To Give or Not to Give

Every day, we read about famous Americans supporting nonprofit organizations, [whether it’s] Warren Buffett, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, [the] Lilly Endowment, the Walton Family Foundation or the Ford Foundation. [Many wealthy] and middle-class Americans [alike] give because it is the right thing to do, and they do not need recognition because philanthropy is an expression of personal and family values.

The New York Times recently reported about how many buildings in New York [City] have their donors’ names on them. There are many reasons donors want their name on a building, including getting proper recognition for being a philanthropist and inspiring others to contribute to causes you believe will make a difference. On the other side, there are many reasons to give anonymously, such as being able to give credit to those performing the services rather than those providing funding, [as well as] ensuring you won’t be overwhelmed by other [organizations] chasing you for money and [exposing] your [potentially] deep pockets if you […] get involved in [any] litigation.

Judeo-Christian [beliefs] caution us against self-promotion, which would tend to support anonymous giving. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches that “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets” [and] “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret.” The Jewish sage Maimonides wrote, “It is best that the giver and receiver not know each other’s identities—in this way, the poor person’s dignity is preserved.”

I was recently moved when I saw on national TV a story about “The Kalamazoo Promise,” [a] scholarship program started in 2005 for all graduates of Kalamazoo, Mich., public schools. It is funded by anonymous donors who pay up to 100% of tuition […] to Michigan’s colleges and universities. [As a result] of [this] program […], the school district has grown by 16%, which helps the economy of the city; test scores have improved; and a greater proportion of high-school graduates are attending college. […] There are now over 20 [similar] scholarship programs around this great country. […]

What are the real reasons we give […] our time and money? Helping others who are struggling is an act of compassion that most Americans are taught as we grow up. Community service is not political, and it is not mandated by the state; [i]t is something that comes from deep within our core values. A true definition of this can be seen with the Society of Secret Santas, who give away $100 bills of their own money to the needy to help reinforce the self-worth and image of those they help, as well as [to] show unconditional love to those who feel society has stopped caring about them. We do not know who these Secret Santas are—[t]hey give in anonymity, they [lead] by example, and they [share] their wealth in a humble, selfless way. They show compassion through random acts of kindness, tapping into the human spirit by giving the recipient hope and belief.

“Promise” organizations, the Secret Santas and […] other anonymous givers set the stage to teach our kids about the selflessness of being kind. Whether it is cleaning out your closet to help a charitable organization, spending time to help the elderly, or volunteering to help a neighbor do yard work or shovel snow, the examples we […] set today […] will influence how the next generation views their obligations to others. […]

All of us want our children to be smart, funny and athletic, but much of those traits depend on the child’s genetic makeup. Being kind, though, is an entirely learned behavior that is influenced by how the kid’s parents and mentors react to different situations. Setting an example of how to be kind to others, whether you shout your generosity from the highest building or you give to others anonymously, may be the best lesson we pass on to those who will eventually take our place.

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