Top six donor-advised fund providers for individuals and institutions and how to choose the right one

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are a means of philanthropic investment that allow for an immediate tax deduction on the full amount of the contribution. Investments can be made in stocks, mutual funds, and other investment vehicles — and can grow tax-free. The donor does not need to make up-front grant recommendations for the entire amount but can suggest qualifying charities over time. Each DAF provider has different fees and requirements, and can also provide varying services to individuals or institutions.

Here’s what you need to know about the major DAF providers and how you can select the one that works best for you.

Types of DAF providers 

When considering a DAF provider, it’s essential to research and compare services, fees, investment options, grant-making policies, and any specific requirements to ensure alignment with your philanthropic goals. There are several different options to choose from when deciding the best donor-advised funds for your circumstance.

  • Financial and commercial institutions use expertise in investment management and financial services to provide DAF accounts to individuals, organizations, or both. They typically offer a range of investment options for the funds within the DAF, with a key focus on fundraising and grantmaking. 
  • Community foundations, or nonprofit organizations, hone philanthropic efforts to a specific geographic area. They vary in size and reach, but provide an opportunity for donors with varying financial status to establish DAF accounts. Foundation members are able to work closely with donors to facilitate their charitable giving and provide expertise on local community needs.
  • Public charities are driven by a particular mission, either related to a particular issue, faith, or institution. These organizations offer DAF services as part of their broader mission to support charitable causes. Examples of such providers include the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Ronald McDonald House.

The following are DAF providers for individuals, with the provider taking legal ownership of all assets. In these instances, the provider also has direct control over administering funds that can be in line with the donor’s wishes. Providers often offer investment options to help grow assets.

  • CharityVest
  • Fidelity Charitable
  • Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund
  • Greater Kansas City Community Foundation
  • National Christian Foundation
  • Network for Good 
  • New York Community Trust
  • Schwab Charitable
  • Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program
  • Jewish Communal Fund of New York

When it comes to DAF providers for institutions — corporations, foundations, and nonprofits — the provider often offers comprehensive services such as charitable giving, investment options, grants, and more.

  • The National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) focuses on charitable giving via DAFs, offering donors charitable planning, customized giving solutions, and impactful investing options. When donors contribute assets to an NPT DAF, they maintain advisory privileges and can recommend grants to qualified charitable organizations. 
  • The American Endowment Foundation (AEF) offers an independent DAF program with options to give to any U.S. charity. AEF does not sell investment and financial products. The foundation handles administrative tasks including grant due diligence, grant disbursements and fund accounting. AEF must own the assets as the sponsoring charity
  • Ren stands out as one of the only DAF providers that does not require ownership of donor assets. Comprehensive services span from scalable philanthropic giving programs to configurable private-label platforms.

DAF evaluation criteria 

The following are criteria that should be used to evaluate a DAF. Consider asking yourself the following questions before investing:

  • What will you be paying in fees? A number of fees could be implemented. The most common fees include administrative, grant-making, investment management fees, and service fees.
  • Are there required minimums? Such as keeping an account minimum, contribution minimum, or grant minimum?
  • What are your investment options? Two aptly-named approaches are pre-selected investments and advisor-managed funds. The first limits the range of pre-selected investment options for donors to choose from, and the second involves an active role on the part of an advisor.
  • Are you allowed to donate complex assets? For example cryptocurrency, real estate, and private equity.
  • Do you have the ability to advise on charities and causes that will receive money? Or is that decision relinquished to the DAF provider?
  • What is the overall user experience and level of customer service? Learn from past experiences of others who have worked with providers.

