A US non-profit attempting to rebrand Jesus for Gen Z is also the main funder of a designated hate group opposing abortion and LGBTIQ rights, openDemocracy can reveal.

The Servant Foundation has plunged millions of dollars into its ‘He Gets Us’ ads, which paint Jesus as an “influencer” who was “canceled” for standing up for his beliefs. The controversial adverts were shown at this year’s Super Bowl and have been plastered across billboards in the United States over the last year.

But analysis of financial accounts by openDemocracy shows over the last five years the Servant Foundation has also grown to become the main identifiable source of funding for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), described as an anti-LGBTIQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) – an allegation it denies.

In total Servant gave the group $65.9m from 2018 to 2021 – an average of more than $16m a year. As a result, ADF’s grant income rose from $55m in 2017 to $96.8m in 2021.

Servant’s boom coincides with its split from the National Christian Foundation (NCF), of which it was an affiliate from its launch in 2000 through to 2017. During this time, it would hand out an average $1.3m a year and receive around $4m. But after the split with NCF, Servant pocketed more than $1bn in contributions – a large chunk of which actually came from the NCF.

The NCF is considered the biggest US charity for Christian causes and has been accused of channeling millions of dollars to hate groups. Almost immediately after the split with Servant, it gave the group $307m, followed by another $11m in 2019. It also received more than $222m from Servant between 2018 and 2021, showing a mutual flow of money that, according to experts, “adds a layer of secrecy” to donations they make on behalf of clients.

What is a DAF?

Both Servant and the NCF are operators of so-called ‘donor-advised funds’ (DAF), which enable typically wealthy customers to take advantage of tax breaks associated with charitable giving by handing over cash to be distributed on their behalf. A client can suggest where their DAF operators should distribute their money, but the operator has the final say on where the cash goes, and it may be passed between different funds before actually being donated. Clients who donate through DAF can remain anonymous, even to their beneficiaries and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unlike for private foundations, there is no legal requirement for DAFs to give out a percentage of the donations they receive to charity.


This type of money transfer from one DAF operator to another grew by 409% between 2015 and 2019, and hit $1bn only in 2019, according to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies published in 2021. That study only focused on the biggest commercial DAF operators – those nonprofit branches of financial companies, thus excluding DAF operators like Servant and NCF.

“​​Wealthy people give to intermediaries, such as private foundations and DAF operators, which in 2021 received almost a third of all donations,” Chuck Collins, director for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told openDemocracy. “When these donor-controlled intermediaries pass money back and forth, they can add layers of secrecy so the public doesn’t know where the funds are ending up.”

Stephanie Peng, research manager with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), which supports marginalized communities, told openDemocracy: “Anonymity is really dangerous because you don’t know who is really behind all that money, who is controlling massive, massive amounts of money, and necessarily where that funding is going.”

The Servant Foundation was set up in Kansas by evangelical lawyer Bill High. Its partnership with the NCF included the NCF performing “accounting and other back-room tasks” for Servant. High ended the relationship in 2017, reportedly to offer lower fees to clients, and also changed Servant’s public-facing name to The Signatry.

Servant made headlines with its Super Bowl ads, which were part of the $300m He Gets Us campaign hoping to fuel conservative evangelical goals.

NCF and Servant Foundation are among 12 DAF operators that from 2017 to 2020 gave $272m to 36 American groups that work to restrict the rights of women and LGBTIQ people in the US and abroad, an openDemocracy investigation revealed earlier this year. Servant donated a fifth of that sum and the NCF almost a half.

Hobby Lobby money

By the time Servant split from the NCF, High had forged a crucial relationship with David Green, until then a substantial client of NCF whose retail giant Hobby Lobby plays a prominent role in battles against sexual and reproductive rights.

In 2014, Hobby Lobby won a big case when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could deny contraception coverage under their workers’ health insurance policies if doing so would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs”. The NCF had given millions of dollars to the law groups litigating this case – ADF and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that has represented the Greens since 2012.

High, who retired as Servant CEO in January, and Green have co-authored several books about Christian charitable giving. Green also appeared in a 2020 promotional video for Servant.

