“The purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous.” — Jay Z
I had the wonderful opportunity recently to speak on Future of Philanthropy at a session hosted jointly by Philanthropic Foundations Canada and The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative. The room was packed with activists, philanthropists, executives, artists, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Among many things, we explored how demographic shifts, technological shifts, cultural shifts, and economic shifts are recasting philanthropy as we know it.
One of the conversations that struck me most as we looked into the various shifts was on ‘power and privilege.’ We asked ourselves:
- Where does power in philanthropy lie today? Why is that?
- What does sharing power look like?
- Do communities really benefit from grandstanding and immortalizing people of wealth and class?
- Is philanthropy for everyone or the few?
- Is some philanthropy favoured more than other philanthropy? Why?
- What narrative are we passing on to our children and grandchildren about power, philanthropy and who got to influence social change?
These and other compelling questions led me to reflect on the role of anonymity in philanthropy. Anonymity in philanthropy is not new. But what if anonymity was the default?
Philanthropy can and should be for everyone. It can be a more empowered involvement for all but it isn’t. Some types of philanthropy are favoured more than others. Financial gifts are favoured more than time. The people who give more financially get grandstanded and idolized. So, power is concentrated among and gravitates toward those who give/disburse large amounts of financial capital.
This is the marketplace for immortality.
Thank goodness for major gifts, right? In Canada, no city becomes a major centre of the arts, medicine or education without people of wealth and class getting grandstanded and giving away money, often to institutions and buildings that bear their name (or put it on a plaque, doorway or wing). Can you imagine Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton or Winnipeg without the Weston, Slaight, Desmarais, Azrieli, Katz or Asper families?
Back to my provocation then. What if all giving were anonymous by default? What would that do to power? Would it empower more people from all walks of life to give, and give more? Would anonymity by default level the playing field around influence? And can anonymity contribute positively to the future of inclusion and reconciliation during a time when public/civic spaces and institutions are named after people with wealth, class and privilege?
So, where has anonymous giving served us well?
One area that comes to mind is blood donations. In the early days of blood services, we weren’t comfortable with anonymous donating and receiving blood. After all, the world was divided along class, wealth, religious and socio-economic lines. We struggled with this in blood services for about a hundred years — not knowing if the blood we were receiving was from someone in the same caste or religion or socio-economic status.
However, there are a lot of good reasons the movement turned anonymous. Today, if you are a donor, you cannot ask blood services to only direct your blood to certain kinds of individuals. And vice versa if you are receiving blood. There is no high-touch red carpet hosting if a “regular” donor walks in instead of a “episodic” donor. You may have made 250 donations, but you don’t get to influence operational strategy of blood banks or weigh in as an expert on transfusion medicine. There are no power and privilege plays.
In Canada today, people from diverse backgrounds, walks of life, and post codes donate and receive blood. Everybody is empowered by their contribution no matter how much or how frequent they give. There aren’t just a handful of families who are publicly grandstanded because they saved more lives than everybody else this year. In many ways, anonymity has helped to widen the circle of giving and receiving — and everybody has benefitted.
On the journey toward a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable future, anonymous philanthropy can make a game-changing contribution by helping to #ShiftThePower.
source : medium