Earlier in June, FJC – A Foundation of Philanthropic Funds completed our first ever collective giving campaign, which offered our donor-advised fund (DAF) account holders the opportunity to join forces in response to the urgent crisis created by the coronavirus. This was new territory for FJC, but the initiative suggests the power that DAF sponsors can bring when they provide focused guidance to rally disparate donors around a common cause.   Our experience with the initiative also raises some important questions about DAFs and philanthropy as a whole, which I suspect I will be grappling with over the long haul.

This initiative came less than a year into my tenure leading FJC, a foundation primarily comprised of DAFs with $300 million in assets under management across more than 1,100 accounts. FJC has been nimble, flexible, and creative about how our donors interact with us. We allow donors flexibility in how they put their philanthropic resources to work, not just through grantmaking but investing as well. In general, FJC has only rarely attempted to guide or influence donors about their giving. And while FJC has a long history of responding to natural disasters by offering donors lists of resources and worthy organizations, this collective giving campaign was FJC’s first attempt to put our institutional money where our mouth is.

First, the outcome: including a match from FJC’s Special Initiatives Fund, the campaign generated over $147,000 from 45 donors to be granted to six organizations, selected by FJC, that are tackling the impacts of the pandemic in a range of ways: food security, employment, grassroots organizing, small business support, public health, and research and development. Over 90 percent of participating donors who responded to a post-campaign survey stated that they found many compelling reasons to participate, such as the elevation of strong, effective organizations (many of which were new to them); the ability to align their resources with other donors at FJC; and the opportunity to have their gifts matched, effectively doubling their giving.

In addition to the benefits perceived by our donors, there were clear benefits to the receiving nonprofits as well — and these went beyond just the money. As Leslie Gordon, CEO of Food Bank for New York City, told me, “FJC’s campaign brought together the contributions of dozens of donors, many of whom had never contributed to Food Bank before.” (Food Bank was the most popular recipient, receiving over $85,000 from the campaign.) Erin Barnes, CEO of ioby, a crowdfunding platform that connects local leaders with support from their communities, appreciated the campaign for delivering grants from multiple DAFs to small, local organizations doing critical work during the pandemic. She noted, “This campaign built a powerful bridge between FJC donors and the grassroots leaders using ioby to respond to COVID-19 in their neighborhoods.”

Read the full article about mobilizing DAFs in a time of crisis by Sam Marks at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.