Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Giving anonymously, through an intermediary

I recently blogged about a service set up to enable people to give (relatively) small gifts anonymously, Giving anonymously, for a fee .

Larger gifts, e.g. to university endowments, are also often given anonymously. But "anonymous" is a relative term, and often someone at the gift-receiving institution knows who the donor is. (Here at Harvard, my HBS office is in a building called Baker Library, whose southern side now sports a new wing called Bloomberg. It was anonymous for a while; all we knew was that the donor wished his identity to remain unknown until he had completed his election for a second term as mayor of New York.)

Now a number of gifts to universities have been made behind a deeper than usual veil of anonymity: Mystery donors give over $45M to 9 universities.

"A mystery is unfolding in the world of college fundraising: During the past few weeks, at least nine universities have received gifts totaling more than $45 million, and the schools had to promise not to try to find out the giver's identity.
One school went so far as to check with the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security just to make sure a $1.5 million gift didn't come from illegal sources.
"In my last 28 years in fundraising ... this is the first time I've dealt with a gift that the institution didn't know who the donor is," said Phillip D. Adams, vice president for university advancement at Norfolk State University, which received $3.5 million.
The gifts ranged from $8 million at Purdue to $1.5 million donated to the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The University of Iowa received $7 million; the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Maryland University College got $6 million each; the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was given $5.5 million; and Penn State-Harrisburg received $3 million.
It's not clear whether the gifts came from an individual, an organization or a group of people with similar interests. In every case, the donor or donors dealt with the universities through lawyers or other middlemen. Some of the money came in cashier's checks, while other schools received checks from a law firm or another representative.
All the schools had to agree not to investigate the identity of the giver. Some were required to make such a promise in writing."

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