Social Change through Financial Innovation: Evidence from Donor-advised Funds

46 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2021

See all articles by Jillian Grennan

Jillian Grennan

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Date Written: September 16, 2021


I draw on new data and theory to examine how donor-advised funds (DAFs), a fast-growing philanthropic option, relate to social progress. DAFs are distinguished by flexibility – transforming complex assets, separating the timing of tax breaks from giving decisions, and offering impact investment opportunities. Data on 4,286 unique DAF sponsors reveals that the recent growth is driven by DAFs using modern financial technologies. Estimates indicate these innovative DAFs support social progress by targeting a more inclusive donor base and channeling generosity to charities serving areas with high inequality, in times of greatest financial need, and with more transparent and efficient operations.

Keywords: Donor-advised funds, DAFs, Philanthropy, Nonprofit firms, Impact Investing, Innovation, FinTech

JEL Classification: G32, G24, G28

Suggested Citation

Grennan, Jillian, Social Change through Financial Innovation: Evidence from Donor-advised Funds (September 16, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Jillian Grennan (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative ( email )

215 Morris St., Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
United States

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