Some of philanthropy's greatest heroes have secret identities. In an age when every seat at the local arts center seems to have a patron's name mounted on it, it may come as a surprise that some people may not want to be recognized for their giving. While it is difficult to know the precise scale of anonymous giving, Leslie Lenkowsky, professor at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, believes that about 1% of all donations in the U.S. are made anonymously. The most significant secret giver to come to light in recent years is Charles Feeney, a duty-free-shopping mogul who gave away more than $2 billion to educational and human-rights causes over almost two decades--all of it anonymously. "He's not a person who goes to glitzy events," says John Healy, CEO of Feeney's foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. "He would abhor the idea of his name being attached to a building."
Donors choose to remain unnamed for two main reasons, says Stacy Palmer, editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy: privacy and security. She adds that "these are also people who regard it as the most pure form of giving." Feeney disclosed his generosity when a 1997 lawsuit threatened to make his finances public. But Healy says part of the decision to go public was also rooted in an industry-wide desire for greater transparency. "There is a lot of concern about conflicts of interest," says Lenkowsky. "Placing an emphasis on accountability means that anonymity is less likely to be encouraged." --By Carolina A. Miranda