There are an estimated 1.2 million registered public charities in the United States.5 The 979 charities that sponsor donor-advised funds tracked in this report comprise less than 1/10th of one percent of those organizations. There are nearly 285,000 individual donor-advised funds among the charitable sponsors we tracked. In this report, data from three types of donor-advised fund charitable sponsors are reported: National Charities, Community Foundations and Single-Issue Charities.

The first donor-advised funds were opened in the mid-1930s and housed at Community Foundations and Jewish Federations. National donor-advised fund programs have existed for about twenty-five years.

National Charities’ donor-advised funds have grown significantly in recent years by number of individual donor-advised funds, the dollar value of grants made to qualified charities, the dollar value of contributions received, and the dollar value of charitable assets. Community Foundations have also increased in these metrics at a slightly slower rate. Single-Issue Charities’ growth has slowed significantly and, in 2016, contributions decreased, compared with 2015.

National Charities’ donor-advised funds outnumber the other two types of charitable sponsors combined. They distribute more grant dollars and have higher aggregate charitable asset values. This can be attributed to the fact that they have around 40 percent of the number of donor-advised funds as their National Charity colleagues, but 66 percent of the charitable assets, resulting in the highest average donor-advised fund size of any type of charitable sponsor. Single-Issue charities have the highest payout rate of all types of charitable sponsors and comparatively slow rates of increase in new funds and assets.

National Charities

This report analyzes data for donor-advised funds at 49 National Charities. These national charitable sponsors had a combined 165,758 individual donor-advised funds with total charitable assets of $44.68 billion in 2016. Over the past 10 years of analysis and reporting, National Charities have experienced the fastest growth in all metrics.

We analyzed this subcategory by the National Charities’ size of charitable assets under management. The range is wide—the largest national charity has near $16 billion in charitable assets and the smallest has just over $4 million. In 2016, three national charities held assets of $5 billion or more, and four held assets between $1 billion and $4.99 billion. These seven national charities account for a majority in every metric: number of donor-advised funds, grants, contributions, and assets.

National Charities in 2016
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Figure 7: Payout Rate
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Figure 8: Average Fund Size
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Number of Donor-Advised Funds

The number of individual donor-advised funds at National Charities (NCs) grew to 165,758 in 2016, a 10.4 percent increase. This follows a compound annual growth rate of 13.3 percent from 2012 to 2015.

There are more individual donor-advised funds at the three Tier I NCs than at all of the other NCs combined. For 2016, Tier I NCs accounted for 124,248 donor-advised funds, or 75 percent, of the total number of individual donor-advised funds at all NCs.

Figure 9: Number of Funds in National Charities, by 2016 Asset Range
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Grants

The total value of grants from donor-advised funds at NCs to qualified charities totaled $8.08 billion in 2016, an increase of 6.5 percent.

Tier I and II NCs have made the majority of grants since 2012. Tier I NCs granted $5.07 billion, or 63 percent of the total $8.08 billion in 2016. In 2012, Tier I NCs granted 61 percent of the total $3.74 billion, meaning grants from Tier I NCs have increased proportionally to total grant growth at all NCs. However, in 2016, Tier II NCs represented a larger share of the grant total than in previous years. The $2.04 billion in grants from the four charities in Tier II NCs represented 25 percent of all grants from National Charities in 2016, but the prior year, they only represented 16 percent.

Figure 10: Grants Made by National Charities, by 2016 Asset Range
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Contributions

Total contributions to donor-advised funds at NCs reached $14.41 billion in 2016. This was an increase of 15.1 percent over the prior year. This year’s rate of growth was lower than the average compound annual growth rate of 21.6 percent for contributions to NCs from 2012 through 2015.

In 2016, contributions increased markedly to Tier II NCs, more than doubling the prior year. In 2016, Tier II represented 36 percent of all contributions to donor-advised funds at NCs; in 2015, they represented 17 percent. Contributions to NCs of all other asset sizes (Tiers I, III and IV) experienced declines in 2016.

Figure 11: Contributions to National Charities, by 2016 Asset Range
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Charitable Assets

From 2015 to 2016, total charitable assets in donor-advised funds at NCs increased by 14.6 percent, rising to $44.68 billion from a revised 2015 estimate of $38.99 billion. The compound annual growth rate for 2012 through 2015 was 26.9 percent.

