Anonymous Giving on the Rise as Recession Drags On

Even as charities work feverishly to find new donors, a growing number of philanthropists appear to be working just as hard not to be found, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

Based on an analysis of data it compiled and interviews with fundraisers and philanthropic advisors, the Chronicle found that between June 2008 and April 2009, eighty gifts of at least $1 million — nearly 19 percent of the 422 large gifts made during that period — were made anonymously, far exceeding historical patterns. According to Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, the proportion of such gifts made anonymously has ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent over the past decade.

Large gifts recently made by the so-called "mystery donor" to colleges headed by women account for only part of the increase. If the fourteen known gifts totaling $70 million made by that donor were excluded from the data, the proportion of large anonymous gifts made over that period would drop from 19 percent to roughly 16 percent.

Several studies by the Center on Philanthropy have found that an aversion to solicitations from charities and a desire to keep a gift secret from family or friends are the two most frequently cited reasons for giving anonymously. Dwight Burlingame, the center's associate executive director, said that both concerns "get exacerbated when you have times in which people are feeling the pressures of less wealth."

Indeed, the prolonged recession and resulting job losses have prompted some high-net-worth donors to begin supporting charities that provide basic services such as food and shelter. In December, the North Texas Food Bank received its first-ever $1 million gift, from a woman who asked to remain anonymous. "She said she would not have been able to look herself in the mirror over the holidays had she not made the gift," said Jan Pruitt, the foodbank's CEO, who hopes the donor will continue to support the organization. "Once people's eyes are opened to how much need there is, I think they will continue to respond in this area."

Ben Gose. "Anonymous Giving Gains in Popularity as the Recession Deepens." Chronicle of Philanthropy 05/30/2009.