In the past, making an anonymous contribution to charity was the norm, according to writers, Erick Konigsberg and Ben Ryder. Many one-per centers in their day, like John D. Rockefeller, contributed large amounts of cash to colleges and other public institutions with no fanfare. Andrew Carnegie was an exception. He endowed so many libraries that bear his name, Mark Twain felt compelled to write “[he] bought his fame and paid cash for it.” (“The Name Game, by Eric Konigsberg & Ben Ryder How, Town&Country, April 16, 2016, pg. 171.)
Modesty may have been the reason Rockefeller kept his gift giving to himself, but it’s equally plausible he wanted to avoid being overwhelmed with appeals. As it was, he received approximately 500 request each day. (Ibid, pg. 72)
Fast forward to the 21st Century and charitable giving has a new face. Recognition is the name of the game. One member of the super rich, Joan Weil, failed to convince a small college to change its name to hers, so she took her money and went home in a huff. (Ibid pg. 171.) She’s not alone in her vanity. But vanity isn’t the only one reason why attitudes about charity have changed. The new thought is that public donations encourage others to do the same and shames those who hang back. Bill Gates is an example of a donor who uses transparency to recruit his fellow billionaires to contribute to his foundation.
Narcissism aside, (Blogs 10/23/12, 9/10/14), philanthropic behavior affects how a society deals with its social needs. Whether those decisions should be influenced by billionaires, as they are today, or whether that money should be taxed by the government to await the public’s decision, is a question (Blog 4/27/12). After a period of study, we may find that charitable work arising from gifts of the super rich have a negative impact on some institutions — the way Bill Gates’ support for alternative schools has affected public education. Or, it may be that their presence has little impact and hearing no applause, the rich lose interest.