OPINION: In praise of unknown donors


Let's call her Barbara. Barbara was a GP who read an article I wrote about the underfunding of the NHS wheelchair service. She contacted me and said she'd like to help my charity fund decent chairs for individuals.

She was nearing retirement and didn't need her salary to live on so would send it for the next 12 months until she was pensioned off. There was only one condition. No-one must know she was doing it.

Barbara - not her real name - is an example of an endangered species.

Giving to a good cause because it is good is no longer good enough. There has to be some reflected glory for individuals - a plaque, or a mention in the programme. Foundations that once prided themselves on anonymity now have corporate logos. And business donors unashamedly want a pay-back.

Which is no bad thing in itself. Without them the whole machine of the third sector would grind to a halt.

Yet there remain those causes that have little appeal to the named donor.

I heard recently of an initiative to do something more positive with paedophiles than simply lock them up forever. In the past, such a scheme would have had two channels for funding. The first would be the state. It carries with it a responsibility to look further than individual prejudices and fears. Or, at least, it did. Our current regime is so obsessed with what goes down well with the more vocal end of public opinion that it would think twice before backing a programme to rehabilitate paedophiles. What if the Daily Mail got to hear about it?

Which brings us back to the need for anonymous donors. The late David Astor - former editor and proprietor of The Observer - was someone who used his inherited fortune to support many unpopular causes and campaigns, like prison reform, but did so anonymously. "Old money

often used to carry with it an obligation, and a freedom, to work behind the scenes for change. "New money

today is put to many positive purposes in the voluntary sector. But in our eagerness to draw it in, the purest notion of charity - as something for itself and not for the donor - is being lost.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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