Can donor-advised funds save Canada’s social impact sector?

The tool is criticized as opaque and unaccountable, but its flexibility may prove useful to fund-starved organizations and causes

Why It Matters

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) represent an important tool in Canadian philanthropy. DAFs have been a more flexible model for faster responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but almost no data exists on their efficacy — and severe transparency problems undermine their credibility.

When Alice MacKay died in 1943, she left behind $1,000 – a small fortune – scrimped and saved from a secretarial job in Vancouver. Her generosity came with explicit instructions. This money was to be carefully invested. Any earned interest would go towards helping homeless women escape poverty.

Was MacKay’s last act of generosity the first donor-advised fund?

As the story goes, ten prominent Vancouver businessmen, impressed by MacKay’s generosity, contributed $10,000 each and started the Vancouver Foundation. Her gift was nowhere near the size of the towering endowments made by the Rockefellers or other wealthy industrialists, but it bore remarkable similarities. It was money a donor set aside for a particular cause, managed by a third party. “One can argue that this was a donor advised fund,” says Craig Hikida, the foundation’s vice-president of do

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