Hospitals, museums, schools, and other institutions around the country bear the names of their generous benefactors. Inside these institutions, different places—rooms, auditoriums, and public areas—display the names of other donors. Without such generosity, these institutions wouldn’t thrive, survive—or even exist.
But are these examples of extreme generosity?
Some donors give money anonymously—exemplars of extreme generosity. In 2010, Baylor University received an anonymous gift of $200 million. In 2013, The Community Foundation for Muskegon County (Michigan) received an anonymous gift of $9 million.
Since 1982, mysterious donors around the country have dropped gold coins, diamonds, and jewelry into the Christmas kettles of the Salvation Army.
What makes anonymous giving extreme generosity? It’s that the benefactor does not expect to derive any ancillary publicity benefits from the donation.
The main argument against anonymous giving is that it reduces giving by subsequent givers. This is a long-held assumption. Two British researchers put it to the test by analyzing thousands of donations on behalf of runners in the 2010 London Marathon. What they found ran counter to conventional wisdom. Anonymous giving actually increased subsequent donations. The researchers speculated that anonymous giving signals the quality of a charity because anonymous givers don’t receive any personal reputation benefits.
Perhaps Maimonides, a renowned medieval rabbi, philosopher, and physician, had it right: One of the highest forms of charity is giving anonymously.
Have you been an anonymous giver?
Is giving anonymously a truer form of charity?