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[ASK AN EXPERT] How Should Donor-Advised Fund Gifts Be Recognized?

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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 needs advice on how donor-advised funds should be recognized in their annual reports. 

Dear Charity Clairity,

I appreciated reading your guidance re: donor-advised funds (DAFs) and would like to have additional clarity re: listing DAFs in an annual report.

Are you saying we should list the individual donor/s’ names and then separately list a grouping of all DAFs so that the DAFs receive recognition as well? For example, if Jane and John Smith contribute through Vanguard Charitable, then Jane and John are listed and Vanguard Charitable is acknowledged under: “Xyz would like to acknowledge the following Donor Advised Funds…” Please let me know your recommendations, and thank you so much!

Double the Recognition?

Dear Double the Recognition,

Recognition is all these things:

  • Almost universally appreciated.
  • Relatively inexpensive to offer.
  • Woefully missed when not offered.

All these truths point to offering donor recognition as generously as you can. It costs you very little to give, and it packs a big punch when received.

The general answer to your question is YES.

I’ve answered this question before (good questions have a tendency to repeat!), so I’ll keep the details to a minimum here. Here is my best implementation recommendation: double the recognition!

  1. List donors who made recommended DAF distributions under their own names, generally alphabetically, wherever you recognize individual donors (e.g., Annual Report; Donor Recognition Wall; Newsletter; Program; Website). It’s not a bad idea to ask these donors how they would prefer to be recognized. In my experience, most prefer their own names, without the addition of the name of their DAF (most likely because they would prefer others don’t know they have a fund). Some prefer “The Jane and John Smith Fund of the Vanguard Charitable Fund.” Following your donor’s wishes is a great way to establish trust, so it’s worth taking this extra step.
  2. List the names of the organizations holding the DAFs wherever you list foundation funders. Again, you’ll generally do this alphabetically. If you list donations by amount/level of gift, be sure to cumulate all the gifts received from the DAF administrator to assure they are listed in the correct level. For example, if you receive six recommended gifts from different Vanguard Charitable DAF holders – $100; $250; $1,800; $3,000; $5,000; $10,000 – be sure you list Vanguard under your $20,000 giving level.

I would not suggest having a separate Donor-Advised Funds segment within your donor recognition listings. This is essentially recognizing what wallet the money came from. It would be like recognizing cash donors, checking account donors, savings account donors, and stock donors all separately. The focus should be on the giver more than the form of the gift. Givers generally are listed in the following categories: Individuals; Foundations; Businesses; Community Organizations; Government.

I hope this helps to “clairify” things!

Charity Clairity

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  • Nancy M. Brown, CFRE

    Hello, Claire, Thank you for tackling this often misunderstood gift vehicle. I would like to clarify for your readers that in fact, when you receive a gift from a donor advised fund, it is actually not a gift but a grant from the fund's sponsoring organization. In other words, the donor is the sponsoring organization. This should not impact how you develop and steward the relationship with the fund advisor. However, at the bare minimum, a grantee (the nonprofit) must give hard credit and recognition to the fund sponsor and can then provide soft credit to the fund advisor. List your fund advisor as you see fit (or as they have requested), but failing to recognize the fund sponsor is simply wrong. Your suggestion of a separate listing is somewhat helpful, but ignores the direction from your donor. A good steward of gifts would call and ask permission from the fund sponsor before ignoring its specific request.
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