April 2, 2011: The other day I came across yet another instance of a non-profit’s leadership huffing and puffing about a potential funder’s request for the names of their top ten individual donors to support the organization’s grant proposal. “Our policy,” the non-profit said, “is that we do not share such information.”

It seems to me that attitude is an invitation for the potential grantor to respond, “Okay, if that’s how you feel, we won’t share our money with you.”

It is not clear to me how any non-profit organization could have an intractable policy against releasing names of individual donors in situations such as this. It seems to me that more often than not, such an attitude is reflective less of guarding the privacy of donors, than it is of poorly thought out policy. Basically the organization is saying potential grant makers cannot be told what is usually treated as public information.

Surely, the organization must have a published Annual Report. If so, such donor listings are printed there. Even if the donors are grouped in contribution ranges (e.g. $10,000 to $14,999), you can see who the top ten are likely to be. If no annual report is produced, the organization is missing a good donor relations and communications opportunity.

But let’s work from the assumption that donors and amounts are listed in the annual report. The only instance in which a non-profit may be unable to supply the name of a particular donor is when that donor has requested anonymity. But my experience has been that even then, most are talking about the avoidance of public recognition through press releases, wall plaques, listing in annual reports, etc. With those relative few, it’s easy enough to ask for permission to include their names in grant proposals when the granting institution requests such evidence of existing support. I did so for 20 years at one organization with no problem at all—ever. But even if the donor still says no, you can still cite their gifts as coming from anonymous. Most foundations and other grant makers will accept this.

Come to think of it, often when I called and asked anonymous donors if we could provide their names in the guarded atmosphere of a grant proposal, they were more than willing. They felt that their good example could very well influence additional support.