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IRS Warns Donor-Advised Funds May Face New Restrictions
February 28, 2018

Lauren Haverlock, CPA, has practiced public accounting since 2004. As a senior manager at Moss Adams LLP, she provides compliance and consulting services to all types of exempt organizations, including public charities and private foundations.

Lauren Haverlock - 150

In recent years, donor-advised funds (DAFs) have gained popularity as a philanthropic tool. The National Philanthropic Trust reports that in 2016, charitable assets under management in DAFs exceeded $85 billion—representing a record amount.

DAFs offer donors a flexible giving option when they want a charitable deduction with administrative simplicity, a long-term distribution of funds, and less transparency than is common with private foundation grants.

But the IRS has indicated that organizations and individuals may be taking advantage of DAFs. Because of this, the IRS has provided a notice warning of tightening its restrictions on the funds.


A DAF is a separately-identified and managed account that’s operated by a section 501(c)(3) public charity—a sponsoring organization—on the original donor’s behalf.

Once a donor contributes to a DAF, the sponsoring organization has legal control over the use and reporting of the funds. The organization then invests the funds until the donor advises they be distributed. Donors often need to follow specific guidelines when advising about fund distribution, but a sponsoring organization has ultimate control.

DAFs and Private Foundations

Private foundations also use DAFs in a variety of ways. Many uses clearly relate to charitable planning, but some are less transparent—including the following:

  • Using a DAF that exists within a community foundation to support the foundation’s initiatives
  • Granting DAFs to another community foundation that offers grant support services for which the foundation doesn’t have its own internal structure
  • Using DAFs to obscure charitable giving. Since the Form 990-PF is public, a grant to a DAF would show up as such on the 990-PF while obscuring the DAF’s recipient
  • Giving funds to a nonqualified recipient. A foundation can bypass giving restrictions—and the additional steps necessary for validating using their grants—by providing a donor-advised fund instead
  • Employing DAFs to help meet minimum distribution requirements—or avoid complex set-aside rules—when it might otherwise fall short

Next Steps from the IRS

In Notice 2017-73, issued in December 2017, the IRS and Treasury Department are considering regulations addressing perceived abuses of DAFs, including some of the above issues. The notice limits the following areas:

Prohibiting Donor Sponsorship or Membership Benefits. The notice prohibits distribution from DAFs that subsidize the donor’s participation in a charity-sponsored event or membership in a charity. This is because the benefit is more than incidental. DAF donors or advisors can only receive an incidental benefit from DAF distributions.

If the prohibited distribution occurs, the donor would be taxed 125%. The fund manager who permitted the transaction would be taxed 10%.

Giving Relief when Distributions Apply to DAF Donors’ Pledges. A charity may use DAF distribution funds to relieve a pledge obligation from the DAF’s donor because the DAF doesn’t provide the donor with a benefit that’s more than incidental.

The guidance provides an example of a benefit that’s incidental and permissible. This rule stems from the difficulty of assessing if the outstanding pledge existed before the donor granted the DAF. To be permissible, a benefit must meet the following criteria:

  • The recipient didn’t reference the pledge when making the DAF distribution
  • The donor didn’t receive additional benefits from the distribution
  • The donor didn’t take charitable contribution deduction, even if the grantee sent them an acknowledgement 

Circumventing Public Support. Donors may no longer be able to use a DAF to anonymize their contribution to a public charity. The notice indicates that the IRS may treat a distribution from a DAF as an indirect contribution from the donor—or donors—that funded the DAF.

If a public charity funds another public charity, the income is considered unlimited public support. If the IRS then treats the DAF as a donation from the original donor, public support could be limited—which could reclassify the charity as a private foundation.

The charity would also face additional donation tracking requirements based on the original DAF donor, and may need to disclose the donor on the Form 990’s Schedule B.

Provide Your Input

The IRS has requested comments on how foundations use DAFs. Comments and data pulled from Form 990-PF reporting could determine the IRS’s future actions in the area.

Specifically, the IRS wants to know:

  • How private foundations use DAFs in support of their charitable purpose
  • Whether a private foundation’s transfer of funds to a DAF should only be treated as a qualifying distribution if the DAF-sponsoring organization agrees to distribute the funds for charitable purposes—or to transfer the funds to its general fund—within a certain timeframe.

Comments may be submitted by March 5, 2018, to, or to the following address:

Internal Revenue Service

CC:PA:LPD:PR (Notice 2017-73) Room 5203

P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station

Washington, DC 20044

Please include “Notice 2017-73” in the subject line. Comments will be available for public inspection and copying.

The Future of DAFs

We expect the popularity of DAFs will continue to grow—especially as the tax landscape evolves. DAFs continue to be a great philanthropic tool for individuals and foundations, so restricting their use could have a wide impact. If you have strong opinions on the matter, now’s the time to let the IRS know.

--Lauren Haverlock, CPA


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