Donors gave to Fidelity’s donor-advised fund in record numbers in 2010 - a sign of the critical role donor-advised funds are playing in charitable giving.

On Tuesday Fidelity announced that its Gift Fund donors made more than 353,000 grants totaling over $1.2 billion to nonprofits in 2010, a jump of 19% in total number of grants compared to 2009 and an increase of 14% in the dollar amount over last year. This is the fourth consecutive year that the Gift Fund’s donors advised grants of more than $1 billion, Fidelity said.

Donors aren’t just giving more, but more individuals are looking to be donors. The Gift Fund’s incoming charitable contributions surpassed $1.6 billion during 2010, a 42% increase over 2009 and the sixth consecutive year that the Gift Fund has accepted more than $1 billion in contributions from donors.

“With demands on the nation’s charities as great as they’ve ever been, our donors gave at record levels in 2010 -- something we hope is a leading indicator for overall charitable giving in the U.S.,” said Sarah Libbey, president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, in a statement. “The level of activity we saw this past year illustrates the growing role of donor-advised funds such as the Gift Fund in charitable giving and also is a clear signal that Americans remain deeply committed to supporting causes they care about.”

Contributions to in the form of appreciated securities made up 50% of total incoming contributions in 2010, up from 44% during 2009. In addition, contributions in the form of non-publicly traded assets, such as privately-held C- and S-Corp stock and real estate, nearly tripled in 2010.

“With the stock market and Merger & Acquisition activity up this year, we saw many more of our donors and their advisors take advantage of this smart way to give in 2010,” said Libbey.

Since its inception, the Gift Fund has helped donors support more than 136,000 nonprofit organizations with over $11 billion in grants.