ask an expert

Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who isn’t sure how to make contact with and cultivate their donor advised fund givers. 

Dear Charity Clairity,

Our biggest challenge with DAFs is we can’t get any information about the people who are giving via DAFs. Any suggestions for making contact with those givers?

DAF and Dumb

Dear DAF and Dumb,

While it’s true some grants from donor-advised funds don’t include the full name and address of the donor, this doesn’t necessarily mean the donor’s identity is a complete mystery. In fact, Vanguard Charitable reports only 5% of their DAF donors choose to remain anonymous. 

Always check the paperwork accompanying the check for clues (make sure your finance office doesn’t discard this information before forwarding the gift on to the development office). Often gifts are from something like the “Jen Generosity Fund at Fidelity Charitable” or the “Lee Axelrad Memorial Fund.” Use those clues to try to find more information about the donor.

There are a number of ways to sleuth this out. First check your own donor database. Does Jen Generosity or Lee Axelrad appear as a donor? Does another member of the Generosity or Axelrad families appear as a donor? Perhaps Claire Axelrad directed a gift from her DAF in memory of her mother? Contact her to find out.

If you don’t find the name or contact information you still know the amount of the gift. Do you have any lapsed donors who generally give a similar amount around this time of year? Maybe the gift is from them?  Contact them to find out. Even if they weren’t the donor, this is a gentle way to alert them to the fact they’ve not yet made their gift this year.

When it comes to ongoing cultivation of these supporters, some DAF sponsors will forward on thank you letters from you to anonymous donors. It’s definitely worth asking them if they will do this on your behalf. It’s more challenging with the large national financial institutions, but I’d definitely recommend trying. You may find a responsive, empathic person answers your call! 

You’ll definitely have more luck with more local DAF sponsors. At the very least, when you mail your thank you letter to the funder, send them an extra thank you intended for the donor. These advisors are people too, and many understand how much their donors may appreciate receiving an acknowledgment or impact report from you. This is why it’s a great idea to reach out to donor advised fund professionals at your local community foundation, United Way and/or Jewish Federation. Let them know what you’re up to, as they often monitor their donors’ interests. If they can make a match between one of their DAF donors and your nonprofit it’s a win for everyone.

I hope this helps you get DAF smart!

— Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.