By very large margins, Americans don’t want to subsidize wealthy donors to create perpetual foundations and warehouse wealth in donor-advised funds (DAFs), which have become the vehicle of choice for the wealthiest givers. A broad bipartisan majority of Americans want donors who are receiving preferable tax treatment for their charitable contributions to move funds quickly to active charities on the ground.
- 82% of Americans surveyed support the important role that charitable foundations play. At the same time, they remain unaware of specific details about how foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs) work.
- Once informed that donors receive generous tax breaks when they give to charities while one third of all charitable donations accumulate in private foundations and DAFs, the vast majority (81%) do not believe taxpayers should subsidize the wealthy to create private foundations that will exist in perpetuity.
- 69% support a 10% payout requirement for foundations (up from the current 5%) and for DAFs (which currently have no payout requirement), even if this reduces the amount of money in foundations and DAFs in the future. Currently, $1.2 trillion in charitable contributions are currently sitting on the sidelines.
- 72% support requiring DAFs to make grants within 2 to 5 years of receiving donations.
The general lack of awareness about foundations continues mostly unchanged from our previous 2020 benchmark poll early in the COVID-19 pandemic. By contrast, there is now broader public awareness of the strains facing working charities such as food banks as resources are stretched and costs rise with inflation.
Otherwise, there remains a noteworthy level of ignorance about the nonprofit sector in general and about private foundations and DAFs more specifically.
- Only 17% said they were aware that a third of all individual charitable donations now go into private foundations and DAFs and of the amounts accumulated there.
- Those surveyed were similarly unaware that foundations are required to pay out just 5% of their assets each year (21%) and that DAFs have no such requirement (18%).
The more Americans come to understand these issues, the more strongly they support changes to laws governing charitable giving to ensure that charitable tax benefits for donors also benefit actual charities.
Regardless of political affiliation, the vast majority of Americans agree it is not right for taxpayers to be subsidizing the perpetual charitable giving institutions of wealthy donors. In fact, the conservatives surveyed objected to such tax subsidies more strongly than liberals. And both liberals (74%) and conservatives (70%) favor increasing foundation payout to 10%, even if it would diminish foundation assets in the future.
When it comes to DAFs, the survey found even stronger support for moving the money sooner rather than later: Americans want a relatively quick return, with a relatively short timeline for grant-making:
- Half of those surveyed want DAFs to make grants within just two years of receiving funds.
- 72% want the payout within 5 years.
- Just a small minority (25%) feel no timeline should be applied.
This support too is consistently strong across the political spectrum. And it echoes the sentiments of frontline charities.
“The more the public understands the taxpayer-subsidized warehousing of charitable dollars, the more they support a systemic change in philanthropy,” says Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies. “The results of this survey show that across the political spectrum, an informed public strongly supports common sense reforms that would curtail the warehousing of charitable wealth.”
“A breathtakingly large number of us in the U.S. are facing hunger right now due to the pandemic and associated economic disruption,” says Susannah Morgan, CEO of Oregon Food Bank. “We need resources to tackle hunger and its root causes right now – not in some hypothetical future – so we need changes right now. We must change the law around donor advised funds to require timely distributions to charities.”
For interviews with Chuck Collins and further comments regarding these findings, please contact IPS Media Manager Olivia Alperstein at (202) 704-9011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ipsos is a global market research firm and public opinion research firm.
About the Charity Reform Initiative
The Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies aims to modernize the rules governing philanthropy to increase the flow of resources to the nonprofit independent sector and protect the integrity of the tax system.