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Asian-Americans and Philanthropic Giving: Implications for Higher Education


This post is co-authored with Nelson Bowman III, the Executive Director of Development at Prairie View A&M University and is on based research for our forthcoming book Engaging Diverse College Alumni: The Essential Guide to Fundraising (Routledge, 2013).

Asian-Americans are the second fastest growing minority population in the United States after Latinos.  Between 2000 and 2012, they grew at a rate of 49 percent.  Although there is much diversity among Asian-Americans, there are some commonalities that cut across many of the sub-groups as well.  First, among Asian-Americans, philanthropic giving is based on the value of compassion that is inherent in most Asian cultures.  In addition, giving to family and the idea of reciprocity in gift giving is essential to understanding Asian philanthropy.  Like many other cultures in the United States, religion plays a significant role in providing a foundation for philanthropic giving among Asian-Americans.

Asian-American philanthropic giving is linked to one’s social circles and these social circles expand as individuals increase their income and wealth.  In addition, as Asian-Americans become more assimilated, they give to more mainstream causes such as the United Way.  However, due to deep cultural ties, Asian-Americans continue to give to social justice and civil rights causes even after full assimilation.  They feel that this type of giving is essential to civic engagement and political participation.  Overall, Asian-Americans give 2.5 percent of their household income to charity.

Like many other racial and ethnic minorities, Asian-Americans tend to give larger amounts of money to specific projects rather than abstract concepts. Asian-Americans tend to avoid “pass through” organizations unless they are greatly assimilated.  They want to know that their gift is having a direct impact.  Specifically, Asian-Americans give the most to educational causes, the elderly, and human rights issues.

Across all Asian-American subgroups, donors are more likely to give when they have a pre-existing relationship or are already involved with an organization. Involvement might include serving on a board or volunteering time. This characteristic bodes well for those colleges and universities that want to engage their Asian-American alumni as there is already a built-in relationship.  If treated well as students, Asian-Americans will already feel that they have a solid foundation on which to base their future giving.

Although some research shows that Asian-Americans tend to give only to prestigious institutions, our research indicates that Asian-Americans are generous across the board in terms of institutional types.  As nearly 50 percent of Asian-Americans are enrolled in community colleges, there is great potential for giving in this setting as well as more prestigious Ivy League institutions. Of note, we also found that older Asian-American givers often see their college experience as an escape from the atrocities in their homeland. They in turn want to give back because they are just thankful.

Whereas this insider information into the actual preferences of Asian-American alumni should help college and university development officers with their cultivation efforts, the fact remains that the primary reason that this group does not give is because they are rarely asked. Asian-Americans must be seen as donors in order to cultivate their generosity.


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