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Eight Rungs of the Giving Ladder

   May 17, 2012

An anonymous female donor has come forward to pledge $10 million to help families recover from the devastating effects of flooding in Grand Forks, ND and East Forks, MN. She has arranged for $2,000 to be distributed by a nonprofit organization, North Dakota Community Foundation, to each needy household that has been victimized by the recent Red River flood. AIP praises this anonymous donor for her selfless gift to help the flood victims to back on their feet.

This contrasts with philanthropists Edith and Henry Everett who recently withdrew a $3 million contribution to fund half of the renovation cost of the Central Park Children’s Zoo in New York City. One of the reasons according to The New York Times--they were displeased that their donation would earn only a small plaque with two-inch lettering on the Zoo’s entry gate.

The concept of giving anonymously without knowing the recipient can be traced back to ancient Israel. Beggars would regularly congregate next to a wall of a courtyard, and donors, being aware of this, would face the opposite direction and toss coins over the shoulders in the direction of the wall. Therefore, the recipients of the charity would not feel ashamed or indebted to the giver.

Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish scholar, invented the following ladder of giving. Each rung up represents a higher degree of virtue:

1. The lowest: Giving begrudgingly and making the recipient feel disgraced or embarrassed.

2. Giving cheerfully but giving too little.

3. Giving cheerfully and adequately but only after being asked.

4. Giving before being asked.

5. Giving when you do not know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient knows your identity.

6. Giving when you know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient does not know your identity.

7. Giving when neither the donor nor the recipient is aware of the other's identity.

8. The Highest: Giving money, a loan, your time or whatever else it takes to enable an individual to be self-reliant.

It is too bad that most Americans are not following Maimonides’ sage advice. Think how much more money could be spent on much needed programs if donors would rise to even Level Number 4--giving before being asked. I encourage all of you to pick your favorite category or field (37 are included on CharityWatch's Top Rated Charities list) and learn about each charity in it, and if you are satisfied with an organization's grade and like what it is accomplishing, then send the charity a contribution before it has to incur the cost of asking you and thousands of others for one.

Perhaps if Maimonides were alive today, it’s what he would do.