Donors Trust

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Donors Trust
Donors Trust logo.png
TypeNonprofit (IRC § 501(c)(3))[1]
Coordinates38°48′20″N 77°03′37″W / 38.8056°N 77.0603°W / 38.8056; -77.0603Coordinates: 38°48′20″N 77°03′37″W / 38.8056°N 77.0603°W / 38.8056; -77.0603
ServicesDonor-advised fund
Lawson Bader[2]
AffiliationsDonors Capital Fund
Revenue (2017)
$112,961,835 [1]
Expenses (2017)$112,718,795[1]
Endowment$210,429,495 Edit this at Wikidata

Donors Trust is an American non-profit donor-advised fund. It was founded in 1999 with the goal of "safeguarding the intent of libertarian and conservative donors".[4] As a donor advised fund, Donors Trust is not legally required to disclose the identity of its donors, and most of its donors remain anonymous.[5][6] It distributes funds to various conservative and libertarian organizations, and has been characterized as the "dark money ATM" of the right.[5][7][8]:1

It is affiliated with Donors CapitalFund, another donor-advised fund. In September 2015, Lawson Bader was announced as the new president of both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. Bader was formerly president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President at the Mercatus Center.[2]


Donors Trust is a 501(c)(3) organization.[1] As a public charity and a donor-advised fund, Donors Trust offers clients a variety of tax advantages compared to a private foundation.[9]

Donors Trust accepts donations from charitable foundations and individuals.[10] Grants from Donors Trust are based on the preferences of the original contributor, and the organization assures clients that their contributions will never be used to support politically liberal causes.[11][12] As a donor advised fund, Donors Trust can offer anonymity to individual donors, with respect to their donations to Donors Trust, as well as with respect to an individual donor's ultimate grantee.[11][13][14][15]

As a donor advised fund and public charity, Donors Trust accepts cash or assets from donors, and in turn creates a separate account for the donor, who may recommend disbursements from the fund to other public charities.[14] Donors Trust requires an initial deposit of $10,000 or more.[16][17] Donors Trust is associated with Donors Capital Fund. Donors Trust refers clients to Donors Capital Fund if the client plans to maintain a balance of $1 million or more.[18][19] Donors Trust president Lawson Bader said the goal of the organization is to “safeguard the intent of libertarian and conservative donors," ensuring that funds are used only to promote "liberty through limited government, responsibility, and free enterprise".[4]


Donors Trust was established in 1999 by Whitney Lynn Ball.[20] According to Donors Trust, the organization was founded by a group of donors and nonprofit executives who were “actively engaged in supporting and promoting a free society as understood in America's founding documents.”[12] A major selling point to donors is that even after their death, their money will continue to fund conservative/libertarian goals, and not change based on the attitudes of their heirs or trustees as a family foundation might.[5]:1

In early 2013, Donors Trust was the subject of investigative journalism reports by the British newspapers The Independent[21] and The Guardian,[10][11][22] and the United States entities Mother Jones[17][23] and the Center for Public Integrity.[9] Mother Jones described Donors Trust as having funded a conservative public policy agenda in the areas of labor unions, climate science, public schools, and economic regulations.[17]


As of 2013, Donors Trust had 193 contributors, mostly individuals, and some foundations.[9]

The Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Knowledge and Progress Fund, another of the Koch family foundations, contributed $3.3 million to Donors Trust between 2007 and 2011.[21][24] The Knowledge and Progress Fund contributed $4.5 million to Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund between 2006 and 2012.[citation needed] Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund were the only grantees of the Knowledge and Progress Fund through 2013, according to The Independent.[21] The Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, were the top contributors to Donors Trust in 2011, according to an analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review published by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.[25] In 2010, Donors Trust received a US$2 million grant from the Donors Capital Fund.[13]

Donors Trust account holders have included the John M. Olin Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and the Bradley Foundation.[9][26] The Bradley family contributed $650,000 between 2001 and 2010.[17] The DeVos family foundation contributed $1 million in 2009 and $1.5 million in 2010 to Donors Trust.[17]


From its founding in 1999 through 2013, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund distributed nearly $400 million, and through 2015 $740 million, to various nonprofit organizations, including numerous conservative and libertarian causes.[9][27][28] Donors Trust requires that recipients are registered with the US Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Whitney Ball, the former president of Donors Trust, told The Guardian in 2013 that Donors Trust has about 1,600 grantees.[29] In 2014, Ball said that 70 to 75 percent of grants go to public policy organizations, with the rest going to more conventional charities such as social service and educational organizations.[30]

