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“Anonymous Altruism”

Dear Rabbi,

I recently gave money to a non-profit organization. I don’t need any recognition or honor, so when I heard that they publicly post the names of their donors, I asked that my name be omitted. When I suggested this, the Director of Development told me that having my name posted would likely result in other people giving that would not do so otherwise. What do you suggest?

Sincerely ,

Anonymous


 

Dear Anonymous, Our organization welcomes all donations; anonymous or not. (You asked for my suggestion!) Halachah suggests as follows: Maimonides states that to give charity anonymously is, in theory, a more wholesome mitzvah, as the donor is neither motivated by, nor receives, honor, recognition, or reciprocity. This form of giving charity is listed as the third highest level of fulfilling the mitzvah of Tzedakah. It is often true, however, that a specific person’s donation will serve as a source of motivation for others to donate. If that is indeed the case, then the donor should allow the institution to publicize his donation, even if it will mitigate the purity and loftiness of his mitzvah. The whole point of charity is to be selfless and giving in a caring and sensitive way. Therefore, if your donation will encourage others if they know you gave, then better to selflessly forgo a more “lofty fulfillment” in order to benefit others. In fact, inspiring others to give is also a form of charity. Our Sages have taught that the reward for inspiring and encouraging others to give charity is greater than the reward for actually giving charity. Sometimes, however, by advertising a donor’s name, it will cause undue difficulty, such as new appeals from charities that are beyond the donor’s means or interests. If this is your concern, you need not allow your name to be published.

All the best,

Shlomo

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Agudath Israel of Illinois.

 

Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, formerly Associate Rosh Kollel for the St. Louis Kollel, is currently Agudath Israel of Illinois’ director of government affairs and resides with his family in Chicago.

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