Education, religious groups gain most from giving strategy

Nov 11, 2021, 7:47 AM | Updated: 1:39 pm

The somewhat mysterious charitable giving strategy known as donor-advised funds is a point of contention in the philanthropic community, but a new report released Thursday is shedding light on what types of organizations benefited most from it in the past few years.

Donor-advised funds, which are similar to charitable investment accounts, allow donors to receive a tax deduction upfront without directly giving the money to a working charity. Though donors can’t get the money back from these funds, the federal government doesn’t mandate them to disburse the money, leading critics to argue they’ve essentially become warehouses for charitable dollars.

The accounts, also referred to as DAFs, are housed at national organizations like Fidelity Charitable, as well as community foundations and other institutions. The study released by Indiana University and The Giving USA Foundation showed between 2014 and 2018, grants from DAFs were mostly given to education, religious and other public-society benefit organizations, like United Way and civil rights groups. By contrast, environmental and animal organizations received 5% of the grant dollars, the least of all the groups.

The findings mirror that of a similar study released by both organizations in 2018, which looked at data from 2012 to 2015.

Thursday’s report analyzed $74 billion in grant dollars given to 240,000 nonprofits from 87 DAF sponsors. Though Americans generally give more to religion than education, the study found 29% of DAF gifts went towards education, while 14% were directed at religious causes.

Researchers say the opposite finding among DAF donors tracks closely with the contribution patterns of affluent Americans who largely use these accounts. In 2020, the average DAF account had nearly $160,000 in assets, according to the National Philanthropic Trust, a DAF sponsor that tracks giving to these funds.

Debate about the use of DAFs has increased as they’ve boomed in growth: the number of accounts that exist toppled 1 million for the first time last year. And they held nearly $160 billion in assets in 2020, according to the Trust.

A Senate bill is aiming to speed up distributions from the accounts, garnering pushback from DAF sponsors who note, at about 23%, the overall DAF payout rate far exceeds those of private foundations, who are required to give a minimum 5% of their assets annually. Critics counter that not every DAF is paying a rate that high.

Una Osili, the associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, says the school’s joint report is intended to highlight another area of the DAF debate that’s often neglected. (The AP and the Lilly School receive funding from the Lilly Endowment.)

“There hasn’t been an effort to understand the destination of where those grant dollars go,” she said.


The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Turkey’s annual inflation hits new 24-year high at 83.45%

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s annual inflation reached a new 24-year high of 83.45% in September, according to official data on Monday, pushing the cost of essential goods higher and further hitting households already facing high energy, food and housing costs. The Turkish Statistical Institute said consumer prices rose by 3.08% from the previous month. […]
2 hours ago
FILE - The Twitter page of Elon Musk is seen on the screen of a computer in Sausalito, Calif., on M...
Associated Press

What if Musk loses the Twitter case but defies the court?

Twitter wants a Delaware court to order Elon Musk to buy the social media service for $44 billion, as he promised back in April. But what if a judge makes that ruling and Musk balks? The Tesla billionaire’s reputation for dismissing government pronouncements has some worried that he might flout an unfavorable ruling of the […]
2 hours ago
Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng speaking to the media ahead of the Conservative Party an...
Associated Press

UK scraps tax cut for wealthy that sparked market turmoil

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — The British government has dropped plans to cut income tax for top earners, part of a package of unfunded cuts that sparked turmoil on financial markets and sent the pound to record lows. In a dramatic about-face, Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng said Monday that he would abandon plans to scrap the […]
1 day ago
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a policy speech in Tokyo Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Sad...
Associated Press

Japan’s Kishida vows to regain trust in church controversy

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that he will humbly listen to people’s “harsh voices” criticizing his governing party’s cozy ties to the ultra-conservative Unification Church and help victims of its allegedly fraudulent businesses and huge donation collection. Kishida has come under fire in a widening scandal that has exposed decades […]
1 day ago
FILE - A Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo of a Nobel medal displayed during a ceremony in New York....
Associated Press

Nobel panel to announce winner of medicine prize

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The winner, or winners, of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine will be announced Monday at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Among the researchers who may be honored this year are those who were instrumental in the development of the mRNA technology that went into COVID-19 vaccines, which saved millions […]
1 day ago
The Pittsburgh Steelers face the New England Patriots during an NFL football game at Acrisure Stadi...
Associated Press

Spectator at Steelers game dies after fall from escalator

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A spectator at Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets died following a fall on an escalator at Acrisure Stadium. The Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety said police and emergency service personnel were alerted after a male spectator fell around 4:45 p.m., shortly after the end of New York’s […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Education, religious groups gain most from giving strategy