The DAF Giving Summit – Reflective of the DAF Ecosystem

Authored By: Valerie Anastasio

Editors Note: In our first ever DAFinitively Speaking guest blog post, we’ve invited Valerie Anastasio, Senior Director of Prospect Development and Knowledge Management at Boston Children’s Hospital Trust to share her thoughts on the DAF Giving Summit and the DAF ecosystem. Valerie is a prospect development industry veteran, particularly as it pertains to the finance sector, and has expanded her expertise to become a strategic leader within philanthropy. We hope you enjoy her perspective!

In philanthropy, we like to think about the extremely personal relationship that exists between a donor and a cause. Fundraising marketing positions the donor as a hero, meeting urgent needs from a place of compassion or empathy or a desire to protect or defend.

This is one reason why Donor Advised Funds can seem so peculiar. DAFs are financial instruments, first and foremost. The first practical objective they meet for a would-be donor is a financial one – the reduction of tax liability. The philanthropic destination is secondary.

While fundraisers may think of DAFs purely in connection to the fulfillment of their donor’s gift, to those in financial services, DAFs are a niche, defined by Collins Dictionary as “a specific area of marketing which has its own particular requirements, customers, and products.”

An incredibly specialized niche, in fact, with an entire ecosystem that exists to support them. And nowhere is that more evident than at the DAF Giving Summit, an annual gathering of organizations that support, sell to, benefit from, study, or advocate for the “Donor (aka Client) + DAF” model. Note: I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Summit during its inaugural and second years; the third meeting is scheduled for October 16 – 18, 2024 in Nashville, TN.

The first thing to appreciate about the DAF industry ecosystem is that it’s not full of fundraisers. There are a lot of technical, operational people: data people and database people and SaaS people and tax people and finance people and policy people and academic people and gift planning people and direct marketing people.

The second thing is that – despite the growth and potential of DAFs noted here on the DAFinitive® blog and elsewhere – this is still a small professional community. DAF Summit speakers and attendees represent organizations that serve as custodians, that audit and track, and that enable the decision making and distribution of “advised” disbursements (or build the tools and integrations to do so). These include financial services firms, wealth advisories, community foundations, charitable organizations, software firms, and philanthropic platforms.

The growth of the DAF as a financial instrument for philanthropy instrument must inevitably give rise to thought leaders, expert practitioners, and market leading service providers. Small as it may be, the DAF Giving Summit draws together an essentially new specialty in financial services. A unique public/private business community creating its own new identity.

Academics and lobbyists are interested in sharing and gathering information about industry trends and policy issues. Data and technology developers talk about the challenges of integration, reporting, and fulfillment. Advisors and consultants share the voice of their customers (affluent individuals). Community foundations and charities demonstrate the impact DAF dollars make to their programs.   

Above all, everyone wants to talk about what it will take to improve the process of moving financial assets from 1) a donor, to 2) a DAF, to 3) a charity in as seamless and as personally fulfilling of a way as possible. Because less friction end-to-end means more opportunity for the market to grow. Because DAFs have the potential to thread the habit of giving into our financial lives, not just our emotional ones. And that, my friends, is a powerful thing to consider.

For more information on the 2023 DAF Giving Summit:

The 2024 DAF Giving Summit will be held October 16-18, 2024, in Nashville, TN. Proposal submissions and panelist recommendations are being accepted until March 31, 2024.  Will I see you there?

Valerie Anastasio is Senior Director of Prospect Development and Knowledge Management at Boston Children’s Hospital Trust, the philanthropic arm of Boston Children’s Hospital, that raises approximately $180M annually.  The 12 member Prospect Development team provides direction and support for prospect identification, wealth analysis and tactical engagement strategies, moves management, knowledge management and data governance functions across the enterprise.  Previously, Valerie held roles in front line, operations, and consulting capacities at nonprofit sector leaders including the Broad Institute, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Harvard University, Brandeis University and the Helen Brown Group, among others.  A frequent industry speaker locally and nationally, Valerie co-developed and co-teaches the popular “High Finance for Prospect Researchers,” an examination of alternative asset businesses and their compensation practices, offered by the New England Development Research Association (NEDRA).  She is a past director of NEDRA and a recipient of its Ann Castle Award for Distinguished Service.