What questions should donors ask potential sponsor organizations when considering setting up a Donor Advised Fund?

Before opening a DAF, donors need to be clear on the services, fees, and restrictions of a fund, as they vary widely among sponsor organizations. Here is a set of questions to help guide this essential conversation:

Start-Up and Administrative

  • What type(s) of donor-advised funds are available? Do you have written descriptions of each?
  • What is the minimum amount required to establish a donor-advised fund?
  • Is there a minimum amount at which I must must maintain the fund?
  • What types of assets can I donate beyond cash or stocks? Are there fees or restrictions for donating those assets? Do you have written guidelines for this?
  • What type of online and mobile access do I have for monitoring gifts, grants, and investments? Can family members access the account?
  • Can other people donate to my fund? If so, how?
  • What happens if I want to close my donor-advised fund?
  • What happens to the assets if the fund reverts to the sponsor organization?

Investing

  • What are the investment and administrative fees for this fund?
  • What are my investment options?
  • Can I keep my existing investment manager? What fees and conditions are involved?
  • If we want to align our investments with our values, what options do you have for Socially Responsible Investing or Environmental Social Governance (ESG)-screened investments (i.e., a set of standards that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments)?
  • What support do you offer for Program-Related Investments—loans, equity, other forms of debt?
  • What support or expertise do you offer in the area of Impact Investments?

Basic Grantmaking

  • What information and support do you offer regarding issues and nonprofits?
  • What information is available to me as a donor?
  • What levels of due diligence you you perform on nonprofits you recommend for funding?Is there a required distribution from the fund each year?
  • What is the minimum grant amount that can be recommended?
  • Are there limits on the types of grants I can recommend (geography, purposes, grant type, etc.)?
  • Is there a mandatory percentage of annual grants that must go to the sponsor organization to support its mission?
  • How do you handle international grantmaking? What about organizations that don’t have a charitable status in the U.S.?
  • Do you allow scholarships, and what are the restrictions if so?
  • How long does it take to get grant checks to non-profits once I recommend a grant?

Family Involvement

  • Are there limits on the number or age of fund holders?
  • Are there limits as to the number or type of successor advisors?
  • What happens if I, the fund holder, die or become incapacitated?
  • Can I establish funds for members of my family?
  • Can I give family members access to my fund for grant making?
  • How can I use my fund to leave a legacy?
  • What are your rules around succession?
  • What educational tools or programs do you have to help my family learn about generosity and philanthropy, or specific issues in the community? Do these cost extra?
  • How might you support my family in developing a shared values, vision, mission, and/or legacy statement?
  • How might you support family meetings, virtual or in-person?
  • How might you support us to better understand issues, geographies, or grantmaking strategies?
  • Am I able to add a rider to the fund, if I choose, to extend it beyond first and second generation?

Philanthropic Services

  • Beyond checking for tax-deductible status, what help do you provide to ensure grantees are legitimate and high performing organizations?
  • What reporting can we obtain from grantees? What if we want more in-depth reporting or analysis?
  • What support could you provide if we want to customize a gift agreement (for example, for naming rights to a building or to restrict the purpose of an endowment)?
  • What is the best way to communicate with your staff? Can I meet with someone in person if I need advice or have questions?
  • How can I meet other donors in your network?
  • In what ways do you encourage donors to elevate their leadership?

Next in the DAF Guide: What Questions Should an Individual Donor, Couple or Family Ask Themselves Before Opening a Donor Advised Fund?

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Family Philanthropy and Donor-Advised Funds

This online guide is for donors and families considering donor-advised funds, as well as for others, including advisors, seeking to learn more about the benefits and complexities of this important philanthropic vehicle.

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