Donors Increasingly Make Their Big Gifts Anonymously

January 18, 2008

Mirrored from Philanthropy Today::

Last October, the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University announced $20-million gifts on the same day. Both gifts supported space research and both set up endowed chairs in space exploration — named for, of all people, President Thomas Jefferson. It stands to reason that the same individual, someone with an interest in Ohio, early U.S. democracy, and galaxies far, far away made both gifts.

But no one knows for sure, because a “Deep Throat”-like secrecy surrounded the donations. They were announced as anonymous, and no one at the university foundations, which handled the gifts, knows the name of the donor, either. He or she worked only through a lawyer and never hinted at any motivation. And neither university knew of the other’s gift until just before it planned to announce its own, when they received joint instructions from the lawyer on how to promote the gifts.

Not all anonymous gifts are such clandestine operations, but more and more nonprofit organizations find themselves in the same position as the Ohio universities. Anonymous charity hasn’t had a year like 2007 in recent memory, which left many nonprofit groups with big checks but little they could say about them.

… According to The Chronicle’s compilation of gifts of $1-million or more announced in 2007, unnamed donors pledged or gave at least 87 donations of $1-million, including 23 gifts of more than $10-million and four gifts of $100-million or more. The donations totaled just under $1.1-billion, greater than all but the single largest gift of 2007. Their sum far exceeds the Chronicle’s total of large anonymous gifts in 2006 ($672-million) and 2005 ($196-million).

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