Is Anonymous Giving Better?
I was in a meeting today and the discussion turned to anonymous donations. Naturally Firstgiving allows you to make a donation without making your name public on the fundraiser's personal page, even though you can still leave an encouraging message. We were discussing the functionality and got off on a tangent about why some people choose to give anonymously.
There are lots of good reasons to give anonymously, just like there are lots of good reasons to proudly take credit for your donation. Recently, the LA Times noted that big donors are increasingly going anonymous, "for safety and privacy." What you might not know is that over 800 years ago, the scholar Moses Maimonides
contemplated the topic of charity and formulated an eight-step hierarchy of giving, sometimes called his "ladder" reproduced here from this source
- Giving a pauper independence so that he will not have to depend on charity.
- Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient.
- Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
- Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
- Giving charity before being asked.
- Giving adequately after being asked.
- Giving willingly, but inadequately.
- Giving unwillingly.
Number one is familiar as the saying about teaching somebody to fish rather than giving them a fish. Maimonides thought this was the highest form of charity. If you agree, you might want to give to a microenterprise organization or a vocational training program. The next few steps on the ladder address the issue of anonymity, giving greater merit to the situations where there is less knowledge or publicity around the donation.
Here's a statue of Maimonides in his home town of Cordoba, Spain.
I wonder if the calculation would have been different if Maimonides had lived in the internet age with online fundraising growing all the time. Would the ability to motivate others to give by setting up a very public personal fundraising page on the internet move the donor up a setp or two on the ladder?
What do you think? Do you give anonymously? Why? Why not?