Dear Fundraising Expert,

My organization was fortunate enough to receive a generous six-figure donation. This is a big deal for our nonprofit and I would like to publicize it – to demonstrate the vitality of the organization and possibly to spur others to give at a similar level – but can’t see how because the donor has requested total anonymity. Can you share any advice for recognition and promoting an anonymous gift?

Stumped Executive Director
Pittsburgh, Pa.


Dear Director:

All charitable gifts should be celebrated, but perhaps none more so than anonymous donations. It takes a special kind of donor to make a major gift and forgo public recognition of any kind. Most are acting on the purest of motivations. Others may have, at least partially, been motivated by a certain degree of self-interest.

Highlighting a big gift practically ensures that the donor will be approached with many other requests. Giving anonymously represents a way to support a cause that is dear to a donor without opening oneself up for publicity or scrutiny. It guarantees that the gift is simply about supporting the organization and not about bringing attention to the donor. Donors should give in ways that make them most comfortable and nonprofit leaders should encourage and accommodate them. For some, it makes sense to publicize generosity while for others acting anonymously is the way to go.

Donor recognition represents a major aspect of the fundraising process. This explains why some nonprofits simply don’t know how to react when donor recognition is taken out of the equation. It must be said that an anonymous gifts means just that: The donor’s name can’t be mentioned in any public setting. In fact, an anonymous gift usually dictates that the donor’s identity be revealed only to those within the organization who absolutely need to know. However, in all appropriate donor recognition forms, your nonprofit should list the anonymous gift. If your organization received four, six figure anonymous gifts, it should list “anonymous” four times in all donor recognition literature.

How to publicize an anonymous gift is a trickier question than how to recognize it. To be sure, you can’t fire off a press release announcing the gift and expect a local news outlet to turn out a profile of an anonymous donor. But, if the gift is large enough, you could write a press release mentioning the gift, and pitching a story about how a particular program will benefit from the generosity. You didn’t mention your particular nonprofit – I assume because you wished to remain anonymous – but you could suggest a feature about one or two individuals who will benefit directly or indirectly from the gift. The media, print or digital, loves human interest stories. Ultimately, you want to steer the public conversation toward your organization’s missions and the issues it is working to address or the community it serves. Bringing attention to a wealthy donor is one way to do it; focusing attention on those in need of assistance is another, perhaps more effective approach.

Within your own community of stakeholders, your organization should be doing all it can to promote this donation. I am talking about your regular mailings, social media posts and website content. You want all your supporters and potential supporters to know that an individual, family or foundation expressed the highest degree of confidence in your organization. In your communications, you should reference the altruistic spirit of the gift, and urge supporters to give in their own way, in a way that is most meaningful to them.

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