Philanthropy Below the Radar

Monikers like “stealth patron” and “secret benefactor” have a certain cachet, but that is not what motivates the Boston Foundation donor who has anonymously given $1.3 million in the last six years (and has committed an additional $800,000) to support the Special Collections of the Boston Public Library.

BPL books

In 2007, a Boston Globe story revealed how the Library’s Special Collections holdings were in a state of disarray and possibly at risk of being lost to neglect and decay. The Library lacked staff to manage the incredibly extensive collection. “The quantity of stuff they have is amazing,” our donor says. “It’s like the attic of New England.” Indeed, the collection contains about three million items, from first folios of Shakespeare plays to pre-World War II fruit crate labels; from Revolution-era artifacts to Bruins memorabilia. The plight of the Special Collections intrigued the donor, who asked the Boston Foundation to find out more.

Upon relocating to this area, the donor had settled on the Boston Foundation as the place to establish a Donor Advised Fund, knowing it would point out strong organizations to help meet the donor’s charitable objectives. “The Boston Foundation has the experience to know the right questions to ask [on behalf of philanthropists], plus it has its finger on the pulse of the city and knows the stability of its various institutions,” says the donor.

The Foundation identified the Associates of the Boston Public Library—an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the Boston Public Library’s Special Collections—as the organization that could steward the funding of the Special Collection preservation. The donor chose to be anonymous with this gift mainly to avoid personal attention, and in hopes of inspiring others to step up and support the incredible resource that’s right in our backyard and available for anyone.

The route to supporting the Special Collections is typical of how this donor likes to work with the Foundation. “I’ll see something in the news and then I’ll email my Boston Foundation contact and say, ‘What’s with this?’ and we’ll figure out how to help.”