Fidelity’s independent public charity and donor advised fund program reported a 24% increase from 2011 in dollar amounts going to grants and charitable accounts. In 2012, donors recommended more than 428,000 grants totaling $1.6 billion and contributed $3.6 billion to charitable accounts as an improved stock market and tax concerns helped drive up giving. Moreover, the number of new charitable accounts rose 32%.
“Throughout 2012, donors took advantage of the improved stock market and economic conditions to contribute more to their charitable accounts and in turn better support the causes they care about,” Sarah Libbey, president of Fidelity Charitable, said in a statement. “We also saw many donors discover the benefits of using a donor-advised fund for the first time as the uncertain tax environment prompted more discussions about philanthropy between advisors and clients.”
The fourth quarter, which generally represents some of the highest levels of charitable giving, was especially active in 2012. Donors made 172,000 of the 428,000 grants during that time and contributed $2.4 billion, or 66% of the annual total, to charitable accounts. Generally, fourth quarter contributions reflect about 60% of the year’s contributions, Fidelity said.
According to Amy Danforth, senior vice president of Fidelity Charitable, the combination of information campaigns from nonprofits as well as uncertainty about the tax policies in 2013 helped to dive those numbers up.
“Americans’ awareness and knowledge of what was going on in Washington and in particular seeing the charitable deduction mentioned time and time again really spurred conversations with people with their advisors,” Danforth said in a phone interview with On Wall Street. “So we definitely saw increased results because of that.”
Fidelity Charitable augmented its giving operations in response. The charity released an app that enabled donors to recommend grants using a mobile phone, enhanced their website and extended business hours to accommodate donors and advisors.
Advisors are also becoming more involved. Seventy percent of the contributions in 2012 came from advisor referrals and according to Danforth, Fidelity is looking to help advisors open up more conversations on philanthropy in order to deepen their client relationships.
“It really pays dividends for advisors,” she said.