Asian American Giving

MARCH 21, 2013

- by Andy Ho

A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted a fact that many of us in the ‘industry’ have known for some time: the people who can least afford to give to charity in America donate the greatest percentage of their income.

In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

The article goes into the reasons why this is the case – one of them being exposure to the poor, or, a lack of exposure, more accurately. “Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings. It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.”

I think this is also true of much of the successful Asian Americans. It is ironic, in some ways, that achieving the American Dream most of us seek to pursue, often isolates us from the people that haven’t yet achieved the dream, and could use some help to do so. It takes particular motivation and action to continually break out of our comfort zones, surround ourselves with others in different socioeconomic circumstances, and stay grounded in humility with the attitude that all that we have ultimately isn’t ours to hoard but rather to share.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a fundraising dinner on behalf of Asian American LEAD – a nonprofit in the metro DC area that provides after school programs for underserved Asian American youth. The testimonies from some of the kids were very powerful – how AALEAD was like their second family, how it provided them the pathways and belief that they could achieve a better life for themselves through community and education. It reminded me how much more we as philanthropists, regardless of the amounts we give, can truly make a difference for others when the money is used to genuinely help others in need. It was a good reminder that beyond the rose-colored communities where there are significant Asian American populations of comfortable middle-to-upper class metro DC suburbia (Potomac, Rockville, McLean, and Fairfax, just to choose a few), the Asian immigrant struggle is still there, in our community, if we choose to see it.