Several years ago, one of our donor-advised fund (DAF) donors began volunteering at the Boston-based nonprofit City Year, complementing an annual grant recommendation of $2,500. In addition to the support already provided by City Year staff in high-poverty schools around the country, volunteers offer supplemental tutoring, mentoring and other services for students, all with the aim of closing the achievement gap.

This year, in addition to continuing her volunteer commitments, our donor increased her grant recommendation to a five-figure sum. One element critical to that decision? The opportunity to hear suggestions and comments from teachers and staff in the schools where City Year tutors and mentors, as well as from the students benefiting from the programs.

Their direct feedback, she explained to the philanthropic strategist she works most closely with at Fidelity Charitable, gave her greater insight into the challenges they faced and how City Year was meeting the needs—convincing her of the value and impact of increased support.

Many DAF donors provide general operating support, but they are also hungry to help organizations pilot specific improvements—and they want to validate what works. Here, the lack of a fixed grantmaking cycle for most DAF donors can abet both their responsiveness to, and collaboration with, nonprofits, allowing donors to adapt their philanthropic strategies as they absorb new information. Among tactics we see:

  1. Test-and-learn gifts
  2. Volunteering
  3. Surveys and focus groups
  4. Expert consultation

Read the full article about donor-advised funds by  Pamela Norley & Elaine Martyn at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.