Tier I and II NCs had a combined total of $39.9 billion, or 89 percent of all charitable assets at NCs.

Figure 12: Assets in National Charities, by 2016 Asset Range
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Grant Payout

The total payout rate from donor-advised funds at NCs was 20.7 percent in 2016, a very small decrease from a payout rate of 21.1 percent during the prior year.

Figure 13: Payout Rate for National Charities
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Average Donor-Advised Fund Size

The average size of an individual donor-advised fund at NCs in 2016 is estimated at $269,550. This represents an increase of 3.8 percent compared with the revised 2015 average of $259,726.

Figure 14: Average DAF Size of National Charities ($M)
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Community Foundations

For 2016, this report analyzes data for donor-advised funds at 594 Community Foundations (CFs). There are 69,587 individual donor-advised funds with charitable assets totaling $29.80 billion in CFs across the U.S.

The geographic areas that CFs serve vary in size from entire states or regions of a state (e.g. Southeastern Texas) to major metropolitan cities like New York City to rural counties with populations less than 2,500. We used a combination of commonly used coding systems to create a rural-urban continuum, relying on the Department of Agriculture’s Beale Code and Nielsen’s Designated Market Area (see Methodology section for more information). The 594 CFs we analyzed are organized into five different types of communities for this report.

Community Foundations in 2016
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Figure 15: Number of Donor-Advised Funds in Community Foundations, by Community Type
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Figure 16: Number of Donor-Advised Funds in Community Foundations, by Community Type
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Accounts

The total number of donor-advised funds at Community Foundations (CFs) increased to 69,587 in 2016, an increase of 2.1 percent when compared with 2015. The cumulative annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015 was 4.2 percent.

The distribution of individual donor-advised funds at CFs across different types of communities on the urban-rural continuum has remained fairly constant over the past five years. Major Metropolitan CFs sponsor the highest number of donor-advised funds, around 40 percent of the total number individual donor-advised funds at all CFs. Rural CFs sponsor around 5 percent of the total number of individual donor-advised funds at all CFs.

Figure 17: Number of Donor-Advised Funds in Community Foundations
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Grants

Grants from donor-advised funds at CFs totaled $4.76 billion in 2016, up from $4.04 billion granted in 2015. The 2016 grant total reflects a 17.8 percent increase in grantmaking compared with 2015. This jump follows only a one percent increase from 2014 to 2015. The cumulative annual growth rate was 15.4 percent from 2012 to 2015.

The majority, or 63 percent, of CF grants in 2016 came from Major Metropolitan CFs. State/Regional CFs made the second largest grant value, constituting 22 percent.

Figure 18: Grants from Donor-Advised Funds to Community Foundations ($B)
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Contributions

Total contributions to donor-advised funds at CFs are estimated to be $5.66 billion in 2016. The estimated change in contributions from 2015 to 2016 is an increase of 4.0 percent. The cumulative annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015 was 6.0 percent.

Contributions to Major Metropolitan CFs have historically accounted for around 60 percent of the total contributions to all CFs. Contributions to Small City CFs have experienced a higher rate of growth over the five-year period than CFs in other categories.

Figure 19: Contributions to Donor-Advised Funds, Community Foundations ($B)
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Charitable Assets

From 2015 to 2016 total charitable assets in donor-advised funds at CFs increased by 6.2 percent, from $28.07 billion to $29.80 billion. The compound annual growth rate for 2012-2015 was 15.3 percent.

Larger communities have CFs with larger assets. Nearly 60 percent, or $18.51 billion, of all CF donor-advised fund assets are sponsored by Major Metropolitan CFs. This share has remained relatively unchanged over the past five years, even with the rapid growth of Community Foundations’ charitable assets over the same time period.

Figure 20: Donor-Advised Fund Assets in Community Foundations ($B)
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Grant Payout

The total payout from donor-advised funds at Community Foundations was 17.0 percent in 2016, an increase from 15.4 percent in 2015.

Figure 21: Payout Rate for Community Foundations
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Average Account Size

The average size of a donor-advised fund at Community Foundations rose in 2016 to $428,241. This represents an increase of 4.0 percent compared with the 2015 average of $411,843.

