Elevate Philanthropy ™
Sign up for our mailing list

Who Gives a DAF: Understanding donor-advised funds and their users

S01 E03 Art – Make Mission Podcast
Make Mission
Who Gives a DAF: Understanding donor-advised funds and their users

With the increasing use of Donor-Advised Funds in the modern philanthropic landscape, understanding how people give is becoming just as important as understanding why people give. However, the relative newness of this giving vehicle can cause anxiety among even the most seasoned of fundraisers. And like many nascent subjects, research on its function and the qualities of those who use it is relatively limited.

That’s starting to change, thanks to podcast guest Dr. Dan Heist and his work with the Donor-Advised Fund Research Collaborative, which has set out to create a robust, anonymized database regarding DAFS. This evidence-based research will ultimately influence policy-making to support philanthropic leaders and development practitioners.

One of those practitioners is podcast guest Heather Engel. In her work as Associate Vice President for Gift Planning at The University of Virginia, she remains at the forefront of strategizing and advising on the thoughtful — and often complex — methods that donors engage in to ensure that they’re maximizing their giving.

In this episode, we discuss this important and impactful gift mechanism and the ways that donors tend to view their DAF giving, from planning to implementation.

Dan Heist headshotDaniel Heist
Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Nonprofit Management
George W. Romney Institute for Public Service and Ethics at Brigham Young University

Dr. H. Daniel Heist is a leading expert on donor-advised fund research and co-founder of the Donor-Advised Fund Research Collaborative. With a research focus on charitable giving, philanthropy, and volunteering, he is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Nonprofit Management in the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics at Brigham Young University. Before receiving a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Heist spent nine years as a professional fundraiser, including five years as a Major Gifts Officer with LDS Philanthropies. Dr. Heist earned a Master’s degree in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI and was a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).

Heather Engel headshotHeather Engel
Associate Vice President for Gift Planning
University of Virginia


Heather Engel serves as Associate Vice President for Gift Planning at the University of Virginia, where she leads a gift planning team of 11 and is tasked with helping to drive the $5 billion Honor the Future Campaign to success. Her fundraising and leadership experience span the disciplines of gift planning, as well as principal, and major gifts.

During her fifteen years with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), she held progressively senior positions where she managed the entire front-line fundraising team in a division of 100 staff and successfully closed a $309 million comprehensive campaign, initiating and managing all pre-campaign efforts, the quiet phase, and the public launch of a $1 billion campaign, and personally overseeing the closure of over $96.8 million in planned gifts and over 21 outright gifts of $1 million or more.

She holds a Juris Doctor, cum laude, from John Marshall Law School, in Chicago, Illinois. Her legal practice, prior to entering fundraising, emphasized estate and charitable planning for high net worth individuals. She is experienced in preparing estate planning documents including wills, revocable and irrevocable trusts, qualified subchapter S trusts, and insurance trusts, as well as charitable remainder trusts and donor advised funds. She has helped clients establish private foundations and has advised not-for-profit organizations in establishing charitable gift annuity programs and donor advised fund programs.