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Anonymous large donations: How NGOs and foundations deal with them

Are clubs allowed to accept large anonymous donations? What NGOs and foundations have to consider if they are suddenly given large sums of money.

One can still dream of the big, the really big donations. But when they actually arrive, NGOs are often overwhelmed by it. Let's play through the scenario: An anonymous large donation reaches the organization. One is happy, happy and would like to say thank you. But this is not that easy.

Where does the money come from?

It happened again in August 2019. The "Braunschweiger Zeitung" received an anonymous donation of 100,000 euros in an envelope with the purpose of the donation: Hospice Am Hohen Tore in Braunschweig. Why the donor wants to remain anonymous remains in the dark. Also whether it is the same person who drew attention to himself between 2014 and 2016 with a real series of donations and took the newspaper's reporting into account when selecting the project. "We all can't get the big smile off our faces," says the director of the hospice, Petra Gottsand, of the newspaper. The institution that accompanies people on their last journey in life has never received such a large donation. “That’s crazy.” But is everything going with the right things? Where does the money come from?

Not forbidden for foundations and associations!

Reinhard Greulich, fundraiser at the Foundation for the Preservation of Church Monuments, knows that. He hardly dared to believe his eyes when he opened a letter with newspaper letters stuck on it a few years ago. No, not a ransom demand, but an anonymous donation of over 10,000 euros. But there is no reason not to accept such a donation. That’s allowed. According to the Political Parties Act, only political parties are not allowed to accept anonymous donations over 500 euros.

Willing to donate unknown

Nevertheless, these donations mean stress for organizations. "Donations of this magnitude usually come about as a result of intensive contact with the fundraiser," says Greulich. Then the person is known, the donor's will is clear and the organization knows what the money should be used for and who should be thanked. A decision without a donor will, however, be difficult. In theory, the money could also help finance the fundraiser. But is that really wanted? Greulich accepts the donation decision: "I will not investigate any further, but will respect the anonymity chosen."

Publicly thank anonymous large donations

He approached the thanks to the anonymous patron pragmatically. He thanked publicly, without specifying the amount, on the website and in a publication by the organization. Other organizations go even further and place a thank you advertisement in the regional press. The issue of donations is also fraught with problems, especially for people who do not hang on to their wealth by the big bell. After all, how does that get across to friends when it suddenly becomes known that you can donate large sums of money? The fear of overwhelming the personal environment with a public donation is not insignificant here, as a founder reports in trust. This is also confirmed by a 2014 study by Nichola Raihani, evolutionary biologist at University College London. Although this relates to online donations, it makes it clear that especially the large donors do not deviate from the social norm and therefore prefer to remain anonymous.

Avoid anonymous donation requests

This desire for anonymity is from the point of view of Major donors nothing unusual. The most common reason is that donors are confronted with large amounts of new donation requests. The anonymity offers a protection. In addition, these donors are apparently researching exactly where they are putting their money. A good brand, press work and of course an informative website with projects for major donors could meet these people's wishes. The German Red Cross has raised the issue anonymous donations Even a donation form has already been set up on the website, but it is limited to 200 euros, because under German law a donation receipt without a donation receipt is also possible. At least this is how the topic can be found.

Trusting relationship with the donor

So should associations and foundations make it easier to donate anonymously? This is actually practically impossible, because the sender's data is included with all transfer channels, except for the anonymous cash donation. A trusting relationship between fundraisers and donors can lead to success here if anonymity is desired and maintained on the part of the donor. So got that Bern Art MuseumAfter it became known that the Gurlitt-Bilder-inheritance was going to take place, an anonymous donation of at least one million francs for a research center to process the art that was partially stolen. The donor is a friend of the house who has already supported the museum on other occasions, said Christoph Schäublin, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Kunstmuseum Bern in an interview with the “Schweizer Tages-Anzeiger” at the time. Clearly a trusting and sustainable relationship with the donor.

Text: Matthias Daberstiel, Photo: Sally Jermain / pixabay


There are more practical tips and ideas about donations for clubs, organizations and foundations in the printed booklet. The fundraiser magazine is not available at the kiosk, only exclusively from the publisher. You can order here.