor-Advised Fund Metrics Overview*
  2015 2016 % Change
Charitable Assets $ 77.63 Billion $ 85.15 Billion 9.7%
Total Contributions $ 21.62 Billion $ 23.27 Billion 7.6%
Total Grant Dollars $ 14.26 Billion $ 15.75 Billion 10.4%
Grant Payout** 20.4% 20.3% -0.4%
Total # of DAF Accounts 266,584 284,965 6.9%
Average Size of DAF*** Account $ 291,203 $ 298,809 2.6%

* Values reflect 979 fund sponsors. Data were available for 945 for 2015 and for 241 for 2016. Estimates for others are included in these totals. In the past, estimates in this report have been within 1 percent of the figure available later when all data have been collected.

** Grant Payout = Grant Dollars divided by Charitable Assets at end of prior year multiplied by 100 to get a percentage.

*** Average size of a DAF Account = Total Assets Under Management divided by Total Number of DAF Accounts.

  1. Dow Jones Industrial Averages closing information obtained from, Patti Domm, "Stocks close out 2016 with double-digit gains after third day of losses," December 30, 2016.
  2. Growth in GDP from Table 1.1.1 Percent change from preceding period in real Gross Domestic Product, October 5, 2017,
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject, Annual average unemployment rate, extracted October 5, 2017.