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Does public gift recognition shame those who don’t give?

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Does public gift recognition shame those who don’t give?

Our 501(c)(3) high school booster organization asks parents every year to donate money to pay for computers, books, field trips, clubs, and other things that the local school board doesn’t provide.  Recently, our board voted to publicly thank donors in a weekly email that will be sent to all 250 families. Several members felt that acknowledging the contributing families would be good publicity and encourage more parents to contribute. I voted strongly against it because I believe that publishing donor's names to the entire group is offensive and unfair to the families who haven't gotten around to contributing, or don't have the financial means to donate. It's a form of shaming, to get parents to contribute. Is there a legal precedent or privacy concern that would restrict the publishing of donor names?

It is certainly not unusual for a charity to make public a list of its donors, often broken down in categories reflecting the size of the gift.  You see it all the time with colleges, hospitals, arts groups, and others.  But it most frequently occurs in an annual report of some kind, not in a weekly bulletin. 

I am not aware of any law that requires privacy.  But you can mitigate the risk of shame or annoyance by giving advance notice that you intend to recognize all gifts publicly, doing it only once a year, listing all donors in a single list (whether they give $5 or $600), and asking them how they want to be listed (i.e. Mr. & Mrs., Sarah and John, Bill Jones and Dr. Susan Smith, anonymous, etc.). 

Some organizations don’t publicize their donors because they think that anonymous giving is the highest form of charity.  But I think you are probably fighting an uphill fight to prevent the publicity.  It would be interesting what others have done about the risk of shaming.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


I agree with Don. Once a week is really pretty ridiculous, however once a year makes sense. Also, the issue of the proper way to thank someone is important. My Mother was a widow and she was frequently acknowledged as Dr. and Mrs. Renate Dohrn. She was the Dr. and there was no Mrs. It drove her nuts. Thanking people publicly can be either seen as donor stewardship or public shaming for those who didn't give. I vastly prefer to think of it as public recognition.

I think the solution here is to add a line at the end of the donor list that states something like "And a special thanks to all of our donors who chose to contribute anonymously". That way, nobody really knows who did or did not give.

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