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  • Writer's pictureDrew Schneider

Who uses a DAF? 

This article answers key questions on DAF donor behavior, demographics and trends based on the latest industry research.

As of the end of 2022, there were 1,948,545 Donor Advised Fund accounts in the United States, which has more than quadrupled over the past 5 years (According to the National Philanthropic Trust 2023 Report). There is also an average of 1.6 people using each DAF account at Fidelity (since many couples and families will share a single account), meaning that over 3 million Americans are using a DAF for their philanthropy. 

But who exactly is a DAF donor? While DAF donors certainly are not all created equal, there are some interesting demographic details to keep in mind. The “typical” DAF donor persona is also evolving rapidly as DAFs become even more popular and accessible. 

This article covers:

  • General characteristics of a DAF donors

  • Common DAF strategies

  • DAF donor statistics

  • DAF donor demographics & behavior 

If you’re interested in learning more about what a Donor Advised Fund is and how it works, check out this DAF 101.


General characteristics of a donor using a DAF

1. They are engaged and intentional with their philanthropy

The fact that someone set up a specific financial instrument to manage their philanthropy indicates that they intend to give significantly to charity. After all, the only way money leaves a DAF account is as a grant to charity. 

2. They give a meaningful amount to charity each year

A core reason that people use DAFs is because of their tax advantages, but those advantages only exist if they are actually itemizing charitable contributions because they donated more than the standard deduction, which was over $13k for an individual and $27k for a couple filing jointly in 2023. This means many DAF users are intending to donate 10s of thousands of dollars at a minimum. 

3. They donate with less hesitation 

Having a DAF account is a lot like creating a charitable giving gift card for yourself. The money is already set aside and can only be used for that one purpose, so the psychological barrier to “giving money away” is much lower than a typical gift. 

A typical donation outside of a DAF involves 2 main decisions that end up slowing down or reducing conversion. One part is the budgeting decision, how much of a monthly or yearly budget someone wants to give away instead of other things they could spend their money on. The second part is deciding if they want to support a specific organization’s work - an allocation decision. 

A DAF donor already made the budgeting decision, so any gift out of their DAF is just an allocation decision, which is so much easier. 


Common DAF strategies

It’s helpful to understand the different motivations and strategies someone has when leveraging a DAF for their philanthropy. Most DAF donors fall into one of three buckets (with terminology coined by DAF researchers Dan Heist and Danielle Vance-McMullen as part of the Donor Advised Fund Research Collaborative):

1. Tubs - These donors utilize a DAF account as an efficient and intentional way to manage their philanthropy. They habitually put cash and/or assets into a DAF each year and tend to fully spend the balance every 1-2 years. 

2. Tanks - These donors leverage DAFs for discrete, one-time wealth events where they put a large sum into the account and plan to grant out funds annually over a 2-10 year period. 

3. Towers - These donors think of their DAF accounts as long-term vehicles for their family’s social impact, and structure their contributions, investments and grant strategy with a 10+ year time horizon.


DAF Donor Statistics

In 2022, The average DAF account size was $177,466. The figure decreased 4% year-over-year and is down over 40% from the peak in 2016 of $298,809 when there were only 289,478 DAF accounts (All data in this section is sourced from the National Philanthropic Trust 2023 Report).

These figures also vary greatly between the different kinds of DAF sponsors they choose to use: 

1. National Charities

This group has the largest share of DAF balances ($163 billion), accounts (1.77 million) and grants made ($35 billion) and are mostly affiliated with a financial institution that offers DAFs as a part of their product suite. 

These providers cater to a wider range of DAF holders and have played the biggest role in democratizing access to DAFs by making them more accessible - both from a pricing and technology perspective. The average DAF account at these institutions is $86,194.

2. Community Foundations

This group accounts for $54 billion in DAF assets and $12 billion in grants. Community foundations typically cater mostly to larger donors, with an average account size of $547,658.

3. Single-Issue Charities

This group accounted for $22 billion in DAF assets and $6 billion in grants. There are 77,780 accounts at Single-Issue Charities with an average account size of $281,046.


DAF donor demographics and behavior

While we don’t yet have full DAF account holder demographics across the whole market or by different DAF sponsor categories, we do have 2 very useful sources of information that shed light on DAF donors and their giving behavior that is summarized below. The largest DAF sponsor, Fidelity Charitable, discloses the most in-depth donor data of any DAF and the DAF Research Collaborative put out a groundbreaking cross-DAF historical analysis of account level activity in early 2024.

1. DAF donors give way more, way more often

The average gift size for Fidelity was $4,625 in 2022, which is 23x larger than the average online credit card gift of $204 (According to Blackbaud Institute Charitable Giving Report

DAF donors at Fidelity made an average of 11.8 grants per account, 6x larger than the average American donor (according to Double the Donation Nonprofit Fundraising Statistics)

2. DAF donors are consistent & reliable

78% of DAF grants go to an organization DAF account holder previously supported at Fidelity, either as a scheduled recurring gift (31%) or as a regrant (47%). 88% of DAF account holders made at least one gift in 2023. 

3. DAF donors want to build relationships with organizations 

Only 4% of grants were made anonymously at Fidelity, 81% included donor name & address and 15% included the name of the account. This is consistent with other industry-wide estimates on anonymous DAF giving of 4.3%, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

4. DAF donors trust organizations to maximize their impact

63% of grants were made unrestricted at Fidelity, designating the funds as “where needed most” instead of a specific program or use. 

5. DAF donors are digitally literate 

97% of DAF donors on Fidelity manage their DAF accounts and grant recommendations digitally. 

6. DAF donors contribute more in assets than cash

Only 37% of DAF contributions were made in cash at Fidelity. 54% was contributed with publicly traded securities and 9% was contributed with non-publicly traded assets.

7. DAFs are becoming increasingly democratized

While the average DAF account size across all National Charity DAF Sponsors (which includes Fidelity) was $86,194 in 2022, Fidelity’s median account size was $19,442. The DAF Research Collaborative also found in their analysis of over 50,000 DAF accounts at 111 DAF sponsors that 49% of accounts had less than $50,000 in assets at the end of 2021. In the same report, they also discovered that 1 in 4 accounts were opened after 2020, pointing to the rapid recent rise and adoption of DAFs for philanthropy. DAFs have clearly become popular with a much broader group of donors that are still giving significantly, but not just the ultra high net worth anymore.


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