To the Editor:
The National Philanthropic Trust recently published its 16th annual “Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) Report,” and I was pleased to share the news with the leading philanthropy news outlet, the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The data in the report demonstrates that donor-advised funds have had a major impact on the philanthropic field. Sharing the data with social-sector leaders, staff, and stakeholders is important to me and my colleagues at the NPT. Of equal importance is that our reporting on DAFs is fair, accurate, and clearly presented.
I was disappointed that the Chronicle’s recent coverage of the report (November 15, 2022) included a comment from a legal scholar questioning the integrity of our data and the overall report. Producing this report is an extensive process that involves hundreds of hours from a team of professionals, including data analysis performed by independent and well-respected nonprofit-industry professionals.
The Chronicle did not provide balanced coverage in its description of how the NPT produced this complex report, which includes a high standard of transparency. We were disappointed not to have been given an opportunity to respond to the criticisms in the article and to highlight the report’s methodology.
I wish to set the record straight. Here are some facts that underscore how this report is researched and assembled.
- To produce the report, NPT collects data from Form 990 Schedule D for nearly 1,000 DAF sponsors, and we regularly audit this database. The Form 990 Schedule D data is the only public data source universally available about DAFs. The claim that the NPT “overlooks” account-level data — data that doesn’t publicly exist — is misleading.
- DAF grant-payout calculation has been an area of debate in the past. Relative to that debate, we provide four grant-payout formulas in Appendix A of the report to recognize the different points of view on payout calculations. We also produced a special report providing more details on DAF grant payout. We observe that, whatever method used, DAFs grant at consistently high payout rates — and consistently higher than private foundations.
- The article highlighted a comment about using DAFs for workplace giving. The report has always included every type of DAF model and sponsor. We include DAFs that operate differently, as they all represent alternative uses of this flexible vehicle. We believe the workplace DAF donors and the nonprofit organizations they support should be included. The DAF marketplace has changed over the years, and we wish to capture that change.
- The NPT does not “crunch the numbers” in-house. For many years, we have utilized independent and industry-respected professionals who analyze the numbers, observe trends, and suggest commentary for the report. We don’t have an “agenda": We report the facts from the data we collect.
- In the interest of transparency, the report lists the data-collection and statistical methodology we utilize, as well as the internal staff and professional consultants who participate in creating the report.
To me personally and to all my honorable NPT colleagues who work on this complex project, the integrity of the DAF report is of the utmost importance. The NPT’s goal is to ensure that the data accurately reflects the previous years of DAF giving, and to offer observations and useful information to nonprofit practitioners, donors, and other stakeholders.
Eileen R. Heisman
President and CEO
National Philanthropic Trust
Editor’s note: Heisman suggests the Chronicle erred in quoting experts who recommended that the study include account-level data because such information is not publicly available. That is true, but other researchers, notably the Council of Michigan Foundations, conducted a well-publicized study by obtaining access to such data. As for Heisman’s concern that it was misleading to include a quote from an expert about whether the trust has an agenda, the Chronicle’s goal was simply to explain that the National Philanthropic Trust runs donor-advised funds itself and to help our readers understand the background of the research, as we do with all studies.