THE BLOG

To Give or Not to Give

06/25/2013 06:41 pm ET | Updated Aug 25, 2013

Every day we read about famous Americans supporting nonprofit organizations. It may be Warren Buffett, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lilly Endowment, the Walton Family Foundation or the Ford Foundation. But there are plenty of donations done anonymously by rich and middle class Americans who give because it is the right thing to do and they do not need recognition because philanthropy is an expression of personal and family values.

The New York Times recently reported about how many buildings in New York have their donors' names on them. There are many reasons donors want their name on a building, including getting proper recognition for being a philanthropist and inspiring others to contribute to causes you believe will make a difference. On the other side, there are many reasons to give anonymously, such as being able to give credit to those performing the services rather than those providing funding, ensuring you won't be overwhelmed by other nonprofits chasing you for money and you don't want to expose your deep pockets if you happened to get involved in litigation of any sort. The Judeo-Christian tradition does caution us against self-promotion, which would tend to support anonymous giving. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches that "when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets but rather do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret." The Jewish sage Maimonides wrote, "It is best that the giver and receiver not know each other's identities - in this way the poor person's dignity is preserved."

I was recently moved when I saw on national TV a story about "The Kalamazoo Promise." This is a scholarship program started in 2005 for all graduates of Kalamazoo, Michigan public schools. It is funded by anonymous donors who pay up to 100 percent of tuition (based on one's time in the Kalamazoo district schools) to Michigan's colleges and universities. The side effect of such a giving program is the school district has grown by 16 percent which helps the economy of the city, test scores have improved and a greater proportion of high school graduates are attending college. There are over 12,000 kids in this public school district. There are now over 20 other "promise type" scholarship programs around this great country. Some, like the El Dorado Promise in Arkansas, have a named sponsor (Murphy Oil Corporation) while many others are like Kalamazoo with anonymous donors.

What are the real reasons we give of our time and money? Helping others who are struggling is an act of compassion that most Americans are taught as we grow up. Community service is not political and it is not mandated by the state. It is something that comes from deep within our core values. A true definition of this can be seen with the Society of Secret Santas, who give away $100 bills of their own money to the needy to help reinforce the self-worth and image of those they help as well as show unconditional love to those who feel society has stopped caring about them. We do not know who these Secret Santas are. They give in anonymity, they show leadership by leading by example and they show humility by sharing their wealth in a humble, selfless way. They show compassion through random acts of kindness, tapping into the human spirit by giving the recipient hope and belief.

The Promise Organizations, the Secret Santas and all other anonymous givers set the stage to teach our kids about the selflessness of being kind. Whether it is cleaning out your closet to help a charitable organization or spending time to help the elderly or volunteering to help a neighbor do yard work or shovel snow, the examples we adults set today by our actions will influence how the next generation views their obligations to others. Each community has several opportunities to donate money and time to help others in your town. Online Redcross.org or Habitat.org are worthy ways to quickly help others in need. At DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are devoting the month of July to giving away a total of $5,000 in products to 18 different winners who submit in a picture representing "an act of kindness" toward others for our photo contest.

All of us want our children to be smart, funny and athletic, but much of those traits depend on the child's genetic make-up. Being kind, though, is an entirely learned behavior that is influenced by how the kids' parents and mentors react to different situations. Setting an example of how to be kind to others, whether you shout your generosity from the highest building or you give to others anonymously, may be the best lesson we pass on to those who will eventually take our place.