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Increasingly, advisors are discussing charitable giving with clients. More than ever before, they initiate the conversation because they realize that it is helpful for the clients and for the relationship. With the proliferation of donor-advised funds, other options new and old, and with the input of their advisors, clients realize that there are many ways that they can more efficiently and effectively accomplish their charitable goals.

One of the key questions that advisors should ask clients is whether they want to be public with their giving or if they always or occasionally prefer to donate anonymously. Knowing this information can help the advisors recommend how the donors should give since there are few options other than a DAF that can assure the donors’ anonymity. Interestingly, most DAF sponsors report that fewer than 5% of their donors’ grant recommendations are anonymous.

Nearly all charities would prefer to know the identity of their donors so they can properly thank them, but they should understand the reasons behind their anonymous donors’ decisions. In general, the anonymous donors don’t want to draw attention to themselves, while public donors want to be thanked and are happy to use their name and stature to encourage others to provide support.

Some clients may be unsure about how to donate and would welcome the input of their advisors. Here are some of the reasons they may wish to consider:

Why Donors Give Publicly

  1. To openly demonstrate support for a cause and charity they believe in
  2. To encourage others to give to the particular charity
  3. To enable charities to demonstrate that they have many donors who are willing to be visible in their support, and that some are well-known in the community
  4. To indicate to other donors that they have vetted and have confidence in the charity
  5. To enable charities to more easily get additional donations as part of a matching challenge or a paddle-raise at an event
  6. To lead by example and demonstrate to other friends, family members and colleagues that they, too, should be generous donors to their favorite charities
  7. To help their children and heirs understand that philanthropy is important to the family, and that some of the family assets will be given to charity during lifetime and at death (and not all to them!)
  8. To allow them to demonstrate appreciation for the charity’s efforts to help others, and perhaps even themselves.
  9.  To enable the donors to establish a relationship with the charity and perhaps with other like-minded donors, and to receive invitations to events they may not have been able to attend had they given anonymously
  10. To ultimately determine that giving publicly has benefits to the charity and perhaps themselves, even after they had initially donated anonymously.
  11. To be thanked and appreciated by the charity, other supporters and beneficiaries of the charity’s work, and to receive recognition for the generous contribution
  12. To help create their own charitable legacy

Why Donors Give Anonymously

  1. So the charity they support does not solicit them for additional or larger donations
  2. So other charities, especially those that do similar work, will not solicit them for donations
  3. So fellow volunteers or board members don’t figure out that the donor is very wealthy
  4. So fellow staff members don’t realize that their colleague is very wealthy. Some work in the sector because they can afford to and they enjoy it, but fear that relationships will change if others ascertain their wealth.
  5. So they do not have security fears, that a large public donation could make them or their loved ones targets
  6. So they can give outside of their stated mission of their private foundation or DAF
  7. So family members, friends, colleagues or neighbors will not become aware of their wealth
  8. So large public donations do not alter personal or professional relationships
  9. So donations to controversial organizations or those not widely endorsed by their community do not affect others’ perceptions of them
  10. So charities do not become aware that the donor’s assets are managed by a very high-end institution that may provide an indication that the donor has more assets and can donate more. This may occur when a donor makes a grant from their DAF sponsor that includes the name of their wealth management firm.

The decision to give publicly or anonymously should not be made lightly. While most donors and charities prefer public giving, there are times and situations in which anonymous donations are prudent. Some donors are always public or always anonymous, while others just give occasional anonymous gifts. Others even give a small amount publicly to a charity and give a larger amount anonymously to the same charity.

By discussing the various options, advisors are able to help their clients think through the best ways in which they can have the most impact while still addressing any concerns about giving. In the end, the donors, charities and advisors all benefit from the conversation.


Ken Nopar is the senior philanthropic advisor for the American Endowment Foundation, the country’s leading independent donor-advised fund since 1993 with over $2.9 billion in assets. AEF works with donors and their wealth, legal and tax advisors in all 50 states.