25 September 2017

Donor Dad Wants to Stay Anonymous

by Sean Parnell, Vice President of Public Policy, The Philanthropy Roundtable

The right of individual donors to decide whether they want to be publicly associated with their gifts is an important component of philanthropic freedom, and a core civic freedom as well that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized on several occasions, perhaps most notably in the 1958 decision NAACP v. Alabama.

There are many reasons donors prefer to remain anonymous, including people attempting to follow religious convictions favoring anonymous giving, avoid unwanted solicitations, and prevent harassment and abuse from private citizens or government officials unhappy with gifts to particular charities. In a paper I wrote earlier this year, I speculated that the pop singer George Michael may have kept his generous support to a range of charities private simply because as a public figure it was one of the few things he could keep out of the public eye.

That same paper also included a fictional account from the television show Gilmore Girls to illustrate another reason why donors might want to remain anonymous, which is to shield family members from embarrassment or attention, particularly when giving to a school that a family member attends (in the Gilmore Girls example, it was the wealthy grandparents giving to Yale, where their granddaughter attended at the time).

A real life example of this phenomenon recently cropped up that seems worth passing along. Last Thursday’s Inside Philanthropy includes an article about a program at Florida Atlantic University that offers a high school/college dual degree program. From the article:

To expand the dual degree program, FAU High recently started raising money. A growing number of individual donors and grantmakers are excited about its potential. One wealthy father who requested anonymity because his daughter attends FAU High and he wants to shield her from undue attention, made a substantial gift because he’s excited about the potential of the dual-degree program to “forever change the face of public education.”

While not as humorous as the Gilmore Girls example, it has the benefit of being a real-life example of one of the many reasons individuals wish to keep some or all of their giving private.