Friday, May 1, 2009

Anonymous Giving Up During Recession

This story in the Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that as the recession has deepened, anonymous donations have risen. The Chronicle's analysis comes on the heels of recent reports detailing $75 million in gifts from an anonymous donor to several different colleges and universities headed by women (see prior blog post here).  The Chronicle story suggests that some donors may want to hide the fact that they have done well financially while the economy has tanked, either because putting one's name on a building is "gauche" in bad times, or for the usual worry about increased solicitations from other charities or fending off questions about the gift from family (who would otherwise inherit?) and friends.

I've often wondered what would happen to donation levels if the tax code permitted a deduction only for anonymous gifts.  My theory on this has been that we do not need the tax laws to "incentivize" donations already recognized by having one's name on a building or on a large plaque inside the main doors; the recognition is incentive enough, and indeed most charities have "price lists" that tie the level of recognition to the amount of a donation (want a named chair at the University of Illinois?  It's yours for a mere $1.5 million, but a professorship will only cost $750,000).  Most people think my idea would gut donations, particularly major capital gifts; but maybe large donors are more amenable to anonymous giving than we think . . .  


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