Figure 22: Average DAF Size of Community Foundations
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Single-Issue Charities

For 2016, we analyzed data for 336 Single-Issue Charity (SIC) sponsors. This type of charitable sponsor held 49,620 donor-advised funds with charitable assets totaling $10.67 billion.

We have subcategorized the SICs by the “issue area” that is the charity’s stated mission or primary focus. The predominant subcategory in every metric is Religious Identity. This includes donor-advised funds at houses of worship and as well as those that have a mission to serve a particular faith group or in the name of a particular faith, such as Jewish Federations or Catholic Community Foundations. Other subcategories include Education, which can be universities, as well as some K-12 institutions; International, which include aid agencies and micro-lending nonprofits. The mission at SICs can be very broad or narrow, ultimately serving large communities through many programs, or supporting a single neighborhood through a targeted program.

Single-Issue Charities in 2016
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Figure 23: Payout Rate
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Figure 24: Average Fund Size
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Accounts

The number of individual donor-advised funds at Single-Issue Charities (SICs) was 49,620, an increase of 2.7 percent compared with 48,307 in 2015. In general, the number of donor-advised funds at SICs has grown at a much slower rate than at National Charities or Community Foundations.

The number of donor-advised funds at Religious Identity SICs account for the vast majority of all SICs, totaling 41,911 or 84 percent. The next largest subcategory is United Ways. This SIC group incorporates all United Ways across the country that offer donor-advised funds and constitutes 3 percent of all SIC donor-advised funds.

Figure 25: Number of Donor-Advised Funds at Single-Issue Charities, by Issue Type
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Grants

Grants from donor-advised funds at SICs totaled $2.91 billion in 2016, up from $2.63 billion granted in 2015, a 10.6 percent increase. From 2012 through 2015, the annual growth rate for grantmaking was 7.5 percent.

By type of issue, Religious Identity SICs have increased grantmaking, totaling $2.30 in 2016, or almost 80 percent. United Ways’ donor-advised fund grants have held steady at $0.06 to $0.07 billon annually. Education SICs have fluctuated in the past five years between a high of $0.15 billion (2013) and low of $0.11 billion (2014 and 2015). Grants from International SICs and all other SICs have increased steadily.

Figure 26: Grants from Single-Issue Donor-Advised Funds by Type of Issue
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Contributions

Total contributions to donor-advised funds at SICs declined from $3.66 billion (revised) in 2015 to $3.20 billion in 2016. The change in contributions from 2015 to 2016 represents a 12.7 percent decrease. This is a marked shift from the compound annual growth rate of 14.5 percent from 2012 through 2015.

Contributions to donor-advised funds at all SIC subcategories decreased in 2016. It is difficult to know what may have caused this decline. In certain cases, SICs may be in the process of closing donor-advised fund programs. The higher rate of grantmaking and decline in contributions at SICs supports our “spend down” theory. In other cases, Single-Issue Charities may be merging with larger charities, which may be National Charities or Community Foundations.

Figure 27: Contributions to Single-Issue Charities Donor-Advised Funds by Type of Issue
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Charitable Assets

Total charitable assets in donor-advised funds at SICs rose to $10.67 billion, an increase of 0.9 percent, from a revised amount of $10.57 billion in 2015. This is significantly slower than the compound annual growth rate of 13.0 percent between 2012 and 2015.

Since 2012, donor-advised fund charitable assets have increased at Religious Identity SICs, as well as those at Education SICs. Charitable assets have changed little in International SICs and United Ways, but have slowly increased in the category “all other” charities, which includes Environment, Social Justice, Women’s Funds, and several other types.

Figure 28: Assets in Single-Issue Donor-Advised Funds by Type of Issue
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Grant Payout

The total payout from donor-advised funds at SICs was 27.5 percent in 2016, a decline compared with the payout rate of 33.1 percent in 2015.

Figure 29: Payout Rate for Single Issue Charities
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Average Account Size

The average size of a donor-advised fund at SICs declined in 2016 to $215,034 from $218,809. This represents a decrease of 1.7 percent compared with the 2015 average. The compound annual growth rate is 7.1 percent. Again, 2016 is notably different from the immediate past (2012-2015).

Figure 30: Average DAF Size of Single Issue Charities ($M)
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  1. Giving USA 2017, p. 65.