In 2010, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation[31] received a Donors Trust grant of $7 million, nearly half of the Foundation's revenue that year.[9] Other Donors Trust recipients have included the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Rifle Association Freedom Action Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, the FreedomWorks Foundation, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Center for Class Action Fairness.[17][23][32]

Donors Trust paid the legal fees of the Project on Fair Representation, a Washington, D.C.-based legal defense fund that assembled the plaintiff's legal team in Fisher v. University of Texas, a 2013 United States Supreme Court case concerning affirmative action college admissions policies.[33] In 2011, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an online news organization, received $6.3 million in Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund grants, 95 percent of the center's revenue that year.

Other Donors Trust recipients have included the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the James Randi Educational Foundation, the Marijuana Policy Project,[30][34][35] and PragerU.[36]

Climate change related funding[edit]

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund distributed nearly $120 million to 102 think tanks and action groups skeptical of the science behind climate change between 2002 and 2010.[11] According to a 2013 analysis by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, between 2003 and 2013 Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund combined were the largest funders of organizations opposed to restrictions on carbon emissions, which Brulle calls the "climate change counter-movement."[17][37] According to Brulle, by 2009, approximately one-quarter of the funding of the "climate counter-movement" was from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.[18]

As of 2010, Donors Trust grants to conservative and libertarian organizations active in climate change issues included more than $17 million to the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank; $13.5 million to the Heartland Institute, a public policy think tank; and $11 million to Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group.[22] In 2011, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), the conservative Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, received $1.2 million from Donors Trust, 40 percent of CFACT's revenue in that year.[13] Climate change writer Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Donors Trust.[38][39] In 2015, The Guardian reported that Donors Trust gave $4.3 million to the Competitive Enterprise Institute over three years.[40]

State-based policy funding[edit]

Between 2008 and 2013, Donors Trust granted $10 million to the State Policy Network (SPN), a national network of conservative and libertarian think tanks focused on state-level policy. SPN used the grants to incubate new think tanks in Arkansas, Rhode Island and Florida. Donors Trust also issued grants to SPN's affiliates at the state level during the same period. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives that drafts and shares model state-level legislation, is a Donors Trust recipient.[9]

Project Veritas[edit]

Donors Trust donated $1.7 million to Project Veritas, a group run by conservative activist James O'Keefe, which attempts through undercover video stings to demonstrate the biases of mainstream media organizations and liberal groups.[41] Donors Trust's relationship with Project Veritas came under scrutiny in 2017 after Project Veritas had one of its operatives contact The Washington Post, falsely claiming to have been impregnated by Roy Moore while she was a teenager.[41]

Elections and the judiciary[edit]

In 2018, DonorsTrust funded more than 99% of the Judicial Education Project, a legal alias for Honest Elections Project and The 85 Fund.[8][42][43]

Board of directors[edit]

