Rise in Public GivingU.S. inflation reached 9.1% in June 2022, the highest inflation rate in nearly 40 years. An alarming rise in the cost of goods and services paired with stock market volatility reflects ongoing concerns of a burgeoning economic recession. Economists’ forecasts grow bleaker as the government races to tackle historic inflation rates. Even so, 2022 sees a rise in public giving despite mounting economic hardship.

2022 Fidelity Charitable Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs)

According to Fidelity Charitable, the largest grantmaker in the United States, Americans donated a record-high $4.8 billion to Fidelity Charitable accounts within the first six months of 2022. Approximately $128 million of these donations went to Ukrainian relief efforts, providing aid to alleviate the many crises Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused. Donations to prominent NGOs such as Jose Andres’s Central World Kitchen and the International Medical Corps also increased significantly when compared to previous years.

Fidelity Charitable’s 11% increase in donations is a significant divergence from the norm, as charitable giving is generally the first thing cut from the budget during times of financial duress. The 2008 financial crisis, for example, caused donation rates to plummet by approximately 12%, according to Fast Company.

Recent changes in America’s charitable activity can be attributed to the emerging prominence of Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs). DAFs allow individuals and corporations alike to deposit assets for donations to charity over time. Donors invest their charitable donations in advance, allowing them to tap into these funds later down the road when a crisis unfolds. DAFs are essentially donation reserves that allow donors to access funds that have been already been set aside, thus enabling a steady rise in public giving despite mounting economic hardship.

DAFs Bolster Americans Capacity to Give

DAFs are quite new and have grown in popularity since the financial crisis of 2008. Because DAFs create a ready supply of donations over time, they bolster donors and charities alike against future economic hardships. Rapid economic expansion in the decade since the 2008 market crash boosted general economic confidence and encouraged expansive investment in DAFs, which is translating into elevated levels of giving during times of crisis, according to Fast Company.

The purpose of DAFs is to increase the amount that individuals and corporations are able to give. They are incredibly flexible, allowing individuals to invest cash donations as well as assets such as stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies, life insurance and retirement funds, according to Nerd Wallet. The versatility of DAFs is part of what makes them so successful, as they provide a plethora of investment options that appeal to everyone from the wealthy elite to the average middle-class American family.

Once an individual invests assets in a DAF, they cannot retrieve their contribution from the fund. This works to prevent individuals or companies from abusing DAFs for their tax-deduction qualities. Sponsoring organization controls DAFs, which controls the assets within DAFs as well as the investment options available to donors, according to Nerd Wallet. Once invested, DAF assets mature or appreciate tax-free until they are donated.

Some sponsor organizations do not have a mandatory distribution date, meaning that a donor can allow their funds to grow as long as they wish before donating. Other sponsor organizations require donors to contribute a portion of their funds to charity regularly in order to avoid fraudulent activity.

DAFs offer various tax benefits, permitting donors to receive tax deductions for their DAF contributions. Tax-related donor benefits contributed to the expansive rise in DAF investment in the past decade, fostering the current rise in public giving despite mounting economic hardship. The tax deductions attributed to DAFs faced criticism in the past as they provide a possible tax shelter for the wealthy. Despite these concerns, DAFs have proven a vital funding source for charities during times of economic volatility by bolstering Americans’ capacity to give.

An Evolution in How Americans Give

Although it is America’s largest DAF sponsor organization, expanding DAF investment is not unique to Fidelity Charitable. The 15th annual DAF report by the National Philanthropic Trust of 2021 analyzes data from 976 charitable DAF sponsor organizations from 2020. The report found that DAF donor grants reached approximately $34.67 billion in 2021, an astonishing 27% increase since 2019.

Additionally, the number of individual DAF accounts within the U.S. reached 1 million for the first time in history. This encouraging increase in charitable investment and DAF donations seems counterintuitive considering the economic austerity imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The success of DAFs in 2020 and 2021 reflects the current rise in public giving despite mounting economic hardship.

Experts are confident that donation rates will continue to rise as 2022 persists, surpassing all previous records. Historically, Americans tend to give more during the fourth quarter of the financial year. The President of Fidelity Charitable, Jacob Pruitt, expects this trend to continue, with hopes of surpassing 2021’s year-end record of $10.3 billion, Fast Company reports. These donations will be a pertinent source of aid for low-income nations that are most vulnerable to high inflation rates.

Most DAF sponsor organizations do not have a minimum initial contribution, meaning anyone is welcome to open an account, according to Nerd Wallet. A small initial investment followed by regular deposits will appreciate over time, allowing one to mature their donation reserve at a pace that fits their financial situation. DAFs are an investment, so starting one now will not reap immediate results nor will it provide instant gratification.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the course of life is unpredictable and that there will always be someone, somewhere in need of assistance. DAFs were designed with this reality in mind, enabling charitable individuals to plan ahead and prepare a ready reserve that can be tapped into when the need arises. A small DAF contribution today could translate into a major impact in the future, so there really is no better time to start investing than the present.

– Mollie Lund
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