DAFs for individuals

  • Fidelity Charitable
    • Fees:
      • Tiered annual administrative fee 0.6% or $100, whichever is greater
      • Investment fees (0.2% to 0.95%)
    • Investment options:
      • Investment pools
      • Accounts with balances above $250,000, separately managed
    • Required minimums: None
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Yes
  • Greater Kansas City Community Foundation
    • Fees:
      • Annual administrative fees
      • 1% or $250, whichever is greater, for the first $500,000
      • 0.6% for the next $500,000
      • 0.3% for the next $2 million
      • 0.1% for the next $4 million
    • Required minimums: None
    • Investment options:
      • Investment pools
      • Assets greater than $100,000, separately managed
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Yes
  • Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program
    • Fees:
      • Fees are calculated based on account balance
      • 0.6% fee on first $500,000
      • 0.3% on next $500,000
      • 0.12% on next $4 million
    • Required minimums:
      • $25,000 minimum deposit to open account
      • Additional contributions of at least $5,000
      • $500 minimum grant to charity
    • Investment options: Recommend straightforward, pre-allocated investments, customized funds, or values-driven investments
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Yes

DAFs for institutions

  • National Philanthropic Trust
    • Fees:
      • Calculated monthly by applying a blended schedule against the average daily balance of your account 
      • Fees for grant agreements or international grant recommendations by donor, illiquid gift processing fees, and a fee for financial advisory services
      • Other administrative fees
    • Required minimums: $10,000 minimum deposit to open account
    • Investment options: Impact investing offered 
    • Must be the sponsoring charity? Yes
    • Charitable vehicle supported: DAFs only
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Accepted on a case-by-case basis
  • American Endowment Foundation
    • Fees: Must inquire about fee schedules, which vary depending on the dollar amount in the donor-advised fund and the platform partner. 
    • Required minimums:
      • $25,000 deposit to open account 
      • Subsequent contributions of $1,000 or more 
    • Investment options:
      • Contributed assets held in kind
      • Invest in a broad range of securities; stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
    • Charitable vehicle supported: DAFs only
    • Must be sponsoring charity? Yes
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Yes
  • Ren
    • Fees:
      • Annual administration fees as follows:
      • First $500,000 (0.7%)
      • Next $500,000 (0.35%)
      • Next $1,500,000 (0.25%)
      • Above $2,500,000 (0.20%)
      • Minimum Annual Fee $250
    • Required minimums:
      • $5,000 minimum deposit to open account
      • Subsequent contributions of $250 or more
      • Minimum a balance of at least $2,000
    • Investment options: Contribute cash, stocks, and bonds or speak to your portfolio manager about other types of gifts, including real estate, annuities, and tangible assets.
    • Charitable vehicle supported: Multiple options for individuals and institutions
    • Must be sponsoring charity? No
    • Advise on charities: Yes
    • Complex assets: Yes

These are just some of the many options available for individual and institutional DAFs. Selecting the best donor-advised fund provider is subjective, depending on your specific needs. For example, you might value minimal fees over account minimums, or acceptance of complex funds and investment options. For specifics and questions, inquire accordingly with the provider.

Questions for individuals and institutions to consider when choosing a DAF provider

Use this list of questions to guide you in choosing a DAF provider:

  • What are the granting requirements and limitations? For example, are you required to make an equal contribution to the foundation for every grant that occurs outside the foundation?
  • What types of assets does the DAF provider accept?
  • What are the investment options for assets in the DAF account?
  • What is your top priority? Low fees? Good customer service? Investment growth?
  • What will be the minimum account balance?
  • Is there online access to the DAF account? Does the provider have a mobile app?
  • Does the provider allow donations of complex assets such as cryptocurrency?
  • Are there brandability opportunities for institutions? Such as private label?

Why choose Ren

At Ren, we pride ourselves on providing clients with the best donor-advised funds regardless of sponsoring charity. Our DAFs are custody- and investment-neutral, meaning autonomy in all of your investments. Trust our experience and top tech stack to confidently deliver a turnkey outsourcing solution that you can rely on.

Is a donor-advised fund the right choice for your client?​

Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions about donor-advised funds in our free eBook — 12 Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Donor-Advised Fund.