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Using a Donor Advised Fund for Charitable Contributions Thumbnail

Using a Donor Advised Fund for Charitable Contributions

Donor advised funds (DAFs) are a great way to give to charity and if done correctly, can provide tax savings. Here's how it works: 

Donor Advised Fund Basics

A donor advised fund can be set up at most major investment companies or some larger charities may have their own giving fund. Essentially, a DAF allows people to give a portion of their money, assets, or property to charity in order to receive a tax deduction immediately. However, the holder isn't required to decide on their preferred charity at the time of donation. Instead, the account holder can gift out money from their DAF to charities as they see fit - giving some money this year and some next year for example. 

This diagram is from the Climate Trust Donor Advised Fund

How Executives Can Use Donor Advised Funds

Executives looking to divest of their company stock but don't want to incur the capital gains tax on the sale, can gift their company stock (if eligible, restrictions may apply) directly to the donor advised fund. This way he or she can unload the stock, receive an income tax deduction, and complete the gift to a charity.

Executives may also be able to gift restricted stock, depending on their company plan. Donating restricted stock to charity or a donor advised fund account is generally deductible, for those who itemize, at fair market value on the date of contribution. Rule 144 or control persons may have to get approval from their company's general counsel. 

Bunching Donations

If you are unable to itemize your deductions because you take the larger standard deduction, bunching may help. With bunching, you consolidate your charitable contributions into one year so they push your overall itemized deductions beyond the standard deduction. However, contributions to a DAF can be spread out to charities in multiple years. The figure below is an example of how bunching can work - instead of giving $12k a year for three years to charity, this individual gave $36k in one year so their charitable contributions - along with their other itemized deductions, mortgage interest, state and local taxes - exceed the standard deduction: 

Donations are invested and investing involves risk. The value of an invested donation will fluctuate over time and may gain or lose money. This is a hypothetical example for illustrative purposes only. This chart assumes a married filing jointly couple who contribute a cash gift and have other itemized deductions such as mortgage interest and state and local taxes. The tax savings referenced here are specific to the charitable donation made above the $25,900 standard deduction. Information herein is not legal or tax advice. *As with any tax planning strategy, there may be additional considerations that pertain to your  personal situation. Other strategies may provide more flexibility and similar savings. Please consult your tax advisor.

When to bunch charitable contributions? 

In my experience, bunching charitable donations in one year to a donor advised fund is a good strategy in high income years - when I have a client who may have deferred compensation distributions or if he or she sold a large block of company stock. In those years, I may encourage the client to try bunching the next few years of their charitable contributions in the current year by making a large gift to the DAF. They receive an immediate tax deduction in that year, but can distribute the money out to charities over time. 

How to Donate to a Donor-Advised Fund

If you choose to open a DAF, the first step is to choose which organization you want to invest with. Each one will have their own fees and restrictions for holding onto the funds. This is where a financial advisor can help, advising you on what to look for. Account holders can then gift their assets into the DAF. This can be anything from cash to private stocks to real estate to bonds. As long as the assets aren't publicly traded, you are eligible for the tax deduction as soon as the assets are promised to an approved charitable organization. The funds inside this account are entirely tax-free, which means they can grow without incurring taxes.

How to Use a Donor-Advised Fund

Money in a DAF can be invested in a suite of mutual funds similar to a 401(k).  Some people will use a DAF in lieu of setting up some type of trust for a particular organization while others will front-load their account to give themselves enough time to grow their charitable assets. Any charity that has been approved by the IRS is eligible to benefit from a DAF.

Donor Advised Funds vs. Private Foundations

Many choose DAFs over private foundations for their simplicity, ease of setting up, and potentially lower administrative costs. Private foundations can be used for greater customization and have the ability to pay other family members to serve on the board. Donor Advised Funds are private, whereas gifts from a Foundation are public information. There are many other advantages and disadvantages when comparing DAFs to Family Foundations, including the tax deduction for foundations is lower than DAFs, so it is best to speak to a qualified professional beforehand. 

In my experience, bunching charitable donations in one year to a donor advised fund is a good strategy in high income years - when I have a client who may have deferred compensation distributions or if he or she sold a large block of company stock. -MA

Donor Advised Fund Tax Information

Any contributions made to a DAF are classified as a 501(c)(3) gift. The IRS allows the individual to give up to 50% of their Adjusted Gross Income in cash and up to 30% in other types of assets.1 Liquid gifts such as cash are taken at market value, but illiquid investments will need to be evaluated by an independent appraiser for the exact monetary value. Individuals who want to exercise specific investment strategies will need to check with the organization managing their account. Each one will have their own list of approved means of growing the funds.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to getting the most out of DAF. However, it may be a good choice for individuals who want to maximize their charitable donations as well as their own investment portfolio. 

If you need help evaluating whether a Donor Advised Fund makes sense, schedule time with me for a complimentary review. 


  1. https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/charitable-contribution-deductions

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Twenty Over Ten. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.