We have found that answers to the question of, Why send an anonymous donation? differ greatly from person to person/company to company. We get this question a lot, so we figured we would address some of the big reasons why people choose to give privately. We at Silent Donor encourage all people to donate to causes you feel strongly about – publicly if you are ok with that exposure, or privately with us.
Very quickly summarized, donors have different levels of exposure depending on which organizations they choose to send donations. Certain tax-exempt organizations must report the name and address, and the occupation and employer (if an individual), of any person that contributes in the aggregate $200 or more in a calendar year. Private Foundations must list every donor who has donated over $5,000. 501(c)(3) organizations have to provide the names and addresses of their contributors on their 990 tax forms. Even in cases where the IRS is supposed to redact the names of donors on charity tax returns, we have seen cases in the past where they instead leaked the entire donor list.
Now, we’ll get into some of the major reasons why people choose to donate anonymously.
1. Probably the most frequently cited reason for giving anonymously is because donors, especially millennials, hate receiving endless solicitations (calls, texts, emails, physical mail) to send another donation. Some organizations share their contact lists with other organizations, which compounds the problem. It’s extremely annoying and a hassle that donors want to do without.
2. Religion can play a part in the desire for anonymity. Many religious traditions teach that anonymous giving is more spiritually rewarding than gifts that are accompanied by public acclaim. As early as the twelfth century, for example, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides taught that anonymous giving was among the highest forms of philanthropy.
3. Others may be shy or naturally humble and are not comfortable being in the limelight for any reason, including the acceptance of recognition for making a significant charitable gift.
4. In today’s day and age (social media saturation, 24-hour news cycles, our “cancel” culture), some donors simply want to avoid negative public attention because it can bring unwanted and lasting consequences against a person or a company (think Chik-fil-A or Soul Cycle for example) through the form of boycotts, public defamation, negative media coverage, lost partnerships, social shunning – all of which can negatively affect the economic, political, and social capital (even personal security) of the donor.
5. Some give anonymously because they do not want to raise expectations that they will make a similar gift in the future. Such donors may have received an inheritance or other one-time economic windfall and do not expect to regularly repeat the gift. Remaining anonymous serves to relieve this pressure.
6. Other donors may not want their family or friends (perhaps including a spouse) to know they are making certain charitable gifts. Here, anonymity may stem from a perceived disapproval by others of the mission of the charitable recipient or of the giving behavior in general.
7. An often-mentioned reason for anonymous giving, especially in lean economic times, is the concern by donors that they will be identified as a source of major philanthropic support and will be deluged with appeals from other entities. Board members and volunteers who understand how “donor research” is conducted may be especially prone to this concern.
8. In still other cases, a donor may have succeeded financially in an environment in which many of his or her peers suffered losses. This donor may believe decorum and good taste dictate that large gifts be made anonymously.
9. In some instances, donors don’t want their gifts to one organization compared to their gifts to another. After making relatively modest gifts or reducing their gifts to some charitable interests, donors may wish to conceal larger gifts and/or a decision to increase their giving to other organizations.
10. Wealthy donors have also been targets of charity shaming if the public thinks they did not give enough money to a given cause. We saw this when Jeff Bezos was attacked for “only” donating $1 million to help Australia after the brushfires, or when Keith Urban “only” donated half a million to the same cause.
11. A donor may be concerned that the publicity surrounding a larger gift could discourage others from giving either out of concern that a smaller gift compares unfavorably or perhaps that the nonprofit’s needs have been met.
12. In the case of schools and certain other types of charitable recipients, a donor may wish to remain anonymous out of concern that a gift could bring unwelcome attention to a child or other loved one who is a student, employee, or is otherwise associated with the institution.
13. Donors involved in politics or who otherwise lead public lives may be sensitive to the controversy they themselves may inspire and therefore give anonymously to protect the recipient from the possible backlash of their own detractors.
14. Lastly, some donors might even be concerned for the safety of their family, fearing that large, public gifts could make them targets for kidnapping or other criminal activity.
Some items listed were originally posted in a great article written by Robert F. Sharpe Jr., which you can find here.