Time to Purge Our Donor Advised Funds

Please note the publish date of this blog. Financial information, market conditions, and other data mentioned in this post may no longer be accurate or relevant.

Is staying at home really enough? Yes. And… there is so much more we can do.  

We see the food bank lines, we read the emails from charities trying to stay afloat. It’s an understatement to say nonprofits need our money today to continue and expand their impactful work. From health care to the arts, from environmental organizations to colleges, nonprofits are taking a catastrophic hit. And while I receive donation requests all year/every year just like you do, this year really is different. 

Years ago, like many of my clients, I put money into a Donor Advised Fund. This is a vehicle for collecting and saving tax-free charitable dollars (sometimes for decades) until the donor decides how to gift the money. Each year I disburse dollars (make grants) from my DAF to my favorite specific charities. While I am proud of my giving and feel generous and helpful, I never give away all my DAF money. Whether it’s a lack of inspiration or a desire to accrue for that rainy day, I often don’t feel motivated to make gifts. (The money sitting in my DAF already gave me a tax-deduction, so there’s no benefit to letting this money lie dormant). Using a DAF prolongs and postpones the act of giving to charity. It helps me hoard charitable dollars, but it doesn’t help me gift them. 

That all changed last week when I woke up with certainty in these uncertain times: the antidote to my fear is generosity, and my money can benefit the world now more than ever. I can’t delay anymore. I can’t say next year I’ll have the time to research and properly select the recipients for my charitable gifts.

As of today, my Donor Advised Fund has $37,000. Like most of us, it’s just “sheltering in place.” But unlike people sheltering, money sheltering doesn’t actually do any good.

Do you know how many DAF dollars are “sheltering” in US financial institutions right now? $121 billion. Why? Maybe because no one has said it’s time to be generous. So, I’m saying it: It’s time to purge our DAFs. 

Let’s purge by May 1st. Hey! Let’s practice social distancing and purge together!  

I encourage all the clients at Abacus to purge. I encourage Fidelity — which benefits from the highest amount of DAF money at $20 billion (as noted in their 2017 annual report) — to challenge their clients to purge. And I encourage you, too.  

Gather your kids, discuss your values, decide which wonderful charities will benefit and purge together. Challenge your friends and colleagues to purge. Challenge your sports buddies to out-purge one another. Keep score and revel in your generosity.  

What is our legacy? That we remained fearful and saved money for a rainy day? No. It’s that in the time of greatest need, we didn’t hesitate to respond. We made a difference and that felt good. More than just good, we showed our children and grandchildren a blueprint for compassion, stewardship, and generosity.

It’s our planet. What are we waiting for?


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