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Unlocking Impact-first Investments from Donor-Advised Funds - Learnings from the Field

Mike Silvestri May 28, 2021

Amidst the unprecedented economic fallout from COVID-19, disproportionately affecting low-income communities and people of color, there has never been a more urgent time to mobilize donor-advised fund (DAF) capital towards greater impact. DAFs are charitable giving accounts administered by public charities, where donors can make a tax-deductible charitable contribution into an account, grow these assets tax-free, and recommend grants to charitable organizations from their account. According to the National Philanthropic Trust (2020), DAFs represent a significant and growing pool of capital, now totaling $140 billion, that is earmarked for charitable purposes. However, approximately 80% of DAF assets (or over $100 billion) are invested passively, largely in public securities that do not directly contribute to charitable purposes.

DAF sponsors and donors have the opportunity to leverage tools and resources beyond traditional grantmaking, such as impact-first investments, to deploy low-cost, flexible capital to accelerate equitable recovery across their communities.  But how and where can sponsors get started?  What are the potential benefits and challenges?  Is there a business case for offering impact-first investments to donors?  How do innovative impact-first investing tools like recoverable grants and impact loans work?  Which organizations might be well-suited to receive this capital?  And how might DAF sponsors collaborate for even greater efficiency and impact?

There is an emerging field of stakeholders, including technology platforms, impact investing advisory firms, and impact-oriented DAF sponsors, seeking to address these urgent questions and important opportunity.

In this session, which is a follow-up on the SOCAP panel we hosted last year, the audience will hear from a panel of these stakeholders seeking to mobilize DAF capital toward impact-first investments. Attendees are invited to join an interactive dialogue around the questions above, hosted by Social Finance and CapShift. Social Finance is an impact investing 501(c)3 nonprofit that has partnered with DAF sponsors around the country to mobilize DAF capital towards community-based, impact-first investments. CapShift is an impact investing platform that empowers philanthropic and financial institutions, along with their clients, to mobilize capital for social and environmental change. Participants in this session will have the opportunity to:

  1. Learn new insights into donor psychology from recent DAF market research, including the largest known donor survey to-date on impact-first investing.
  2. Hear tangible examples of DAF sponsors across the country who have launched impact-first investment offerings and learn some of the surprising results and lessons from those efforts.
  3. Gain a nuanced understanding of when and how tools like recoverable grants and impact loans can be deployed to sustainably address urgent community needs such as affordable housing, economic mobility, environment, nonprofit lending, and racial equity.
  4. Share their own experiences and aspirations regarding mobilizing impact investments through DAFs and learn about peer sponsors’ efforts in this space.

Participants will enjoy a mix of research insights, “fireside chat” style discussion, audience polls, and Q&A, which will combine to make the session as engaging and interactive as possible.



Meta Themes

  • Impact Investing


Equity & Inclusion; Donor-Advised Funds; COVID-19 Recovery

Purpose and Desired Outcome

The purpose of this session is to share key learnings to deliver actionable insights to DAF sponsors, DAF donors, family offices, and social enterprises seeking DAF capital. It is our goal to reduce barriers to increase the flow of philanthropic capital to communities in need via impact-first investments.


  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)


  • NameMike Silvestri
  • TitleDirector
  • OrganizationSocial Finance
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameLiz Sessler
  • TitleManaging Director, Products and Partnerships
  • OrganizationCapShift
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameElaine Martyn
  • TitleSenior Vice President, Private Donor Group
  • OrganizationFidelity Charitable
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameJames Cutler
  • TitleSenior Investment Officer
  • OrganizationSilicon Valley Community Foundation
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameTanya Shadoan
  • TitleSenior Director of Philanthropy Operations & Impact Investing,
  • OrganizationJewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund
  • StatusConfirmed
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