What To Do About Donor Advised Funds

Suddenly, there is a lot of talk of Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs.  Although they’ve been around for ages, just in the past few years, organizations like Fidelity have been pushing them so hard that Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund was ranked the number charity in the US, bringing in $4.6 billion last year.

Now, to my mind, this raises all sorts of questions-like do you count as “top fundraising” organizations places like Fidelity and the Gates Foundation?—but we’ll leave that to some other time.

Another question that occurs is: should be Fidelity be considered “second only to the Gates Foundation” in grantmaking if what is being counted is the distribution of those donor advised funds?

It is, however, those DAF’s that we are talking about now—and specifically, how do you get funding from these, and what should you do when you get a gift/grant from a DAF?

If you are a large nonprofit and have a large development staff, there is (isn’t there always?) lots of things you can do.  But if you are like the vast majority of nonprofits, you don’t have the time or the staff to do many things.  And yet, given the growth of DAF’s, you really cannot ignore them.

So, what CAN you do?246-365-when-i-ruled-the-world-explored

  • When you get a gift from a DAF, if it has the donor’s name and contact information, thank the donor—profusely—for the gift “through your donor advised fund.” Remember:  They already got their charitable income tax deduction, so don’t encourage them to double-dip by sending a(n inappropriate) substantiation statement.
  • Often, however, you don’t know whose donor advised fund made the gift. No worries, thank the person signing the letter and ask if you can meet or talk about how you can continue to receive this gift and, perhaps, others from their DAF’s.
  • Look locally—Fidelity is big. But they will have local offices.  Check out who is in charge of philanthropy and see if you can meet that person.  Better still, find out which of your local community foundations have Donor Advised Funds and try to get to know the ED or the program officer.
  • Meanwhile, make sure you let people who may have DAF’s know that you happily and gratefully accept gifts from those funds.
    • Put an article in your newsletter about a DAF you did receive, and how much you would love to receive others
    • Tweet out that you do accept gifts from DAF’s
    • Post something on your facebook page
    • Put a P.S. in an appeal
  • Make sure that when you do accept a gift via a DAF it is not a gift to pay off a pledge. This is a no-no.  Federal law is very clear on this account.
  • Get a DAF direct widget on your website. Check out https://www.dafdirect.org

Gifts from Donor Advised Funds will not be the primary way you will get funds each year, but even one gift can make a difference in your bottom line.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits to increase fundraising capacity and take them from mired to inspired.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and for a 30-minute free consultation.  Also consider becoming Fluent in Fundraising.  Buy Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers fundraisers-cover.


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Getting It Right

thank-you-1Making a charitable gift is a wonderful thing.  But getting thanked incorrectly makes one feel horrible.  In the last few days I’ve:

  • Been thanked for my gift, then received another thank you but for someone else’s gift
  • Given a one-time gift and was thanked for a monthly gift of a totally different amount
  • Gotten a thank you for an online gift I didn’t complete

This all gives me pause.  Getting gifts right is the least a nonprofit can do to make a donor feel like what she does matters, and that it is something she wants to do again.

Years ago, I used to give a talk to local service clubs about making wise charitable choices.  Inevitably, the question of being thanked for one’s generosity would rear its ugly head.  Not once, but every single time I talked, more than three-quarters of the room would raise their hands when I asked if anyone had ever made a gift and not ever been thanked.  And “raise their hands” doesn’t quite express the activity.  People waved—frantically—and verbalized their frustration and anger.

It wasn’t so much that they wanted to be acknowledged as they wanted to know that their gift (a) got there and (b) was doing something to move the organization’s mission forward.

The other piece of this that gives me pause is how often, once I’ve made a gift, the only correspondence I get is, yes, asking me for another gift.

I’m a big believer in giving people lots of opportunities to support a nonprofit.  But—and this is a critical but—before you ask again, you must show that what the donor has done is making a difference.

“Thank you and give more” is irritating.  “Give more” as the only correspondence is insulting.  We’ve all be cautioned not to treat our donors as if they are ATM machines, and yet, as I’ve broadened my giving this year almost every organization I’ve donated to has made me feel that that is what they think I am.

Perhaps it is because in addition to the local organizations I’ve been giving to, I decided this year I needed to get more national.  And perhaps national organizations get so many donors, and so many gifts, that my humble offerings aren’t worth more to them that this automated (and too often wrong) reactions.  If that is the case, then they should be upfront—your gift, unless it is more than some amount, is not welcomed.  Or they need to get their technology right.

All of which makes me reflect of why I had stopped giving to larger organizations in the first place.

Unable to give at large levels, I felt that my gift was going into that famous black hole.  What got me only a thank you and then another ask at a large organization, often brought outreach that sought to bring me further inside with smaller organizations.  Of course, sometimes small organizations didn’t even get the thank you wrong as they never got any thanks out at all.

As the year ends and it becomes time to make your New Year’s resolutions make one that you will get stewardship right.  Thank donors appropriately not just for the gift they just gave but for the support they could give you in the future if only you show them how important that support is.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits helping to build fundraising capacity and move them from mired to inspired. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and connect with Janet for a free 30-minute consultation to see how she can help you make 2017 more rewarding.

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Increasing Your Fundraising Potential

Benchmark this year’s fundraising results and explore your potential for 2017 by taking advantage of the latest data set on contributions raised by the Philanthropy 400, The Chronicle’s list of the U.S. charities that raise the most from private sources. 

