Anonymous Giving

Is the "highest form of philanthropy" anonymous giving?

I don't think so.

I tend to focus on what the result of the giving is, not what the recognition is or whether I get recognition.

For example, in the United Way crisis, would it have been more EFFECTIVE to have given anonymously? I can't imagine how.

If you look at what caused so many people to give in Seattle, it was because they saw other, high profile donors, like Bezos, Gates, Oki, Allen, etc. giving. So if you have a charitable cause which is supported by "Anonymous" and a cause supported by all your peers, which cause is likely to attract your attention more?

And Oki, Brotman, and others went out to recruit other donors. Very hard to do if you give anonymously.

So while there may be some donor benefits from giving anonymously, I can't think of any benefit to the cause that is being supported. Can you?

Here's a paragraph from an e-mail I got from Bill Gates about this:

Third and most important I think is that a few people - Scott Oki (ex-Microsoft) and Jeff Brotman (Costco) decided they were personally going to STRONGLY encourage people who been successful to give to United Way at a high level. I hear they have signed up almost 40 people at the Emerald Level which I think is $1M over 5 years. This is unprecedented and fantastic. When people see that Bezos, Allen, Glaser, etc.. are all giving it draws more people in. Scott and Jeff make sure to get help from all the givers to get more givers.

Here's another e-mail I got on this topic:

I think that because you gave and identified yourself, it prompted others to give who knew you and wanted to help out. Maybe in some situations it might be better to donate anonymously, but I've always thought it strange when I read anoymous on an invitation with a donor sponsor list. I interpret it like they're ashamed ot identify themselves, not that they seek to avoid publicity, because this is GOOD publicity and it also sets an example. Go ahead and identify yourself, as long as it's charitable giving.

And another:

I agree 100%, Steve. Having role models is important, particularly in a "young" community of giving. As well, people need to specify the amount they give, since it gives others a "scale" factor that they can relate to their own personal situation. I don't see it as a matter of "bragging" but I know too many people who simply didn't fathom what a "significant gift" was due to their naivete.

Here's an excerpt from an article by Patricia O'Toole from The New York Times, Nov 17, 1999:

Although anonymous giving may be good for the soul, a new breed of philanthropists argues that it may be shortsighted. Silicon Valley has convinced itself that hoopla over big gifts stimulates more big gifts; that there is, in effect, no Rockefeller effect and that the old Lone Ranger is no match for the new Connecting Ranger. The latest evidence for this hypothesis: last spring, when 102 local nonprofit agencies were about to lose funding because the United Way's annual drive had fallen $11 million short, Steve Kirsch, an Internet entrepreneur and a founder of Infoseek , stepped in with $1 million.

''Steve's example quickly brought in $14.6 million,'' said Peter Hero, the president of the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley in San Jose, Calif. ''Almost all the big giving done here is done publicly, and we know from our research that it's not about self-aggrandizement. It's about spreading the word in the hope that others will join in supporting the cause.''

New paradigm? Nah. Andrew Carnegie, the 19th-century prototype of the American tycoon philanthropist, believed in giving with a flourish of trumpets and blew his own incessantly to rouse the rich to righteousness.

But there are a number of interesting reasons for giving anonymously, mostly because they protect the donor, not the charity:

  • They want to help without burdening the recipient with a sense of indebtedness (pretty weak)
  • They also want credit given to those performing the services rather than to those providing the funding (pretty weak)
  • They don't want their name associated with a cause that might be controversial, e.g., gay rights, abortion, etc. (this is a great reason; I've given anonymously myself to one such controversial cause for exactly this reason...publicizing my gift wouldn't have helped the charity any since the money was the important thing, and my detractors could use the support to make me look bad)
  • It is an unusually large gift and they don't want to been perceived as rich (because they aren't) and be approached by other charities. There is also an ''I-am-not-a-Rockefeller'' effect, a concern of the donor able to make just one large gift, typically because of a windfall. People in this position see no point in raising expectations (or hackles) elsewhere.
  • Don't want to be stampeded by the needy, the pretend-needy and purveyors of once-in-a-millennium investment opportunities. Toward the end of his life, the author James A. Michener gave $5 million to the libraries at the University of Northern Colorado, which agreed not to reveal his name until he died. ''Jim had been inundated with requests when some of his other gifts became known,'' said Gary Pitkin, the university's dean of libraries. ''But he also knew that his name would help us raise funds.'' Since Michener's death, in 1997, the university's libraries have received two large gifts from donors who said they were inspired by Michener's generosity.
  • They use as a shield against mischief. Adriane G. Berg, a money manager and lawyer in Maplewood, N.J., said affluent donors sometimes worried that if they found themselves in a lawsuit, after an auto accident, for instance, they would be seen as deep pockets.
  • They want to fend off even the most benign forms of attention. An actress whose name is well known regularly escapes to a small town whose name is not because she treasures the privacy it provides. She does her local giving through middlemen, an arrangement that spares her endless chitchat with the grateful.
  • They want hidden personal facts to stay hidden. Before joining the Milwaukee Symphony, Ms. Stein worked for an organization with a supporter who used his anonymity to conceal his wealth from his ex-wife. Another man, the father of a son unknown to his wife, set up a foundation offering a handful of scholarships, one of which went to the son. (Less awkward to explain a charitable contribution than checks to the boy or his mother.)

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