Analysis of donation flows suggests cash from Green that once moved through the NCF could now be getting channeled through Servant. Since 2018, Servant has given big money to two groups focused on international evangelism and distribution of Christian literature that are also listed on the Hobby Lobby donation webpage. They rank second and third in money received from Servant from 2018 to 2021 – Every Home for Christ ($181m) and OneHope ($107m). Meanwhile, the NCF, which had given $47m to Every Home for Christ and $25m to OneHope in 2017, has drastically reduced its contributions to these organizations since then. Green was also reportedly a major donor for the He Gets Us campaign. Both Hobby Lobby and Green did not respond to questions about whether they had stopped donating cash via the NCF and instead donated it via Servant.

The Museum of the Bible, founded by the Green family in 2017 at a cost of $500m – and marred by scandals for buying looted and smuggled archeological artifacts and exhibiting “modern forgeries” of Dead Sea Scroll fragments – is another big grantee of the Servant Foundation. It was given more than $3.2m between 2018 and 2021 and before that had received hundreds of millions from the NCF since 2013.

Funding hate and misinformation

Among other beneficiaries of money channeled through Servant are at least seven US organizations well-known for their attacks against equal rights: ADF, the Fellowship Foundation, Focus on the Family, American Centre for Law and Justice, Family Research Council, Heartbeat International, and the Heritage Foundation.

ADF won a Supreme Court case this year that allows businesses to discriminate against gay couples on free speech grounds, and was one of the groups that masterminded the strategy to overturn the constitutionally protected right to abortion in the US. It has defended the sterilisation of trans people in Europe and fought the decriminalization of gay sex in Belize. It also launched efforts to ban transgender students’ access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

Also a SPLC-designated hate group, Family Research Council makes false claims about LGBTIQ people, and has been involved in funding and promoting harmful conversion therapies against LGBTIQ people, as well as opposing US local bans to these activities.

In 2021, openDemocracy revealed how Focus on the Family, another organization funded by Servant, had platforms for the provision of conversion therapies in the US and Costa Rica.

openDemocracy requested interviews with all the organizations and individuals named in this investigation. Only the NCF answered through a short written statement signed by its communications vice president, Steve Chapman.

“The NCF does not develop or implement strategies about which charities or causes to support [and] does not rely on third-party designations or labels in our grantmaking process,” Chapman said. “All grants are initiated by the recommendations of our givers.”

In the statement, the DAF operator claimed to serve “over 25,000 givers that use Giving Funds [donor-advised funds] to individually support their favourite causes and charities”, and to have given more than $14bn since 1982 to more than 70,000 charities that “are providing clean water to the thirsty, rescuing victims of human trafficking, translating the Bible into new languages, and much more”.

A global model

The exchange of money between DAF operators as Servant and NCF is a model extending internationally. The NCF, for example, partnered with TrustBridge Global, a charitable giving vehicle that declares itself as the first truly global DAF operator. Registered in 2016 in Florida and Switzerland, its CEO is a former NCF employee. TrustBridge has set up affiliate foundations around the world and claims to have 70,000 non-profits vetted to receive DAFs. The list includes the ADF branch in the UK. TrustBridge has also received millions of dollars from Servant.

Servant presents itself as a “global community” that has given $4bn in “transformational grants for non-profits around the world”, and supports projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The fund also claims to have given $2m in 150 grants for emergency relief in Ukraine, and over $1m “for supporting missionaries around the globe, fueling the spread of the gospel in at least 43 countries”, especially in Africa.

Its website says it gave out over $470m in grants in 2021, while receiving $899m in contributions. As a DAF operator, it is able to accept other assets beyond cash, such as property, cryptocurrency, stocks and mutual funds, as well as life insurance payouts.

When clients “give” assets other than money to these funds, they can write off the total amount the gifts are worth. This way, donors can bypass capital gains taxes from these gifts, which they would have to pay if they converted them into cash holdings.

Some DAF operators even have estate-planning options to bypass estate taxes and continue charitable giving after a donor dies.

For the NCRP, this is troubling.

“We want donors to be accountable to who they’re giving money to. So if donors are putting all of this money into a DAF, but that money sits there for years and years, and there are no beneficiaries, if the donor made a commitment and that commitment doesn’t make its way down to the recipient organization, then that’s a problem,” NCRP’s Stephanie Peng said.

Legislative efforts to establish “reasonable timeframes” for paying out assets have so far failed.

High, Servant’s founder, has argued against any effort to make DAFs more accountable. “A hallmark of American charity has always been a right to privacy. We should not take away that privacy right. On the contrary, donor-advised funds have done much to democratize giving, as witnessed by their rapid rise,” he wrote in a Forbes article.

His foundation continues to court new donors. Its website even has a calculator for prospective customers to see how much in taxes they could save by donating.