What Are “DAFs”?

Dear Kim,

I am an inexperienced board member for a small tutoring program. We had a guest speaker on fundraising that someone arranged for us and he went on and on about DAFs and how we should find donors with DAFs. Each of us on the board thought the others knew what he was talking about but afterwards it turned out none of us knew. Do you know? We felt stupid that we didn’t ask him and now we have renamed our board Daffy and the Dumbclucks.

Dear Friends,

I am renaming you “Way too hard on yourselves.” Your guest made some big assumptions, and your question serves as an important reminder to all of us not to use initials to describe things that are not in the common lexicon. I assume by now one of you has looked this up on the internet and discovered that your guest was either talking about Dissolved Air Flotation, which is a water treatment method, or a Donor Advised Fund. I imagine the latter.

Donor Advised Funds are basically parking lots for money. (Good article and infographic here.) Donors who need or want to give away a large amount of money at once but don’t want (or don’t have enough knowledge) to decide which charities to give it to may open a DAF, often at a community foundation. They get a charitable deduction for the gift in the year they make it but the distribution of the funds can be spread over as many years as they want. So in your case, suppose I have a donor advised fund and I am interested in education. The community foundation where I have my DAF might recommend your program, or I might find out about it from a friend or the internet, and then I can direct some of that money to your organization in the form of a grant. OR, you might find out that the community foundation has a donor interested in education, and you submit a proposal to be put in front of that donor.  

Your guest speaker was being a little cavalier in his advice to ‘just find donors with DAFs.’ This is not public information and there is no master list of DAFs. Some foundations list some of their DAFs, but sometimes donors open DAFs to remain more anonymous. The better advice is to find prospects of all sizes who like what you do. Ask these people to support your program and when you have a favorable response, ask them who they know who might support your program. Eventually you will be led to a donor with a DAF (who may or may not be Daffy) and in the meantime, you will be led to a lot of donors.

I close with this advice that I am sure you give the students you tutor: the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.

Good luck.

~Kim Klein