Why Giving Matters: A discussion with a Vanguard Charitable donor

Aug 31, 2023

In April, Vanguard Charitable published its exclusive report, Why Giving Matters: Donors give more effectively over time with a donor-advised fund. This report revealed never-before-seen data around donor-advised funds (DAFs) and Vanguard Charitable donors.


While there are many compelling data points and statistics around DAF giving featured in the report, behind every number is a donor trying to make a difference in the world. That’s why we included our donors' perspectives throughout the report.

We wanted to dive deeper into a donor story to illustrate what we see every day: Charitably-minded people constantly striving to make the biggest impact with charitable funds.

To see a donor’s generosity in action, we reached out to Janet S., one of the thousands of Vanguard Charitable donors represented in our Why Giving Matters report. Janet shared her story about the Vanguard Charitable donor-advised fund she holds with her husband and how it has changed their charitable giving forever.


The beginning of Janet's giving


Janet S. opened a Vanguard Charitable donor-advised fund (DAF) with her husband eight years ago. At the time, she and her husband were both working professionals who would donate to a few causes they cared about at the end of the year.


“Prior to starting our DAF,” Janet said, “we typically backloaded all of our giving in November and December, almost as an afterthought.”


Like 44% of Vanguard Charitable donors represented in Why Giving Matters, Janet and her husband were initially drawn to a donor-advised fund because of the tax benefits, such as:


  • Investing account contributions to grow tax-free for charity
  • Simplifying the donation of complex assets and maximizing the impact
  • Donating appreciated assets while reducing capital gains taxes1
  • Consolidating contributions for immediate tax deductions and enjoying flexible granting timelines


These benefits empower donors to give more than they would otherwise and grow money already committed to charity.


As we often see with other Vanguard Charitable donors, Janet’s motivations evolved over time. While 44% of donors say that they first opened their DAF primarily for tax benefits, that number falls to only 20% when donors are asked, “What is your primary motivation for using your donor-advised fund now?”


As Janet and her husband continued using their account, they discovered the wide-ranging advantages and the power of a DAF. Suddenly, they were able to make their giving easier and more impactful.


Discovering the benefits of a donor-advised fund


“We are much more consistent, strategic, and regular in our giving since starting our donor-advised fund,” Janet said. “With our DAF, we invest greater amounts more selectively in nonprofits that really fit our targeted cause areas.”


Janet says her primary motivation now is to centralize her giving. By seeing her giving all in one place, it’s easier than ever to see just how much each year is going to charity and reflect on what else they could be doing to regularly support their favorite nonprofits.


Harris Poll survey, conducted in partnership with Vanguard Charitable, found that donors who include charitable giving in their annual budget give nearly four times as much money as those with no budget, and Janet’s giving certainly supports this. Janet and her husband now include charitable giving in their annual budget while giving more money to charity each year than they did before they opened their account.


One feature of a Vanguard Charitable account that Janet highlights as crucial to their greater giving is scheduled, recurring grant payments. 


“We give much larger grants and spread that giving over the course of the year, as opposed to cramming it in during December. We have automated it much more easily. With a DAF, it feels like our giving can be easier and much more strategic.”  


Janet identified the nonprofits that are making the greatest impact in the cause areas she cares about. Now, she ensures that her recurring grant payments are supporting these charities’ efforts with larger grants throughout the year.  


"I give more to charity than I would if I didn't have my account," Janet reports, echoing a sentiment shared by more than 70% of donors who have had a Vanguard Charitable DAF for more than 10 years. When asked to describe how well-developed her long-term charitable giving plan is, she rated it a 10 out of 10, saying, “We have a list of areas we want to support (environment, food insecurity, journalism, education) and a selected group of charities that are strong in those areas.” 


Long-term strategic giving meets flexibility 


With a list of their favorite charities and recurring grants scheduled, Janet and her husband’s giving is on track for many years to come.


However, this long-term strategic approach doesn’t mean they’re unable to respond when they see a need in their communities.  


Janet and her husband primarily focus their giving on food insecurity, the environment, voter rights, and independent journalism. They regularly give to the Sierra Club Foundation, VoteRiders, and ProPublica.


But when they feel an issue arises that demands their attention, they’re ready with their charitable account to react. By having available funds already committed to charity, they can confidently respond with speed without worrying about gathering assets. 


When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Janet and her husband were able to donate to their local food bank and Heifer International. This way, they could help those impacted by the pandemic when food insecurity was high. 


Subsequently, they started recurring grants to these organizations, continuing the impact that all started with an immediate response to great need. 


For Janet, recurring grant schedules aren’t just a convenient feature for Vanguard Charitable donors, but also an important tool for nonprofits. Nonprofits can better plan their budgeting when they’re receiving these predictable payments rather than waiting to see whether the end-of-year donation push will materialize or not. 


“We think these regular, scheduled donations greatly assist nonprofits by providing them predictable streams of income.”


Additionally, Janet prioritizes unrestricted giving. As highlighted in Why Giving Matters, the majority of surveyed nonprofits cited unrestricted grants as their top request of donors, and Vanguard Charitable donors like Janet have responded by recommending 70% of grants as unrestricted. 


When a donor issues an unrestricted grant, nonprofits are free to apply those funds to the areas where they're most needed, rather than having them limited to a specific purpose designated by the donor. 


“I always give unrestricted grants. I believe they are the most useful to that charity.”


By considering the top needs of nonprofits when giving, donors can ensure their dollars will go further in making a change. 


Giving beyond their lifetimes 


Janet's long-term charitable outlook isn't limited to her and her husband's lifetimes. 


She has outlined the cause areas that her DAF should continue to support after she and her husband pass. With this plan for her grants combined with a close family friend named as successor advisor to her account, she can feel assured that her donor-advised fund will continue helping to change the world. 


With support from Vanguard Charitable, donors can help craft a charitable legacy that carries on their priorities for years to come. With the right strategy, philanthropy lives on. 


Empower your giving as a Vanguard Charitable donor


When donors open a donor-advised fund, they can enjoy the immediate benefits of a strategic giving vehicle. But as Janet shows us, giving with a Vanguard Charitable DAF further amplifies philanthropy with each passing year.


Over the eight years of giving with Vanguard Charitable, Janet’s giving priorities have shifted. By now giving more money and more frequently to charity than ever, she reminds us that each of Vanguard Charitable’s donors are making a significant impact in their own way. 


If you'd also like a donor-advised fund to strengthen your charitable giving, open an account today! 

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