Total charitable impact


Compare giving options

The purpose of giving options—private foundations, donor-advised funds, trusts, and others—is to transfer assets to charitable causes, but choosing the right vehicle for you and your mission can be a complex process. Rather than enter the debate over which giving tool is best, we encourage you to focus your decision-making on what best supports your preferences and giving goals—with an assessment of six key factors.

Rank each factor by importance to you (high, medium, low). Then, relate your priorities to the characteristics in the table below. If a giving option seems like a good fit for your preferences, click to learn more about its guidelines and benefits.

While comparing and contrasting your philanthropic options, keep in mind that many of them make excellent complements to one another. For example, a donor-advised fund can be used in conjunction with a private foundation to accommodate non-mission oriented giving or allow for alternative investments.

Your giving preferences

Tax efficacy

Outline the timing and types of assets you often gift, and ensure the giving tool you use allows for optimal tax deductions. Deductibility limits vary based on the asset donated and personal benefit derived from the gift. For example, a donation to a charitable gift annuity, which allows the donor to receive income, does not allow for as substantial a tax deduction as a direct gift.

The most tax-effective assets to donate are also sometimes the most difficult. If relevant, choose a tool that supports liquidation of complex special assets or appreciated securities. Giving options that provide a donor with income may allow for other tax advantages.


Decide what you are willing to pay for a specific philanthropic option, with the fundamental understanding that the more money spent on fees, the less is available for charity. Most giving options have associated administrative fees to cover startup, employee, and service costs, and others may necessitate legal or accounting expenses. Investment fees, often overlooked among other less subtle fees, play a crucial role in long-term giving plans. Over time, high expense ratios may erode returns and minimize charitable impact.

Control or level of input

Determine how much direct oversight and decision-making power are needed for each aspect of your philanthropy, including areas such as grant-making, investing, or administrative work. Often, strict legal regulations will dictate a donor's rights or ability to exercise control with different giving vehicles, and some giving options permit donor input or advice without allowing the donor to exercise direct control over the assets.

Distribution to charity

Ensure the giving tool allows you to support charitable causes in sync with your mission and, if desired, affords you the ability to give to multiple charities on a consistent basis or grant one large sum in the future.

Legacy giving options

Leaving a philanthropic legacy is a personal decision that can take various forms, from bestowing assets to others, to naming a charity as a beneficiary in a will, to continuing a family tradition of giving. By their very makeup, some planned giving options cannot support specific charitable wishes and intergenerational philanthropy after a donor passes (e.g., direct giving).

Recognition v. anonymity

Legally, not all giving options can be sensitive to wishes for anonymity, while some may be able to cater to specific recognition requests. For example, private foundations are required to file public reporting returns that include information on grants, trustees, and employees, whereas grants from an account with a donor-advised fund can maintain donor confidentiality, when preferred.

Giving options
Tax efficacy* Cost Control/level
of input
to charity
Charitable legacy options Recognition v. anonymity
Charitable gift annuity Limited Low Minimal Restricted Some Some flexibility
Charitable remainder trust Limited High Maximum Some restrictions Some Flexible
Direct giving Full None Maximum No restrictions None Some flexibility
Donor-advised fund Full Low Moderate Some restrictions Many Flexible
Private foundation Partial High Maximum    Some restrictions Many Not flexible


*In this table, tax efficacy refers only to the charitable deduction. For more details on other tax benefits and considerations for each giving option, refer to its respective page.

This information represents Vanguard Charitable's understanding of current tax regulations related to charitable giving. Consult a tax advisor regarding your own tax needs.

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