Photo: Black Salmon (Shutterstock)
If you’ve ever donated to a good cause online, you undoubtedly know the final step – the potentially frightening decision of making your donation public or keeping it anonymous. When you’re like me, all kinds of conflicting thoughts come in.
Is this amount enough? What if it’s too much am I going to look flashy? I want everyone to know that I am connected to this thing? If I donate publicly, should I post it on Facebook to get more donations? I don’t want anyone to think I’m more sacred than you, though. But if I were to promote this, more people would donate – what’s the goal, right?
Money is burdened. We want it, but we don’t want to be a presumptuous idiot. We often worry about what others might think when we donate, and rightly so. As this BBC article shows that overly friendly and moral people are subject to the “do-gooders exception”; their seemingly altruistic behavior being harshly judged as ulterior motives designed to strengthen their reputation. However, evolutionary psychologists have found that reputation is “positional,” meaning when one person rises, others fall. In this competitive environment, those who do not donate feel threatened by public display of altruism, as if they are automatically diminishing their own status in society.
So when should we donate publicly – and when not?
When to donate anonymously
In addition to avoiding exemptions for do-gooders, there are other reasons why you might not want to advertise your donation.
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When something is controversial, it might be best to keep your support calm. This may be for personal safety reasons, so as not to offend people close to you, or because you don’t want neighboring causes to come to you.
So as not to be perceived as rich
Given our culture’s obsession with money and status, you may not want to intuitively show that you have money to spare. It could lead people to mistake you for being more wealthy than you are, leading them to expect a continued – or greater – financial contribution from you in the future. (Or calling yourself “wallet”, which is also annoying.)
Promoting your donation can also cause a sudden spike in fundraising requests from similar organizations – especially if you made a sizeable one-time donation due to an inheritance or a monetary gain that will not happen anytime soon. (This can happen anyway, as post-in donations can also lead to a surge in donation requests sent directly to your inbox.)
To protect your privacy
Perhaps you just don’t want anyone to know or guess your financial situation. This is especially true of ex-spouses or estranged family members who may have a tendency to google your name to collect data that you can use in a future dispute against you. Also, if you get into an accident or legal dispute that requires you to pay damages, it is better if the injured party’s lawyers do not have access to your financial donation history.
To avoid offending family members
If you’ve ever had a GoFundMe in your family, you know the dilemma public giving can be. If you had more in mind than your parents, cousins, and siblings donated, you may not want to “upgrade” them by donating more. (Does this undermine the real spirit of the fundraiser? Yes. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real concern or a long-term perception calculation.)
When to donate publicly
In many cases, there is a compelling argument in favor of publicizing your donations. It may be necessary to prioritize the cause itself over people’s perception – arguably the most altruistic approach. Could it be accompanied by a jealous sidelong glance, suspicion, and silent dismay? It could. But there are still some reasons why it is better to go this route.
To inspire others
Making your donation public can be a form of positive peer pressure that makes it more likely that people who look up to you will imitate your good deed. Sharing your philanthropy without fear of “do-gooders” or congratulating yourself can encourage others in your network or community to do the same, increasing the total amount donated – be it to your charity or other.
In any case, I appreciate it when friends talk about the causes they support on social media. It tears me out of a largely confident cocoon and reminds me to consider the needs of people that I don’t normally think about in my everyday life.
To draw attention to something that is close to your heart
You may prefer to do most of your charitable giving in private and not let anyone know of your good deed. Except for one thing that trumps all other causes for personal reasons. Perhaps a loved one died of dementia and you are passionate about funding Alzheimer’s prevention research. Perhaps you were or have taken in a foster child and you will be screaming from the rooftops so that the children in the Kinderhilfe get the right Christmas presents. If you are well known in your company or community, your name can always raise more and more money for your cause.
To find new causes without doing all the leg work
If you are able to donate more than you have seen in years past, you may be looking for more meaningful organizations to contribute to. The public recognition of a donation is an efficient way of drawing attention to other causes as a potential donor. If they are sufficiently visible, they will come to you and minimize the research effort required for you.