Is it better to donate (give) anonymously?


Fact Box

  • Donations are gifts “made to a qualified non-profit charitable, religious, educational or public service organization, it may be deductible as a contribution in calculating income tax.” A philanthropist is a person “who donates time, money, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world.”
  • The top ten categories that 50 of the US’s highest donors gave to in 2020 were: environmental foundations ($10,050M), general foundations ($2.7M), colleges/universities ($2.18M), donor-advised funds ($1.3M), general social services ($480M), hospitals/medical centers ($257M), food banks ($157M), debt relief ($122M), educational causes ($116M), homelessness and housing ($92M). 
  • A 2020 National Philanthropic Trust annual donor report showed that monetary financial gifts (“donor-advised funds”) surpassing $23 billion went to charities in 2018. 
  • There are several significant types of donations, including giving unused property (real estate), stocks, and other assets (like life insurance policies and retirement accounts), setting up charitable trust funds, and more!
  • Some of the US’s biggest donors/philanthropists of 2020 include Jeff Bezos (gave $10,050M), MacKenzie Scott ($5,734M), Michael Bloomberg ($1,600M), Jack Dorsey ($1,099M), Michael Jordan ($52M), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($157M).

Andrew (Yes)

There are many reasons why donors choose to give anonymously, both altruistic and for purposes related to privacy and the maintenance of social norms. Whether for safety or out of personal conviction, donors should give anonymously. People tend to behave within social norms, therefore donating amounts of money well above or below the average amount can make people uncomfortable within a social group. Aggressive generosity can seem antagonistic, like a challenge to peers, while donating too little can make one look like a cheapskate. Donating anonymously is the best way for a donor to give the amount they are comfortable without ruffling any feathers.

Many people are uncomfortable with being either borrowers or givers, so charity is often easier on all parties when accomplished anonymously. This concept is found in many traditions, such as the Jewish tradition of 'tzedakah,' which regards anonymous donation as the second-highest form of charity. Anonymous giving helps preserve the dignity of the donee, while ensuring that the nature of the philanthropy is genuinely altruistic.

In addition to these more selfless reasons for anonymity, there are practical reasons for security and privacy associated with large monetary donations. Many donors prefer to shy from the public spotlight, especially concerning how much money they have. Others may fear for their safety, either from kidnappers or those philosophically opposed to the organizations to which they donate. Whether to maintain social norms or safety and privacy concerns, giving anonymously is always better for the donor and the donee. 

Thomas (No)

Donors should donate as loudly as possible - however, 'loudly' does not mean boastfully, as people could judge based on that and not on the merits of the donation in question. Doners should donate to advertise, to educate, and to encourage others. For charities, fundraising takes up too many resources. Even Rotary International, one of Charity Navigator's top charities for financial responsibility, spends 20 million dollars a year they could otherwise be spending on eradicating polio. Receiving a single click from a Facebook advertisement can cost a charity upwards of two dollars per click, so sharing directly about a charity is better help to them.

Because giving is contagious, multiple studies from Harvard and Princeton have shown that when someone sees a donation, they are more likely to donate. Being a 'consistent contributor' also causes others in your circle to give more. The third most common reason people donate is they know someone who cares about the charity. 

There are more benefits to talking about gift-giving than advertisement, of course. How you spend your money is a clear indicator of the person you are. There is no more transparent way to say 'I'm an environmentalist' than to show your regular donations to an environmental charity. The person who participates in 'Extra Life' celebrates their enjoyment of video games. The person seeking support for 'Relay for Life' shows their love for physical activity. Charitable organizations support the same causes as the donor, but the donor can express their giving in their own way.

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