17 April 2019

The Philanthropy Roundtable Defends Donor Privacy in Maine

The Philanthropy Roundtable expressed concerns that the privacy for donors to 501(c)3 charities in Maine could be compromised under legislation being considered by state lawmakers. The Roundtable submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee regarding LD 1423.

“The regulation being considered could seriously undermine the millennia-old tradition of allowing charitable donors to keep their giving private,” said Sean Parnell, vice president of public policy for The Philanthropy Roundtable. “LD 1423 would force charitable organizations to reveal their donors to the public, and many who prefer to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons would simply stop giving, limiting the important work that Maine’s charities do.”

Parnell’s testimony explains the cultural, religious, and practical reasons that drive many philanthropists to give anonymously. “The Bible instructs Christians to “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men… But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret,” the testimony notes, as well as citing traditions of anonymous giving in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Other philanthropists wish to avoid unwanted solicitations for further donations, such as George Eastman who gave $10 million to MIT in 1912 and was later revealed as the donor, causing him “abundant occasion to regret that his identity is no longer a secret” as he was pursued for additional giving, according to The New York Times. Many charitable givers, such as the late British pop star George Michael, give anonymously to avoid detracting from the good work of the causes they support.

Most if not all charitable organizations in Maine currently take donor confidentiality very seriously and pledge to protect donor anonymity by allowing contributions to be made anonymously. LD 1423 would eliminate this option and subject philanthropists to potential scrutiny of their generosity.

“This would represent an intolerable intrusion on their freedom,” wrote Parnell, who urged the Committee to reject any regulation that would undermine the freedom of charitable donors to remain anonymous.

A copy of Parnell’s testimony can be found here and accompanies this release.