National Philanthropic Trust Then and Now: 25 Years of Giving

Author Eileen Heisman, President and CEO

October 4, 2021

As National Philanthropic Trust celebrates twenty-five years of philanthropy, I am both humbled by our evolution and excited about what lies ahead.

Since our inception in 1996, NPT has remained steadfastly focused on its mission:

Increasing philanthropy in society.

Together with individuals and institutions who share our vision, we’ve made more than 430,000 grants totaling $15.5 billion to nonprofits in the U.S. and around the globe. Every grant has a story, and we start each of our Board and staff meetings with a grant story that reflects one of the many causes NPT donors have asked us to support. Our impact is far beyond what I ever could have imagined when NPT launched 25 years ago. While our mission has not changed, NPT, the field of philanthropy and the world we live in are very different today.

Talent at NPT

At NPT, our people have always been what makes us exceptional. Talented, strategic and forward-thinking, our staff and Board have been integral to our growth and how we provide service to our donors and their advisors. In 1996, NPT opened with just three employees in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. While our main office remains in the same place, today we employ well over 100 people across the U.S. and work closely with our NPT UK colleagues in London.

As we’ve grown, the number of grantees we support has grown in parallel. In NPT’s first five years, we made a cumulative $90 million in grants. We sent grants totaling 70 times that amount (or $6.46 billion) in 2020 alone. However, our donors have always been generous— they open their DAFs with a sincere commitment to supporting the charitable causes and organizations important to them.

The world is a much more connected place now than it was 25 years ago. I am amazed at how expansive our donors’ philanthropic impact is. Our grants have purchased healthcare equipment for hospitals in South America, trained at-risk youth in China, and supported efforts to eradicate Ebola in Africa, while also sustaining charities in our donors’ local communities close to home. I know that, together, our donors will continue to recommend grants to drive change, meet needs and support innovative and important organizations in the US and around the world.

Growth through Partnerships

NPT has partnered with many institutions in our 25-year history, a strategy that has helped us to fulfill our mission. We have partnered with multinational corporations, donor collectives, small businesses, private foundations and other public charities. The nature of our partnerships varies depending on what our partners need and what their philanthropic vision is. With each partnership, we learn something new about how philanthropy can be amplified.

One of the driving forces behind the growth of DAFs has been the financial sector’s role in integrating philanthropy into their service offerings. The financial services industry increasingly understands that philanthropy is a critical aspect of wealth management. Increasingly, people are aligning their investments with their personal and family values. We see donors opting to utilize impact investments in their personal and philanthropic portfolios.

Some of our earliest partnerships were with other nonprofit organizations. Often, they led us down new paths and helped us attract other partners. For example, in the early 2000s, we partnered with a breast cancer research nonprofit to manage a large national project. That work resulted in a breast cancer field of interest fund at NPT. Our experience making grants to support breast cancer causes helped significantly when a donor from New York state chose NPT to be the supported organization for the St. Agatha Foundation, which supports breast cancer patients in central New York. Without a doubt, NPT’s many partnerships have been some of the most transformative forces in our 25-year history.

Advances in Technology

Technology has changed absolutely everything about our world. For philanthropy, it means there is more information—and options—available to donors more quickly than imaginable in 1996. Like in the banking world, donors can make transactions online, such as making a grant recommendation or checking an account balance. They also have online access to information like charity databases and field guides to better understand select social issues.

In 1996, many of our operations —like most of the world—were paper-based. When donors wanted to make grant recommendations, they filled out the paper form (by hand!) and faxed or mailed it in. That seems like ancient history now. Today, we’ve centralized the DAF online experience in NPT GivingPoint, which lets donors see where they gave in the past and how the DAF’s investments have performed. NPT’s new site makes recommending a grant as easy as possible.

We know that online DAF account management allows donors to respond to emergent issues quickly and easily. Our donors have always been driven to give in times of crisis. Years ago, our donors recommended many, many grants to those impacted by tragedies like September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. Fast forward, our donors also made grants quickly to respond to emerging needs during COVID-19 and to answer the calls for racial justice and equity. When we launched 25 years ago, the idea of utilizing a mobile device to make grant recommendations was a Silicon Valley dream; today it’s commonplace. Our donors’ giving experiences are better, faster and easier because of technology.

What Lies Ahead

DAFs are part of the philanthropic landscape and are now of greater interest to many people. Our annual Donor-Advised Fund Report, which started 15 years ago as an industry white paper, is now the preeminent source for DAF statistics. Each year, we are incredibly proud to publish it as it documents the growth in DAFs and their grantmaking impact. DAFs have experienced an incredible trajectory and seem perched for more growth.

Today, NPT is more experienced and sophisticated than we were 25 years ago. At the same time, I believe that our future is STILL full of potential and countless possibilities. We have new tools and work globally. Yes, we utilize the latest technology but the heart of philanthropy is still very much the same, and that is what has motivated me always to forge ahead.

I predict that NPT—with our talented colleagues, engaged board and philanthropically focused partners—will sustain its momentum in the future with inclusivity, integrity and innovation.

Eileen R. Heisman, ACFRE, is the President and CEO of NPT. She is a nationally recognized expert on charitable and planned giving. Ms. Heisman has been named eight times by NonProfit Times as one of their Power and Influence Top 50, most recently in 2021.

NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, and shall not be relied upon as, legal or tax advice. The applicability of information contained here may vary depending on individual circumstances.