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Donations to large evangelical foundations increased dramatically in 2010 and were poised for growth in 2011, as wealthy Christians shift away from traditional family foundations. The trend means more grants will be available to fuel ministry at small nonprofits that have struggled to sustain themselves via traditional donations.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reported that giving to its member foundations surged 68.8 percent in 2010, compared to 6.8 percent growth for its high-revenue members overall.

President Dan Busby said the growth is largely due to the rise of donor-advised funds, which provide a tax-efficient and cheaper alternative to setting up a private foundation. In such arrangements, donors transfer management of their assets to a public foundation while retaining an advisory role over how the money is donated.

Such funds are popular outside the Christian ministry world as well. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that giving to donor-advised funds rose sharply in 2010, including Schwab Charitable (92 percent) and Fidelity Charitable Gift (38 percent). Donations to the Philanthropy 400 charities more broadly rose 3.5 percent in 2010.

"Donor-advised funds have had really strong years," said Busby. "They simplify the process of transitioning large gifts to charity."

Rusty Leonard, founder of Stewardship Partners, agrees that the relatively recent availability of such funds, first approved by the Internal Revenue Service in 2006, is also a factor in the record-setting surge.

"People are realizing these are a tool that we didn't have a decade ago, and are moving forward with large gifts they may have been holding on to for years," he said. "Often it's baby boomers who have collected stocks, ...

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March 2012

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