‘I Wish to Remain Anonymous’: Best Practices for Donor and Gift Anonymity

Aug 26, 2020

While most donors like to be recognized for their generosity, there are always a handful who prefer to remain anonymous – for a variety of reasons that really should make no difference to the fundraisers who work with them.  Whether it’s not wanting the public to know the size of their gift or not wanting to be publicly associated with a particular cause, or simply because they don’t want recipients of their generosity to feel uncomfortable, the main point is that the wishes of these donors must be respected.  Not only is this a basic tenet of fundraising ethics, but, practically, disregarding such wishes can seriously and negatively impact the donor’s overall relationship with the organization.

But how is best to go about this, effectively and appropriately, and while still properly stewarding and cultivating the relationship that led to the donor’s generosity, however anonymous, in the first place?

Anonymous Gifts Are Not the Same as Anonymous Donors

It’s likely and typical that fundraisers will know who the donors are that want their giving to remain anonymous.  In fact, it’s likely that they will have built strong relationships with those donors.The fundraisers will not only know who they are but what ‘makes them tick’ and engenders their support.  These donors are not anonymous – ie, we know who they are.  It’s their contributions, and their history of giving, that they want to keep private.

Strictly speaking, there’s really no such thing as an anonymous donor.  If a fundraiser truly does not know who a donor is, then that donor is unknown.  Unknown is not the same as anonymous.  Any gifts from truly unknown donors are anonymous by default, but an unknown donor cannot be cultivated or stewarded because we don’t actually know who they are.

Best Practices

Anonymous donors may want all their giving to be anonymous or they may indicate that only particular giving should remain anonymous.  This should certainly be recorded in the donor database, both at the donor level and at the gift/transaction level, if possible.

Regarding the database, certain donors may wish that their giving history be accessible only to key members of the organization; eg, those with whom they have the strongest relationships, or those who need to know for reasons of compliance (eg, largest donors may be required to be reported on IRS Form 990).  With that in mind, organizations may need to deploy database permissions that grant access to anonymous gifts, or to donors who make anonymous gifts, to a smaller subset of database users.

Regardless of anonymity, all gifts from such donors should be promptly acknowledged, no different from any other donor.  For donors who wish their gifts to be anonymous, it’s best to have an acknowledgment letter template that reflects and confirms their wishes for anonymity.  A simple sentence such as this should suffice:

‘[XXXX Organization] confirms that you wish this gift to remain anonymous, and we will gratefully abide by your wishes.’

Stewardship plans for such donors should be personalized, and should continue the theme of assurance that their gifts will remain anonymous.

Pertaining to stewardship reporting – eg, for an annual report or other publication that lists donors – some donors of anonymous gifts will not want any mention of their gift whatsoever, while others will find acceptable replacing their name with the word ‘Anonymous’ under the appropriate donor category.  Be sure to determine which approach each donor prefers, and be sure to mark that appropriately in your database so that it can be invoked when running donor listings and other stewardship reports.

Support Your Donor to Support Your Mission

As mentioned above, there can be a variety of reasons, some logical, some personal, why donors wish their giving to be anonymous.  Fundraising organizations should be committed to supporting the wishes of such donors, also for a variety of reasons – but the most practical are also the most compelling – it’s the right thing to do to support the donor, and it’s the right thing to do to help ensure that the donor continues to support your mission.

Stu Manewith, CFRE
Stu Manewith, CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.