It ‘aint how you give, it’s the way that you give it

There’s a new twist on the ‘what happens to giving in a recession’ debate, which is usually framed in terms of donations staying constant or declining. (Incidentally, I’ve yet to hear any commentator suggest they’ll go up, though I keep meeting fundraisers whose internal figures include projected increases – some as steep as 30%).

New data from the US suggests that recessionary impacts are not just about quantities but also about style. It makes sense that donors might be less keen on attending glitzy flash-the-cash gala dinners and more keen to write a simple cheque, but the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University have found a 5-fold increase in anonymous giving, which they attribute to the current economic crisis. Ostentatious giving is clearly not a good look when friends, neighbours, employees and customers are finding it tough to pay the mortgage. But the rise in anonymous gifts has other drivers too. For example, a donor might not want previously favoured charities that have been given the chop to know that s/he still has money to give elsewhere. Or they might have sent their first ever cheque to a cause that is working on the front-line dealing with the fallout of the recession – like a homeless shelter or financial advice centre – and not wish to raise expectations that such a gift will be repeated.

Whatever the reasons behind this trend, it’s a good opportunity to raise the question of whether anonymous giving is a good or a bad thing. I tend to the latter view, partly because (as a former fundraiser) I know that identifiable donors are the backbone of fundraisers’ prospecting work, but more importantly, how can we build a culture of giving without identifiable role models?

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