Philanthropy in the Field: Victoria Kelberer from Vanguard Charitable

Victoria Kelberer

Here at DAFinitively Speaking, we often discuss news and trends in the world of DAFs, information about different sponsor organizations and even terms and buzzwords you may not know. What we haven’t (yet) featured, however, is someone in the field! So we recently spoke to Victoria Kelberer, Senior Manager in Strategic Technology at Vanguard Charitable, to discuss what grant recipients and researchers alike should know about DAFs, as well as what brought her to this part of her career.

In her current role, Kelberer helps to oversee the company’s strategic technology programs. She is the primary liaison between her organization’s technology teams and the rest of the organization and works to further Vanguard Charitable’s software to better serve its end users. Throughout her career, she has also worked as a nonprofit executive in several international development and human rights organizations, which gives her unique insight into the needs of both donors and grant recipients alike.

For her, the act of giving back began early. “To me, philanthropy spans a huge spectrum of giving inherent in American culture and is part of my family’s DNA.” As she grew up, it was not about newsworthy sums or named projects. “My mother instilled in my brothers and me a commitment to giving back, regardless of our resources. Some of the most meaningful philanthropy we engaged in during those years, like volunteering with a refugee resettlement group, ended up setting the course for my early career in human rights and migration policy more than a decade later.”

Throughout her education and career, there was a common thread- the benefits that technology can bring to philanthropic work, no matter the role or the size of the organization. “I believe that technology provides an exciting new way that people committed to changing the world can do so more effectively,” she says. Kelberer and her colleagues at Vanguard Charitable “are committed to leveraging technology to serve both donors and nonprofits in achieving their missions.” Their goal is to “help guide donors who want to refine or transform their giving.”

Lately, there has been discussion about the differences between private foundation and DAF giving. I asked Ms. Kelberer what she has seen in the course of her career. “Over the years, donors have become more and more focused on their charitable impact, and a part of that is considering the costs associated with managing your philanthropy,” she said. “Many donors have transitioned from a private foundation to the simplicity and efficiency of a DAF or combination of both.” A benefit for donors choosing a DAF over a foundation is that sponsors provide back office due diligence and investment assistance with the cost spread out over all of their clients; a family foundation or family office pays for those services individually at a premium.

One special Vanguard Charitable service that Kelberer highlighted was the Nonprofit Aid Visualizer™ (NAVi), which allows donors to search and connect with organizations fighting hunger and homelessness – a top priority of Vanguard Charitable donors. Also viewable by the public, it can serve as a prospecting tool for researchers, particularly those looking for local organizations.

DAF donors also have access to Candid and impala, which are familiar to many of us in the prospect research world. In addition to their in-house work, Vanguard Charitable is embracing the ways that technology works for grantees as well, such as the PayPal Grant Payments product, which eliminates the wait for a check to arrive in the mail. It also allows grantees easy access to information about the donor who has supported their nonprofit via a grant.

If you are working at a nonprofit, what can you do to make sure donors are aware of your work? Kelberer suggests “keeping your Guidestar profile as complete and up to date as possible since that’s how many donors explore their giving options today.” Additionally, she suggests making a note on your organizations’ website and any communications that you accept donations from donor advised funds.

Vanguard Charitable and other sponsors are in a unique position to share their insights on what they hear from donors. Says Kelberer, “The most common thing we hear from our donors is how enthusiastically they believe in charities’ missions, and how passionately they feel about the nonprofits they support…They’re also constantly expanding their philanthropy by giving to organizations that are new to them.”

What should grantee organizations know? Are there things that they should do to steward donors better? Kelberer says: “We do hear constructive feedback from donors that when they give from their DAFs, charities don’t always send them thank yous or other communications, even though the vast majority of our donors choose to share their personal information on the grant letter. If the donor is giving you their information, it’s great to honor that by connecting with them directly.”

What should nonprofits do once they receive a DAF gift to ensure that they are documented and properly stewarded for future gifts? Strengthen your database! Kelberer’s top tip: “charities should be leveraging this information (from grant letters) to correctly identify the donor, mark them as a DAF giver, and then communicate to them just like you would any other potential major gift donor while also highlighting, of course, that they can continue to give to your organization through their DAF.”

This information gathering should involve all parts of your organization. Says Kelberer, “We often hear from grantees that the team entering the data doesn’t always know where to find donor information if it’s provided. One thing you can do to prepare your teams is to train them to identify the donors’ information on the grant letters from your top DAF sponsors.” If the information can’t be found, Kelberer suggests contacting the sponsor organization via phone or email.

Stewardship is important, even if the donor is anonymous. “We still recommend that nonprofits acknowledge and celebrate these anonymous gifts in your communications. The donor may be following your communications, and it can also signal to other donors that they can give from their DAFs.” Additionally, since DAFs encompass a number of asset types (cash, assets, bequests, stock), fundraisers should be aware that they have lots of options in their asks!

Although we’ve spent time discussing the ins and outs of how DAFs and nonprofits interact, the most important part is the reason for their existence: philanthropy. Kelberer offers a helpful reminder about the nature of philanthropy. “Whether you’re giving $10 or $10 million or giving your time and talent, you can be engaged in philanthropy.”