DonorsTrust is a donor-advised fund that gives to right-leaning public policy organizations. An affiliated fund, the Donors Capital Fund, offers more support to donors who contribute more than $1 million to the fund.
DonorsTrust is a donor-advised fund that donates to right-leaning public policy organizations. The fund was created in 1999 by Whitney Ball, formerly the executive director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and director of development for the Cato Institute. Since 2015, DonorsTrust has been headed by Lawson Bader, formerly the president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 1
The fund offers donors anonymity in donation and has no restrictions on the organizations they support as long as the organizations are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entities. In a 2020 post, DonorsTrust president Lawson Bader stated that the fund supports “the right of an individual to use resources to support a legitimate and legal not-for-profit public charity that is serving a purpose for which that individual agrees.” 2
In 2016, Bader told James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley that many contributors to DonorsTrust are “older philanthropists, especially conservative or libertarian ones” who “have grown disillusioned with foundations. They tend to drift from the original intent to causes that are contrary to desire of the founder.” Piereson and Riley noted that “all DonorsTrust accounts sunset over time, which means they will not be available for future generations to redirect.” 3
In an interview with author David Callahan, Bader said that DonorsTrust’s commitment to donor intent made his fund an attractive vehicle for contributors. “There are clients of ours who may love their kids. But perhaps the client and the kids differ in terms of political philosophy, or institutional support.” 4 Callahan says DonorsTrust’s role is to serve “as a matchmaker between the many groups on the right looking for funding and the funders who have a stash at DonorsTrust.” 5
Affiliates and Projects
Donors Capital Fund
Donors Capital Fund is a supporting organization that is separate from, but affiliated with, DonorsTrust. The fund says it provides “personalized philanthropic services and specialized asset management” for clients with assets of more than a million dollars in their accounts. 6
The Novus Society is a project of DonorsTrust for donors under age 40. The Society offers new philanthropists the ability to open an account with $1,000 and programs that connect younger donors with older ones and to meet other young donors. 7
In 2017 the Washington Post reported that in 2016 DonorsTrust contributed $1.7 million to the conservative advocacy group Project Veritas, and that these donations amounted to over one-third of the group’s $4.6 million budget. DonorsTrust donated $1.5 million to Project Veritas in 2015. 8
In 2020, Lawson Bader stated, “for the last eighteen months, we have been subject to hostile emails, critical floor statements from Senators and members of the House, in-depth media coverage, and threatened Congressional investigations” because of grants made to Project Veritas. Bader said Project Veritas’s goal of “embarrassing politicians or highlighting the hypocrisy among political parties and its platforms does not make friends, especially those in powerful positions.” 9
In 2021, the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), using documents provided by the left-wing Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), reported that DonorsTrust contributed $1.5 million of the controversial anti-immigrant advocacy group VDare’s budget in 2019, which, according to VDare’s tax returns, enabled the group to increase its budget from $700,000 in 2018 to $4.3 million in 2019. Lawson Bader responded with an email stating, “We support philanthropic freedom and protect donor intent without taking policy positions. Of the policy groups that our accountholders support, many have competing purposes and mission, such as the Family Research Council and the Sex Workers Educational Foundation.” 10
In 2019, DonorsTrust made grants of over $1 million to 27 organizations, including two which received two seven-figure grants. This table lists the organizations and the total amount granted to each nonprofit:
• Acton Institute – $1.1 million
• American Friends of Start-Up Nation Central – $1 million
• Catholic Association Foundation – $6.2 million
• CERGE-El Foundation – $3.5 million
• Certell – $1.8 million
• Daniel Morgan Academy – $2.8 million
• Discovery Institute – $2.0 million
• 85 Fund – $10.8 million
• Federalist Society $7.0 million
• Foundation for Government Accountability – $2.1 million
• Foundation for Jewish Camp – $1 million
• George Mason University Foundation – $6.8 million
• Government Accountability Institute – $1 million
• Greater Education Opportunities Foundation – $1 million
• Heartland Institute – $2.1 million
• Hillsdale College – $1 million
• Job Creators Network Foundation – $1.3 million
• King’s Academy – $3.5 million
• King’s College – $2.1 million
• Legacy Foundation – $1.5 million
• Lucy Burns Institute – $2.8 million
• Mackinac Center for Public Policy – $2.3 million
• Middle East Forum – $2.1 million
• Project Veritas – $4.1 million
• Redeem New York – $1.4 million
• State Policy Network – $9.2 million
• Wyoming Liberty Group – $1.4 million
Among the nonprofits DonorsTrust gave smaller sums to in 2019 were the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Leader Dogs for the Blind, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and the foundations affiliated with Rice University, the University of California Los Angeles, Vanderbilt University and Yale University. 11
- Donors Trust, “Who We Are,” https://www.donorstrust.org/who-we-are/directors-and-staff/?__hstc=240612508.8d8e46245a9d4fea2a84aff9e4552821.1665282410281.1665282410281.1665282410281.1&__hssc=240612508.1.1665282410281&__hsfp=1461856625 (accessed October 10, 2022.
- Lawson Bader, “Donor Disclosure Is Code for Donor-Based Discrimination,” DonorsTrust, September 24, 2020, https://www.donorstrust.org/philanthropy/donor-disclosure-code-donor-based-discrimination/ (accessed October 10, 2022)
- James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Giving Back Isn’t Only for Billionaires,” Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2016.
- David Callahan, The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in A New Gilded Age (New York: Knopf, 2018), 204
- David Callahan, The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in A New Gilded Age (New York: Knopf, 2018), 205.
- Donors Capital Fund, “Overview,” http://donorscapitalfund.org/AboutUs/Overview.aspx (accessed October 10, 2022).
- Novus Society, “About Us,” https://www.novussociety.org/#aboutus (accessed October 10, 2022)
- Robert O’Harrow, “Project Veritas Received $1.7M Last Year from Charity Tied to Kochs,” Washington Post, December 3, 2017.
- Lawson Bader, “Donor Disclosure Is Code for Donor-Based Discrimination,20,” DonorsTrust, September 26, 2020, https://www.donorstrust.org/philanthropy/donor-disclosure-code-donor-based-discrimination/ (accessed October 10, 2022).
- Alex Kotch and Michael Edison Hayden, “Donors Pumped Millions Into White Nationalist Group<” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 17, 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/06/17/donors-pumped-millions-white-nationalist-group (accessed October 10, 20212)
- 2019 DonorsTrust form 990.