I have long held that philanthropy in the West is imbued with a healthy dose of self-interest and lot of self-aggrandizement.
The tax code favors huge donations and worthy institutions cater to your every whim if they sense that they can peel away some of your moolah.
There was an entire wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York honoring a family that became infamous for its role in creating the opioid crisis.
So, you have more money than you can spend in several lifetimes, and you donate a chunk of it to have something named after you – a building, a wing of a museum, a university department or whatever.
It is easy to be cynical.
But the picture is complicated. And I am not that dogmatic anymore.
I was talking to the chief fundraiser of a major non-profit institution. She had just snagged a large donation from a well-known heiress and was telling me how public spirited she – the heiress – was. I caustically remarked that the PR the heiress was getting would undoubtedly help the company whose shares comprised a large part of her net worth.
My companion shushed me right away. She said that I was dead wrong and could not possibly be more wrong. The heiress wanted to make an anonymous contribution. She was so set on this that my friend had to make several trips to her house and appeal to the family members of the heiress to persuade her to attach her name to the generous bequest.
“Why did you do that?”, I asked, both puzzled and surprised.
“Because she is a thought leader,” the fundraiser said simply. “People know her and respect her. And if they know that she supports us, they also step up. In fact, I have a meeting tomorrow with a potential donor who agreed to meet simply because she – the heiress – was involved with us.”
Human beings are complex creatures. We want to do good in the world. We also want to matter and be seen to matter. We want fame and recognition and for people to laugh heartily at our jokes.
And all of these motives intermingle in everything we do including our charitable endeavors.
You are the only one who knows. Others will surmise and whisper and tell stories but only you know.
So, when you make a Just Giving contribution, do you list your name, or do you remain anonymous? If you list your name, are you virtue-signaling or hoping others you know will follow your lead?
Think on these things and try to move in the direction where your actions are simply an attempt to make the world a better place as you see it and your ego is just not part of the picture.