For some, the end-of-year holidays engender thoughts of helping those less fortunate. For others, it’s a time to develop strategies to save on taxes.
Charitable giving allows you to achieve both goals. However, what if you would like to help but don’t yet know which charities you prefer? One of the most flexible ways to address this is to use a donor-advised fund (DAF).
A DAF is an account similar to a 401(k), sponsored and administered by a public charity for the purpose of managing charitable donations to other organizations on your behalf. It offers you the opportunity to donate money and get an immediate tax deduction before deciding which charities you want to fund. Rather than making donations directly to your favorite charities, you can donate the money to a DAF and in the future direct grants to specific charities through the DAF. For wealthy individuals and families, a DAF provides simpler accounting, higher tax-deduction limits and less strict payout requirements compared to creating your own private foundation.
However, there may be differences across DAFs in the offerings, so selecting the most appropriate one can be challenging. Following are questions you should ask the sponsoring organizations before selecting the right DAF for you.
• What types of grants will the DAF sponsoring organization approve? Generally DAFs are able to support most 501(c)(3) organizations, but there are sometimes restrictions, such as religious or international requirements. If you cannot support your favorite charities through the fund, it’s probably not for you.
• Will the DAF accept assets other than cash for funding? Many DAFs accept publicly traded stock, privately held company stock, real estate, life insurance and even art and collectibles.
• What are the investment options? Is there a minimum account size? Some DAF sponsors allow donors or their financial advisers to manage the funds within the DAF themselves. This may be of value to you if you plan on making distributions over a long period of time.
• What is the process for making grants from the fund? Is there a minimum amount? Can it be done by phone or online? Is there an approval process? What are the costs?
• What resources are provided to help clients identify causes or charities and plan their giving? If you know exactly which charities you want to support, you won’t need such help. But some sponsoring organizations additionally help educate their DAF account holders on local needs as well as how to be more effective donors. Working with such organizations could help develop a greater sense of pride and satisfaction through your charitable giving.
• Can the assets in a DAF account be transferred to another DAF sponsor? You may want to change in the future for any number of reasons or may simply prefer not being locked in.
• What happens when the DAF account creator is no longer alive? Can successor trustees be named? Can the DAF holder designate charitable beneficiaries to receive the final amount in the fund?
When it comes to selecting a DAF, there is no shortage of choices. Brokerage houses Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard run the largest national DAFs. If you are more inclined to support your local community, there is the Los Altos Community Foundation right in our own backyard. It supports local nonprofits as well as national charities.
Regardless of your preference, DAFs remain an excellent vehicle through which you can accomplish good in the community while at the same time saving on your taxes.