If you’ve ever donated to a good cause online, you’re no doubt familiar with the last step—the potentially anxiety-inducing decision of whether to make your donation public, or keep it anonymous. If you’re anything like me, all kinds of conflicting thoughts rush in.
Is this amount enough? What if it’s too much, will I look showy? Do I want everyone to know I’m affiliated with this cause? If I donate publicly, should I go whole hog and post it on Facebook to get more donations? I don’t want anyone to think I’m holier-than-thou, though. But, if I promote the cause more people would donate—which is the goal, right?
Money is fraught. We want to have it, but we don’t want to be a pretentious jerk about it. We often worry what others might think when we donate, and rightly so. As this BBC article shows, overly kind and moral people are subject to “do-gooder derogation;” whereby their seemingly altruistic behavior is harshly judged as having ulterior motives designed to boost their reputation. Evolutionary psychologists have found that reputation is “positional,” however, meaning if one person rises, others fall. In this competitive environment, those who don’t donate feel threatened by public displays of altruism, as if they automatically diminish their own status in society.
So when should we donate publicly—and when shouldn’t we?
When to donate anonymously
In addition to avoiding do-gooder derogation, there are other reasons you may not want to advertise your donation.
If a cause is controversial, it may be best to keep your support quiet. This could be for reasons of personal safety, so as not to offend people you’re close to, or because you don’t want adjacent causes to approach you down the road.
To avoid being perceived as rich
Perhaps counterintuitively, given our culture’s obsession with money and status, you may not want to broadcast you’ve got cash to spare. It could lead people to inaccurately perceiving you as wealthier than you are, and cause them to expect continued—or greater—financial contribution from you in the future. (Or calling you “Moneybags,” which is also annoying.)
Advertising your donation also could lead to a sudden increase in donation requests from similar organizations—especially if you made a sizable one-time donation due to an inheritance or cash windfall that won’t be happening again anytime soon. (This may happen anyway, though, as mail-in donations can also cause an uptick in donation requests delivered straight to your mailbox.)
To protect your privacy
Perhaps you simply don’t want anyone to know—or make assumptions about— your financial situation. This is especially true for ex-spouses or estranged family members who may be prone to Googling your name in an effort to collect data to use against you in a future dispute. Likewise, if you become embroiled in an accident or legal dispute requiring you to pay damages, it’s better if lawyers for the aggrieved party don’t have access to your financial donation history.
To avoid offending family members
If you’ve ever had a GoFundMe circulate among your family, you understand the dilemma public donating can pose. If you had an amount in mind that’s higher than your parents, cousins, and siblings donated, you may not want to “upstage” them by contributing more. (Does this undermine the true spirit of the fundraiser? Yes. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real concern and long-term perception calculation to consider.)
When to Donate Publicly
In many cases, there’s a compelling argument for making your donations known. It may require prioritizing the cause itself over how people might perceive us—arguably the most altruistic approach. Could it come with some jealous side-eye, suspicion, and silent consternation? It could. But there are still some reasons why it’s better to go that route.
To inspire others to give
Publicizing your donation can be a form of positive peer pressure, making it more likely that people who look up to you will emulate your good deed. Sharing your philanthropy without fear of “do-gooder” recrimination or appearing self-congratulatory can encourage others in your network or community to do the same, thus increasing the total dollar amount contributed—whether to your charity or others.
I, for one, appreciate when friends talk about the causes they support on social media. It jolts me out of a largely self-focused cocoon and serves as a reminder to consider the needs of people I don’t ordinarily think about in my day-to-day.
To raise awareness for a cause near to your heart
Perhaps you prefer to do most of your charitable giving in silence, never letting anyone know of your good deed. Except for that one thing that trumps all other causes for personal reasons. Perhaps a loved one died of dementia, and you feel passionate about funding Alzheimer’s prevention research. Maybe you were, or have taken in, a foster child, and will shout from the rooftops to make sure kids in the child welfare system get proper Christmas presents. If you enjoy a high-profile in your business or community, your name can attract ever more funds to the cause.
To find new causes without doing all the legwork
If you find yourself in a position to donate more than you could in years past, you may be looking to find more worthwhile organizations to which you can contribute. Public acknowledgement of a donation is an efficient way to bring yourself to the attention of other causes as a potential donor. With enough visibility, they’ll approach you, minimizing the amount of research necessary on your end.