Friday, December 19, 1997

The Anonymity Fribble
by Selena Maranjian (

The Fool's Share Our Strength charity drive has picked up some speed. We're hurtling toward collectively contributing some $100,000 to establish community kitchens across the country, feeding the hungry and enfranchising the disenfranchised. (If that last sentence was a bit to cryptic for you, check out this page, which explains the mission more clearly.)

Check out the rising tally in more detail, too. It's pretty exciting to see so many Fools joining together to do something good:

      11/20: $10,585
      11/21: $12,806
      11/25: $16,788
      11/27: $20,000
      12/01: $22,448
      12/05: $28,869
      12/10: $34,910
      12/15: $64,636
      12/16: $92,658

It occurs to me that a few folks may be holding back because of concerns about their name. You're worried that people will think you're showing off when you send in that check for $300 and we list your name. You fear we might be recording all names and addresses, and that we'll sell them all to In-Your-Face Telemarketing Inc. (giving the proceeds to charity, of course!). You fret that cousin Roger will see that you're giving away your money when you just told him last week that you can't afford to lend him any more cash for his bass-fishing lessons.

Well, first of all, know that we won't be doing anything sinister or nefarious with your name and address. Well, at least we won't be selling it to anyone. And more importantly, know that there's a simple solution to your worries. Anonymity.

There's a great tradition of anonymity in this world of ours. And it seems to have a few different camps. Some have chosen to remain anonymous for rather obvious reasons -- they'd rather not be known for what they're thinking, saying or doing. Consider the following quotation. Would you want to be associated with it?

Life is mostly froth and bubble.
Two things stand like stone:
Dodging duty at the double,
Leaving work alone.
-- Anonymous.

A second camp of the anonymi (Selena tries to coin a new word here) is for those afraid of revealing their identity.

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
-- Anonymous

I can easily see how the author of this ditty wouldn't want Lizzie to know who he was or where he lived, as she seemed to be an irritable and violent sort.

Others cling to anonymity for moral or religious reasons. Consider the words of Jesus, from his well-received Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore when thou doest thine alms,
do not sound a trumpet before thee,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues
and in the streets, that they may have
glory of men. Verily I say unto you,
they have their reward.
But when thou doest alms,
let not thy left hand know
what thy right hand doeth.
-- Matthew 6:2-3

What all this is leading to is this. If you're moved to contribute to the Fool Charity Fund (100% of which will go to Share Our Strength, with not a farthing ending up in any Foolish pocket), and you'd like to give quietly, know that you can do so. Give anonymously. We won't add your name to our public ship of Fools.

Naturally, we'd prefer to see your name up there. It's great to see the names of fellow participants in our investing community. And great to know that so many people feel they've gained something from Foolishness, something significant enough that they'd like to give a little something back.

If you'd rather give anonymously, you're invited to do so. And indeed, in this world, you'll be in good company. For example, this past July, Oberlin College received an anonymous $6 million donation. Another anonymous donor, who's given away $600 million over some 15 years, has finally let himself be identified. He's businessman Charles Feeney, and according to the Washington Post (1/24/97, p. A1), he ended up establishing America's fourth-largest charity. Kudos, Charles!

Another mysterious donor recently revealed was none other than Mrs. McDonald's -- Joan Kroc, widow of the McDonald's founder. When flood waters from the Red River destroyed much of Grand Forks, North Dakota, she pledged, anonymously, to give swamped homeowners $2,000 each -- totaling an estimated $10 million.

Why the move toward giving non-anonymously? One fund-raising consultant, E. Burr Gibson, explains, [for] "Every large gift that carries the donor's name, somebody somewhere says to himself: 'I could do that. I could get that recognition.'" True, it isn't appealing to peoplekind's noblest instinct, but if it works, it has merit.

So anyone out there who hasn't yet contributed, please consider doing so -- publicly or quietly, as you prefer. Stand up and be counted as a Fool who gives a darn. Let's see what happens when all of us chip in a dollar or two, or perhaps a little more.

Just for fun, imagine what would happen if we defied the laws of math and reason and had the compounding clown dance on our cumulative tallies. If our total donations doubled every few days, as they have recently, we'd soon have contributed the equivalent of our national budget. Soon, the entire net worth of the planet would have been ear-marked to help those less fortunate. Of course, at this point, we donors would have rendered ourselves penniless. And those who would have been fed and employed thanks to Share Our Strength would be taking up a collection for us. This would be one heck of a virtuous circle, folks.

Without further ado: How to donate

Also, for those interested in who's been giving what in the world of philanthropy, I recommend: Philanthropy News Digest.

Fool on!

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