In certain communities in the U.S., it is traditional to celebrate May Day by making an anonymous gift to a friend or neighbor. On the first day of May, people make baskets full of food or other small gifts, leave them on someone’s doorstep, knock, and run away. The recipient is surprised and happy with the gift, and the giver gets the pleasure of giving and receiving only joy and satisfaction in return.

Similarly, in major gift fundraising, some donors wish to be publicly honored and thanked, while others want little to no recognition; some major gifts are even given anonymously, like a May Day basket. What drives some donors to wish to make anonymous contributions?

Some anonymous gifts are made for religious reasons, as many traditions celebrate the humility of giving and expecting nothing in return. Some are the result of intrinsic altruism. Others are anonymous for less idealistic reasons, such as wishing to reduce solicitations by other nonprofit organizations.

The plethora of reasons why someone may choose to give anonymously—or not—are evidence of a key fundraising truth: Donors give for their own reasons, and those reasons are not always obvious.

As development professionals, we are responsible for learning what motivates meaningful philanthropy in order to create a positive giving experience that benefits both organization and donor. And regardless of whether the contribution is private or public, we must manage and steward it in a way that is consistent with the expectations and preferences of each individual donor.

1. Consider Personality Profile

Using the PDP personality profile assessment tool, we can gain valuable insight into donors’ communication preferences. In your experience, which personality profiles have been most likely to make anonymous contributions? Which are more likely to enjoy recognition?

2. Consider Age

Cultural trends based on when people grew up can have a major impact on philanthropy. For example, Generation Xers and Millennials are highly likely to give for their own reasons and in their own ways. Each generation has its own preferences that should be considered and can help us anticipate the wants and needs of different donors.

3. Consider Personal Story

Most significant to understanding donor preferences is their personal story. Donors’ personal stories help determine their philanthropic passions, their motivations, and whether their goals and objectives align with organizational priorities. Skilled development professionals use active listening to uncover underlying motivations and enable the most meaningful contributions.


How does your organization respond to anonymous giving? Share your thoughts by starting a conversation on social media.