Giving to Charity? Learn the Ins and Outs of Donor-Advised Funds

These simple, low-cost vehicles tend to be the most efficient and effective ways to engage in charitable giving.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust (opens in new tab), Americans gave $358.38 billion to charities in 2014, a 7.1% uptick from the previous year. And with the deadline for deducting charitable contributions approaching on Dec. 31, now is a good time to give back to an organization and/or support a current relief effort.

While there are multiple vehicles available to help support philanthropic giving, we find that donor-advised funds (DAF) tend to be the most efficient and effective giving vehicles. They are simple, low cost, and flexible. They allow donors to maximize the tax benefits of charitable giving while supporting their favorite organizations.

What is a Donor-Advised Fund?

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A DAF is simply an account that helps givers manage their charitable contributions. Through an agreement with a DAF provider, a donor creates a specially named account (i.e. “Smith Family Fund”) to which irrevocable contributions are made. The donor receives an immediate tax deduction but is not forced to make any grants. They can work with their adviser to invest and grow the assets and recommend grants to their favorite non-profit, 501(c)(3) organizations at their leisure.

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Why Use a Donor-Advised Fund?

Simplicity. Unlike a private foundation, the donor is not responsible for hiring attorneys and accountants or maintaining a board of directors. The sponsoring organization that holds the fund takes responsibility of all the expensive administration work, including filing annual returns and preparing financial statements.

Tax Efficiency. DAF contributions provide a federal income tax deduction up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income for cash contributions and up to 30 percent of adjusted gross income for appreciated securities. Along with publicly traded securities, DAF holders can also contribute complex assets such as real estate, limited partnership interests, private C- and S-Corp stock, and other privately held assets.

Flexibility. DAF holders receive an immediate tax deduction for their contribution but they are not subject to a legal minimum payout requirement like a private foundation. The flexibility helps donors maximize tax benefits while helping them be more systematic and methodical about their giving.

If you haven’t engaged in charitable giving yet, now is a great time to start. And in doing so, consider the benefits of a DAF—to you and to the future recipients.

Taylor Schulte, CFP® is founder and CEO of Define Financial (opens in new tab), a San Diego-based fee-only firm. He is passionate about helping clients accumulate wealth and plan for retirement.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Taylor Schulte, CFP
Founder and CEO, Define Financial

Taylor Schulte, CFP®, is founder and CEO of Define Financial (opens in new tab), a fee-only wealth management firm in San Diego. In addition, Schulte hosts The Stay Wealthy Retirement Podcast (opens in new tab), teaching people how to reduce taxes, invest smarter, and make work optional. He has been recognized as a top 40 Under 40 adviser by InvestmentNews and one of the top 100 most influential advisers by Investopedia.