DAF Program Spotlight: The University of North Carolina System

The UNC System oversees all of North Carolina’s public universities, from the massive UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University to the smaller Elizabeth City State University and the NC School of Science and Mathematics. It has a total annual enrollment of nearly a quarter million students and development activities operating on both the campus level and system-wide.

A few years ago, the University of North Carolina System Office’s development team sought to give donors a new option for giving, one that would allow a wider array of donors to enjoy the benefits typically available only to its most generous donors.

“Seeking a solution that would satisfy these donors led to the establishment of a DAF at North Carolina A&T”, says Tamisha Keith, director of gift planning for North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

They wanted to provide more supporters an opportunity to make gifts with a lasting impact and allow more alumni the chance to make giving a family affair. They also wanted to provide all the benefits of a donor-advised fund and deliver tax advantages along with cost efficiencies to supporters who prefer to make donations that fall outside the category of a major gift.

“Some donors can’t give six-figure gifts,” says Kinna Clark, the UNC System Office senior director of development and gift planning services. “But they still want to do something meaningful.”

They found a solution in a donor-advised fund (DAF) created in partnership with Ren.

DAFs are the fastest growing giving vehicle in the United States. They allow a donor to make gifts to a sponsoring charity that creates a grantmaking account on the donor’s behalf. The donor gets an immediate charitable deduction for the gift and, although the donor no longer owns the assets in the DAF, they can guide investment strategy and recommend the charities that benefit from the fund’s growth.

As system and campus development teams talk with donors, they find that donors of more modest means have a lot in common with high-net-worth philanthropists: They want to leave a legacy, involve their families in giving, and they want a simple way to track their giving. It’s important to them to support the UNC System community while also contributing to additional organizations they care about.

Chaz, an alumnus of A&T who chose to support through a DAF said, “A&T is all about family. We were thankful to have the network and support to help us in our endeavors. When we go back to A&T and see the growth of the university, it makes us proud. The connection for us with the donor-advised fund is knowing that we are contributing to that growth and continuing the legacy of A&T.”

This smart and flexible giving vehicle allows the UNC System to help donors set up what are essentially charitable-giving savings accounts. Over time, the account can grow, and donors can make large gifts and even endow scholarships – something that was previously only possible for donors with the capacity to contribute major gifts. Plus, Keith noted that the ability to recommend how funds are granted to nonprofits can be passed on to successors, which allows families to create legacies of giving.

As parents make giving a family event, they teach the next generation the importance and joy of philanthropy.

A DAF set up through the UNC System also creates other benefits for donors, like flexible giving options and the opportunity to donate non-cash assets. For example, even though the DAF is established through participating UNC System institutions, it can be used to make donations to other nonprofits. Donors can also pool their giving with others for greater impact and contribute complex assets such as stock and business ownership to a DAF (usually resulting in capital gains tax relief). And the DAF does all of this while also simplifying charitable-giving tax reporting.

In working with Ren, the UNC System found a partner with an established history and acknowledged expertise in the DAF space. With its affiliated Renaissance Charitable Foundation (RCF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves as the sponsoring charity, Ren also provides an ease of service for the university system and its donors.

Additionally, the white-label format allows the UNC System to brand the product as its own, which means when donors log in to the DAF website, they see their alma mater (East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, or Winston-Salem State University) presented as the hosting institution. 

Ren’s user-friendly technology platform makes it easy for donors to track their giving and tax receipts.  Ren also worked closely with the UNC System on a pricing model that supports a lower giving threshold. A DAF can be created with the UNC System with an initial contribution of as little as $5,000.

“The hope is donors will continue giving through their DAF and build toward endowment gifts,” Clark says, an outcome that increases resources for UNC System institutions and lets families with less liquid assets know that [they], too, can make transformational gifts that make a difference and leave a lasting legacy.