Takeaways for Fundraisers on Donor Privacy

Philanthropy Roundtable Senior Director of Policy and Government Affairs Elizabeth McGuigan recently sat down with Bill Stanczykiewicz, director of The Fund Raising School at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, to discuss the importance of donor privacy. Their conversation, featured on the “First Day Podcast” from The Fund Raising School, centered around the Roundtable’s recently released report entitled “Unheralded Generosity: A 50-State Look at Anonymous Giving,” which highlights 50 case studies – one for each state — that demonstrate why anonymous giving helps improve lives. McGuigan told Stanczykiewicz there are a variety of valid reasons donors might desire privacy.

“This report illustrates the many diverse reasons that a donor may wish to remain private, including religious or moral traditions, or to avoid unwanted solicitations or … to avoid taking attention away from the charity themselves,” she said. “Some donors want to remain anonymous because they’re concerned about the potential to be targeted with threats or retaliation for giving to causes that may be controversial now or may actually become controversial later.”

McGuigan went on to explain that the constitutionally-protected right to give anonymously is crucial to the fabric of American society – and recent efforts to force donor disclosure on the state and federal levels could chill charitable giving and hurt those in need.

“We’re concerned that forcing disclosure against the wishes of donors will lead to less giving and will undermine the ability of organizations to fulfill their missions,” she said. “Private gifts support really varied causes and communities throughout the country. When you take away the right to privacy, you’re going to inevitably lose some of the support.”

The stories highlighted in “Unheralded Generosity” include both high-profile cases and lesser-known gifts, but McGuigan said each example shows that donor privacy is crucial to fostering charitable giving. That lesson, she said, can be applied as fundraisers attending The Fund Raising School and elsewhere consider this research.  

“The most important takeaway from our study for fundraisers is really to ensure that donors know that they’re able to give privately and that, even more broadly, donor intent in general is respected. So with strong best practices and communications with donors, fundraiser may signal to donors … that they can give in the ways that matter to them,” she said. 

To listen to the full conversation about anonymous giving, please visit The Fund Raising School’s “First Day Podcast.” 

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