The nine circles of philanthropic giving

The New Yorker, in a January "Shouts and Murmurs", offers a glimpse into the world of philanthropic giving levels.

The theory of giving levels is that donors either like to be identified (and published) as giving at a certain level, and/or donors like the benefits (whether public or private) that accrue to giving at a certain level. For example, donors become members of the President's Circle of an art museum with a gift of $50,000 per year which allows them to have a private museum tour, with 12 of their friends, guided by the museum director.

The theory creates a circle of action (vicious or virtuous, I am not sure which). Charities set up giving levels and encourage donors to reach into those levels. Once you are a member of the President's Circle you don't want to be demoted, and so the price increases each year are an easy way to get you to increase your gift.

You can probably sense my ambivalence to these ideas. They work, but they are hardly appealing to the purest motives within us as donors.

The New Yorker article gets it exactly right:

The Benefit Committee wishes to remind all Subscribers that the thrill for those pledging as much money as they can afford to attend this Gala Charity Event will always be outweighed by the shame felt by those pledging as little as possible.
Please consult the Subscriber categories below.

The top (Grand Panjandrum's Diamond) level includes the right to ejection of any two undesirable table companions. The lowest (Huddled Masses) level allows merely for a complimentary official event program (depending on supply at conclusion of event).

While we are at it, please consider attending Matters of Taste, the wonderful JCDS fundraiser. Watch out for those giving levels, and I look forward to seeing you on the ninth circle!