An article in the Globe and Mail which appeared on line in June[1]highlighted a number of major gifts for which the donor did not ask for naming rights and indeed and personal recognition.

For example, Judy Matthews and her husband, investment banker Wilmot Matthews, have previously made donations to develop public spaces in Toronto that bore their name, including a Chinese sculpture court at the Royal Ontario Museum and an educational centre at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

But recently their Judy and Wilmot Matthews Foundation has donated to projects anonymously. In one high profile donation, “we felt that the people who are using it should have the opportunity to give it a name,” Ms. Matthews explained. And so began an innovative public naming process that concluded with the project being named The Bentway.

Another anonymous donor has just made the biggest ever gift to the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. The $6-million donation will allow it to attract five top researchers, said Zul Merali, president and CEO of The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research.

While Dr. Merali said he can’t discuss details of why this gift came with no name attached, “the reason for staying anonymous often comes down to not wanting to be pursued by other groups wanting donations.” The grant will enable the establishment of Emerging Researchers in Mental Health, or e-RIMh, the first program of its kind in Canada. It’s significant because public sources of grants are shrinking, Dr. Merali said.

In the first case the name of the donor is of course known. That is not true in the second case. The most common reason given for “no-name” donations is that the donor will not be asked to donate to causes which he ro she has not interest in. But there are other factor which can come into play.

Consider Laws about Giving to Poor People, Chapter 10:7–14, Maimonides lists his famous Eight Levels of Giving (where the first level is most preferable, and the eighth the least).

“There are eight levels of tzedaka[2], each greater than the next. The greatest level, above which there is no other, is to strengthen the name of another Jew by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer [beg from] people. For it is said, “You shall strengthen the stranger and the dweller in your midst and live with him,” {Leviticus XXV:35} that is to say, strengthen him until he needs no longer fall [upon the mercy of the community] or be in need.

Below this is the one who gives tzedaka to the poor, but does not know to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know his benefactor. For this is performing a mitzva for the sake of Heaven. This is like the Secret [Anonymous] Office in the Temple. There the righteous gave secretly, and the good poor drew sustenance anonymously. This is much like giving tzedaka through a tzedaka box. One should not put into the box unless he knows that the one responsible for the box is faithful and wise and a proper leader like Rabbi Hananya ben Teradyon.”

So it is clear that for a certain class of donors, there is a religious or philosophical basis for making anonymous gifts.

We also ran into a (hopefully) unique situation some years ago. An individual had given a substantial donation to an arts organization and his name was listed on a wall of honour. While he received kudos from many people, two of his children berated him for giving away part of “our inheritance”. For peace in the family he chose not to respond in kind to his children but vowed to continue such donations but wanted them to be done anonymously.

But he wanted a tax receipt. Could this be done with any anonymous gift?

Happily the CRA had a benign policy position.

“Can a registered charity receipt an anonymous gift?

Under the Income Tax Act, an official donation receipt must show the name and address of the donor (and for an individual, his or her first name and initial).

However, the Canada Revenue Agency has made an administrative decision to allow registered charities to issue official donation receipts for anonymous gifts if the following procedures are followed:

  • the donor establishes an agency or trust agreement to make the anonymous gift
  • the donor appoints an agent for the purpose of making a gift on behalf of the donor
  • the agent agrees to hold the funds in trust for the donor
  • the donor directs the agent to make a gift to a registered charity on the donor’s behalf
  • the agent agrees to direct the registered charity to issue a receipt in the amount of the gift in the name of the agent in trust
  • the agent agrees to deliver the receipt to the donor for the purpose of establishing the details of the donation

In this case, we as the donor’s lawyer acted as the agent and subsequently the donor got his tax receipts even though his wretched children were unaware of his generosity.