Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure Feature on Cultural Philanthropy Quotes Buff Kavelman on Donor Privacy Issues

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

From the section entitled “Donors: Why They Do It”

Privacy Matters: In the age of the selfie, and large, very public donations to cultural institutions, who are these strange people who give anonymously?

“Some people just have a joy in helping people,” said Buff Kavelman, the president of Kavelman Group Philanthropic Advisors. They have no need for recognition in the small print of a program or in embossed lettering on a museum wing.

Many of them may be channeling Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher and scholar who ranked anonymous giving as one of the higher levels of charity.

Such spiritual concerns do not motivate many people though. So far in 2015, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s calculations, nine of the top 100 gifts from donors in America have been anonymous, a ratio that has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade.

And sometimes a more mundane motive is at work: a desire to be left alone.

"There are just people out there who are very private about their giving,” said Julia C. Levy, executive director of the Roundabout Theater. “They’re just adverse to the notoriety that goes with giving publicly.”

Once word of a donation gets out within the cloistered and clubby nonprofit cultural world, a gold rush of sorts can ensue, as organizations try to mine the same source. “Because we all troll everybody else’s list,” Ms. Levy said with a laugh.

That feeling of being a charitable target, pursued by friends, or by people pretending to be friends, can be off-putting for some donors.

“Making an anonymous gift helps to prevent that, to a certain extent,” Ms. Kavelman said.

- By Lorne Manly

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