The board of directors of Donors Trust includes:[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "2017 IRS 990 FORM". Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "DonorsTrust's New CEO". Donors Trust. September 22, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Directors & Staff - DonorsTrust". Donors Trust. Retrieved April 29, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Callahan, David (March 3, 2016). "Inside DonorsTrust: What This Mission-Driven DAF Offers Philanthropists on the Right". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Kroll, Andy (February 5, 2013). "Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement". Mother Jones. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  6. ^ Callahan, David (August 23, 2017). "Inside DonorsTrust: What This Mission-Driven DAF Offers Philanthropists on the Right". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  7. ^ SLODYSKO, Brian (July 27, 2020). "Wealthy donors pour millions into fight over mail-in voting". Minneapolis Tribune. Retrieved November 20, 2020. A substantial portion of the financing comes from Donors Trust, a nonprofit often referred to as the "dark money ATM" of the conservative movement. The organization helps wealthy patrons invest in causes they care about while sheltering their identities from the public.
  8. ^ a b Levine, Sam; Massoglia, Anna (May 27, 2020). "Revealed: conservative group fighting to restrict voting tied to powerful dark money network". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Abowd, Paul (February 14, 2013). "Koch-funded charity passes money to free-market think tanks in states". NBC News. Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Goldenberg, Suzanne (February 15, 2013). "Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives". The Guardian. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c d Goldenberg, Suzanne (February 14, 2013). "Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Mission & Principles". Donors Trust. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c Hickley, Walter (February 12, 2013). "Inside The Secretive Dark-Money Organization That's Keeping The Lights On For Conservative Groups". Business Insider. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "The future of donor-advised funds". Philanthropy Roundtable. September 2005. Archived from the original on May 4, 2017.
  15. ^ "FAQs". Donors Trust. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  16. ^ "Open An Account". Donors Trust. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Kroll, Andy (February 5, 2013). "Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement". Mother Jones. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Robert Brulle: Inside the Climate Change "Countermovement"". Frontline. PBS. October 23, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  19. ^ "What is Donors Capital Fund?". Donors Capital Fund. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  20. ^ Gillespie, Nick (August 18, 2015). "Whitney Ball, Founder of DonorsTrust, RIP". Reason. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  21. ^ a b c Connor, Steve (January 24, 2013). "Exclusive: Billionaires secretly fund attacks on climate science". The Independent. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  22. ^ a b Goldenberg, Suzanne (February 14, 2013). "How Donors Trust distributed millions to anti-climate groups". The Guardian. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  23. ^ a b Kroll, Andy (February 11, 2013). "Exclusive: Donors Trust, The Right's Dark-Money ATM, Paid Out $30 Million in 2011". Mother Jones. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  24. ^ Lewis, Charles; Holmberg, Eric; Fernandez Campbell, Alexia; Beyoud, Lydia (July 1, 2013). "Koch millions spread influence through nonprofits, colleges". Investigative Reporting Workshop. American University School of Communication. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  25. ^ Chavkin, Sasha (April 22, 2013). "The Koch brothers' media investment". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved March 5, 2015. In 2011, fully 95 percent of the Franklin Center’s revenues came from a charity called Donors Trust, whose top contributors were the Koch brothers.
  26. ^ Miller, John J. (November 8, 2007). "Daniel C. Searle, R.I.P." National Review. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  27. ^ Goodman, Amy (February 19, 2013). "Donors Trust: Little-Known Group Helps Wealthy Backers Fund Right-Wing Agenda in Secret". Democracy Now!. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  28. ^ Meyerson, Adam (August 17, 2015). "Whitney Ball Was a Champion of Liberty Par Excellence". National Review. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  29. ^ Connor, Steve (January 24, 2013). "How the 'Kochtopus' stifled green debate; Behind the climate 'countermovement' are two billionaire brothers". The Independent. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  30. ^ a b Zeiser, Bill (September 24, 2014). "Dark Money: The Left's unprincipled campaign against philanthropic privacy". National Review. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  31. ^ Pettersson, Edvard (February 17, 2015). "Koch Group Gets to Keep Donors Secret in California Lawsuit". Bloomberg Business.
  32. ^ Zahorsky, Rachel (April 1, 2010). "Unsettling Advocate". ABA Journal. American Bar Association.
  33. ^ Smith, Morgan (February 23, 2012). "One Man Standing Against Race-Based Laws". New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  34. ^ "Marijuana Policy Project". Center for Responsive Politics. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  35. ^ Morse Wooster, Martin (August 26, 2015). "Remembering Whitney Ball's lasting but rarely noticed work". Philanthropy Daily. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  36. ^ Kotch, Alex (December 27, 2018). "Who Funds PragerU's Anti-Muslim Content?". Sludge. Archived from the original on December 29, 2018. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  37. ^ Brulle, Robert J. (December 21, 2013). "Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations". Climatic Change. 122 (4): 681–94. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-1018-7. S2CID 27538787.
  38. ^ Gillis, Justin; Schwartz, John (February 21, 2015). "Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  39. ^ Basken, Paul (February 25, 2015). "A Climate Crusader Melts, Exposing a Profitable Link to Harvard's Name". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on March 3, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  40. ^ Goldenberg, Suzanne; Bengtsson, Helena (June 9, 2015). "Secretive donors gave US climate denial groups $125m over three years". The Guardian. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  41. ^ a b Jr, Robert O'Harrow (December 2, 2017). "Project Veritas received $1.7 million last year from charity associated with the Koch brothers". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  42. ^ Swan, Jonathan; Treene, Alayna. "Leonard Leo to shape new conservative network, step aside from the Federalist Society". Axios. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  43. ^ The Center for Responsive Politics (May 27, 2020). "Conservative 'dark money' network rebranded to push voting restrictions before 2020 election". OpenSecrets News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.

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