Can I anonymously help this distant friend?
February 15, 2020 7:09 AM   Subscribe

A not-terribly close friend is having financial difficulties and I am about to come into a small windfall of money. I'd like to give a small fraction of it to my friend but I am not sure the best way to do it.

The friend has had a series of financial setbacks recently, and a small amount of money, say $1000, would cushion some of the pain. $1000 is a lot of money to me, but since I am about to receive a bunch of money, I would like to give some to this friend.

I think if I offered it to them, they would try not to accept or would want to treat it as a loan which would just cause problems, because they will probably never be in a position to comfortably pay it back. I feel like it would just make things awkward between us. Plus, I would find it so awkward to make that offer that I probably just wouldn't do it. But maybe giving it to them anonymously would make it hard for them to relate to all their friends as they tried to figure out where it came from? And maybe doing it anonymously is running roughshod over their personal agency to refuse? I just feel think back at times in my life when I could have used help and if someone had offered it to me to my face, I would have been super embarrassed and turned them down but at the same time, I could have really used the help and if I had no choice but accept it (because it was anonymous and I couldn't refuse), I would have probably cried with gratitude.

Question 1: Is making an anonymous gift acceptable or not?

There are also logistical difficulties since we are in different cities. An Interac money transfer isn't anonymous. I can't just drop by and leave an envelope of cash in their mailbox and mailing an envelope of cash also seems like a bad idea. I could mail grocery gift cards since everyone has to buy groceries, which makes gift cards basically the same as cash, but I don't know where they buy groceries and grocery gift cards for a store they don't normally shop at and can't easily get to would be more of a curse than a gift. My other thought was something like a Visa pre-paid card, but then the fees on those can be quite high.

Question 2: How can I best make an anonymous cash/cash-like gift to someone in another city? This is in Canada, so if you have a specific product suggestions, they would have to be available here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get a bank draft and just post it to them anonymously with a note. Don't not include a note because totally anonymous money is weird and creepy.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 AM on February 15

I definitely think the anonymous gift would leave me permanently uneasy.

I tend to think offers of significant help go down best if framed as: “I’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of tremendous kindness in the past when I really needed it, and I promised the giver I would pay it forward when I’m able. I suddenly find myself in the position to do that, and I wonder if you’d accept this gift? I know you’ll pay it forward in turn one day to someone else, in your own way, when you’re able.” And accept gracefully if they decline. Doesn’t matter if the whole spiel is true, only that it depersonalises it and places you both as equals within a chain of giving, rather than unequally as giver and receiver.
posted by penguin pie at 7:23 AM on February 15 [78 favorites]

Is there a mutual friend you could use as a go between?
posted by nickggully at 7:38 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

I have helped friends financially, and I approach it from a position of "We are all put on this planet to help each other. Today, I am able to pay forward kindness that I received in the past, and I know one day you will likewise help someone else in need."
posted by xedrik at 7:39 AM on February 15 [20 favorites]

Do you know anyone in the same city as the recipient who could act as a go-between?

Back several years ago, a family in our neighborhood suffered a financial setback (some combination of serious health event and job loss, I believe.) They happened to belong to the same church as the one my daughter and her fiancé attended, so the two of them organized a small donation drive in the church.

Once they collected the cash, my daughter asked if I would hand-deliver the money to the family (the family didn't know me at all, but probably would have recognized anyone from the church) So, I walked the envelope over to their home and gave it to them, saying something to the effect of "many people are thinking of you." That's all.

Preferably, it would be good if the go-between was an unknown to the recipient, so as to maintain your anonymity.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]

You're so kind! The world needs more people like you. Nthing penguin pie.
posted by starstarstar at 7:57 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]

"I know you'll pay it forward" is how I've handled this in the past too.

"Don't pay me back," on its own, is too easy to misread as an insult — either "I know you'll never have the money to pay me back anyway" or "I consider myself above you and wouldn't accept from you the money I'm asking you to accept from me."

Talking about paying it forward instead expresses confidence in their financial future, their generosity, and their worthiness of your gratitude, and just lets them know that they don't specifically need to pay you back with money.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:57 AM on February 15 [20 favorites]

another vote for offering it directly with phrasing like nebulawind suggests.

anonymous gifting is SO weird. I mean, she'd know it was someone she knew, and she'd always wonder, and she'd always be trying to figure it out... I think it would make the whole thing a strange burden. Whereas an honest offer made respectfully and, especially with "the I know you'll pay it forward someday" language -- that seems like a wonderful kindness.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:23 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]

When family members, I've had good luck going out of my way to argue that the money I was giving them was "extra" and therefore not actually my money. I'm not sure why it makes a difference, but it really does. "Here's an unearned gift to me that I'm sharing" reads very differently from "I'm giving you money because I can afford it." It sounds like this is an easy case to make here. (I've convinced my family that summer salary isn't real salary. Maybe they're just pretending to believe it. But, it works.)

I have no opinion about whether the anonymous option is a good idea. My mom used to say regularly that she'd love to find a thousand dollars in the mail. As an adult, I've never actually done it, 'cause I'm not absolutely sure it would be really be welcome. But, expecting the Canadian post office to notice and steal ten $100 bills from a slightly thicker than usual envelope that isn't going to a well-known cash business seems like excessive caution. I'd get a security envelope and mail cash. It's a lot more useful than any gift card option.
posted by eotvos at 10:28 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

I have been the lucky recipient of anonymous cash gifts and they are THE BEST. The first time, it was a check in my mailbox; it was sent through a third party online service that specifically existed to send anonymous checks. I can't remember the name but googling brings up multiple services, plus a Paypal possibility that I think is new. It was about five years ago and I was lucky enough to be able to pay it forward a few years later, so, you know, all good all round. It was such a relief, I cried, and I didn't worry about who sent it or feel it was creepy or anything at all like that. The second time was quite recently and it was through my Ko-Fi. So you might try finding out if they have a Paypal or another thing set up, like Patreon or Ko-fi, that you can donate to anonymously.

Thank you again anonymous donor(s) if you are by some strange chance reading this!!!!
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:19 PM on February 17

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