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  • Marty Zimmerman

Part II: Unlocking the Potential of Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs)

Updated: Apr 4

As part two of our Blog on Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), I had the honor and privilege to interview Judy Altenberg, Director of Donor Funds and Legacy Giving at the Rose Community Foundation (RCF).


Marty: Thank you very much for your time. What do you do at the RCF?

Judy: I coordinate our donor-advised fund work and help individuals and families with philanthropy, as well as their legacy planning. The planning includes DAFs and also considering other ways to leave a legacy to and through Rose Community Foundation.


Marty: Why do you excel in this position?

Judy: Excel is a kind word – I feel so privileged to get to do this work. So much of my team’s job is about relationships and knowing about resources in the community. We like to get to know each of our fundholders and better understand their philanthropic interests. Making connections between philanthropic families and nonprofits to better our nonprofit ecosystem is truly a privilege.


Marty: How do you work with the fundholders?

Judy: My work varies for each donor-advised fund and fundholder.  People open DAFs at different points in their philanthropic journeys – some with intent to deploy resources immediately and others to build for the future. Some people see their donor-advised fund as an efficient vehicle for their current philanthropy and others are just beginning their journey. We start with conversations about values and values-driven philanthropy. We take people where they are and focus on how we can work together.


Marty: How do you know which nonprofits to direct DAF holders towards?

Judy: We ask a lot of questions. Our efforts are based on what the funders care about, which is often rooted in the conversation around values alignment. They will let us know if they want larger nonprofits or smaller, institutional or start-ups, and the types of communities the nonprofit serves and the type of work/mission they wish to support.  For example, at the Foundation, many of our DAFs want to fund organizations doing work to support immigrants or refugees, but even in these spaces, there is so much nuance, so we help them narrow their focus through our questions. To us, partnerships, and relationships with the fundholders are the key. 


Marty:  It sounds like these DAFs are all different. How large is RCF’s DAF program?

Judy: RCF manages 160 DAFs which allows us to truly know our fundholders. The opening threshold for a donor-advised fund is $10,000 and we have a wide range of fund sizes. Some are individuals, some are multigenerational families, and some are corporate DAFs. We believe in the same level of service to all of our fundholders, no matter the size of their fund.


Marty: Where do the funds come from?

Judy: Folks open donor-advised funds for different reasons and with different monetary sources. We have developed our work in accepting gifts of assets ranging from business interests to real estate and more. With respect to these types of assets, advance planning is important.


Marty: Do RCF’s DAF holders have any preferences for who they fund?

Judy: Our donor-advised funds grant to all sorts of nonprofits. The largest number of grants go to organizations supporting K-12 education, higher education, basic needs, and health/mental health, and our fundholders also support a wide array of other areas such economic opportunity, the environment and social justice. Organizations within the Jewish community are very important as well, given our roots within the Jewish community. In some instances, we provide our donor-advised funds with the opportunity to fund alongside the Foundation in our community impact grant cycles.


Marty: How should nonprofits approach RCF about getting DAF support?

Judy: Because we know the fundholders and their priorities, we are careful and deliberate in the connections we make. Our team is contacted regularly by nonprofits, and we appreciate learning about those mission-aligned organizations. If it is an organization that is new to RCF, nonprofits can reach out to me or our team with an email that includes their mission, leadership, who they serve, their impact, and needs. We will follow up if we need more information or have questions.


Marty: Should a nonprofit ask for program support or general operating funds?

Judy: At RCF, we do believe in general operating support for our nonprofits. We discuss the concepts of trust-based philanthropy with our fundholders and where appropriate, encourage them to provide general operating support. We recognize that some of our fundholders have and will support particular programs over time and that’s appropriate as well.


Marty: What should a nonprofit do if they receive DAF funding?

Judy: Sometimes receiving funding from a donor-advised fund might be confusing from a stewardship perspective. First and foremost, the nonprofit should acknowledge the gift to the contact information listed in the grant letter. Second, nonprofits should steward these gifts as they would any other. Send updates to the fundholder and offer to get to know the fundholders. Some want deeper connections with the nonprofits, just as any other donor would.


Marty: Thank you so much for your time and sharing. For my final question, if someone is interested in setting up a DAF at RCF or a nonprofit is interested in seeing if there are any opportunities, who should they contact and how?

Judy: To learn more or to open a donor-advised fund, they are welcome to contact me at jaltenberg@rcfdenver.org. If nonprofit organizations are interested in providing information to us, they are welcome to contact our team members at cgalicia-munoz@rcfdenver.org. Finally, for notification of overall Foundation grant funding opportunities, nonprofits can sign up here.

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