From the Chronicle of Philanthropy

What part of reality are we not seeing here?  What relevance does a huge organization with untitleda large development staff and very well connected board members have to do with your very small nonprofit, even smaller (or nonexistent!) development department and really nice board members?

Not much.

And yet, it is their golden ring that we keep aiming for.

My first fundraising job was at USC—a top rated research university.  I raised millions of dollars, and was naïve enough to think I was hot stuff.  Fundraising R me and all that.  Then I went to a small public policy think tank.  And I killed myself to raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  Did I stop being hot or did the fact that the operating expenses for the nonprofit was just under a million have something to do with my numbers?

Yes, Virginia.  Who you raise money for is at least as important your talent in raising funds.  In both places you must do the right things, but your results will be very dependent on your organization’s size, sophistication, and resources.

So, no, don’t benchmark against the largest 400 nonprofits, unless you are high up in the largest 500.  If, like the majority of nonprofits out there, you have expenses of under $500,000 those 400 have absolutely no meaning to you at all.  Even if you are part of the 25% of all public charities with expenses between $500K and $5M, there is relatively little those organizations can tell you.

Look to organizations who are like-sized and, frankly, in similar sub-sectors.  If your organization serves the environment or animals you are raising far less than educational organizations or religion.  Track with those most like you and see what they are doing that you could adopt to increase your fundraising capacity. Look to those organizations that maximize what they have and compare it what you do.

Stop looking for that one gift that is larger than your entire budget and consider how to increase the number of donors who care passionately about what you do.  Love them for what they do for your cause and your mission.

Start thinking about new audiences and new ways to reach them.  Look back at donors who have ceased to support you and find out why—and then do something to change that dynamic.

In short, take a long hard look at who you are, how you function and then figure out how to deploy your (undoubtedly limited) resources in the most effective, efficient ways.  In this way, you will  not only increase your potential but you will increase the amount you raise and your donors’ loyalty.  And in this way, you will be doing the very best you can to serve your clients and your cause.


Janet Levine works to help nonprofits increase their fundraising capacity and go from mired to inspired.  See how she can make your 2017 better.  http://www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.


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The Board Member Who Got Away

He is exactly the kind of board member you want:  affluent, influential, and willing to share his network.  But he’s not going to serve on any nonprofit board soon.

Why?Empty Boardroom

Well, after talking to a number of organizations, his sense was that by and large nonprofits don’t want anyone to actually DO anything unless the doing is raising money.  What they want is someone to rubber stamp everything staff is or wants to do, and that is not his style.

“I don’t want to run day-to-day operations,” he told me.  “But I do want to know about the programs—are they well-run, financially viable?  Does the staff keep up-to-date in the field? Is the office efficient?”

But most of the organizations don’t want their board members to ask too many questions, look behind too many curtains.  They want them to sit placidly through the reading of reports that could have, should have, been sent before the meeting and then to vote yes.  To the degree they want any activity, it is typically connected to fundraising, but not linked to anything the board member should be raising funds for.

On the for-profits where he serves, he told me, the board regularly grapples with important issues.  They talk about product, marketing, management.  They think about growth, or the lack thereof.  They offer their experience, their expertise, their advice.  They are involved in the company.  They feel an ownership in its success.

It’s that last part that too often is missing from our relationships with our board members.  We ask them to do things FOR us, rather than being PART of who we are.  We keep them in the board room, looking at our carefully prepared reports that tells them what we want them to know.  We push them to the side rather than invite them to come inside.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com to arrange for your free 30 minute consultation.



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Too Busy

My niece sent me this cartoon:


As I read it, I could hear so many nonprofits (including, alas, some of my clients): “Go away.  We’re too busy being frantic and dealing with urgent stuff to focus on actually doing things better.”

I talk with a lot of nonprofits and they tell me that while they do good things, they are not successful by almost any definition.  Their programs are not efficient, their fundraising is non-existent, their boards—well don’t even get them started on that.  And their staff is underpaid and overworked.

So, I say, stop.  Take a deep breath.  And figure out what you must do to be efficient, effective, excellent.  Do some real strategic planning.

Understand what your purpose really is.  That sounds easy but I find that often too much stuff gets in the way.

For example, two of my clients provide services at no cost to the recipients.  And when I ask them about their mission, they tell me it is to provide those services at no cost to the recipients.

Wrong.  That is how they pursue their purpose, but it is not their purpose. Their purpose is actually the outcome that occurs (or they hope occurs) because of the services they provide. You discover that by asking what you aim to achieve.  Who is the group you aim to serve, and how do you do your work: what, in broad terms, ar the methods you use?  And, most importantly, what is your impact?

From that purpose or mission comes the vision—what do you hope to be in the next 5, 10, 20 years?  Larger, better, more effective? Another word for vision is goal.  And a goal is something that is broad and unmeasurable.  It is qualitative rather than quantitative. In other words, it is the difference you hope to make.

What, then, must you consider to reach that goal?

First consider, what are the things in your environment—internal and external—that support both your purpose and your goal?  What impedes them?  That support or impediment will affect the objectives that you must develop so you can move in the right direction.

Janet Levine helps nonprofits move in the right direction. Learn how she can help you at fundraisers-coverhttp://www.janetlevineconsulting.com or contact her to arrange a free, 30-minute consultation.  Also consider becoming fluent in fundraising and purchase her book, available at Amazon


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