I consider myself lucky. I mean, really blessed. I'm reasonably healthy, I have a wonderful wife and the best three-year-old son in existence (the kind of kid that inspires Craigslist-type superlatives: "fabulous! mint! must see!"). And as far as income goes, we're doing pretty well—certainly better than I've done most of the rest of my adult life, largely spent as a journalist, a nonprofit staffer, and an ethnic media entrepreneur...three professions that tend to put you closer to the government cheese than the cheddar. We own real estate. And a nice hybrid car. We even have some savings.
Now, I've supported nonprofits regularly in my life, but generally at the gala benefit ticket/silent auction level. You know—situations where you give a little something, get a little something. Pretty standard philanthropy for the youngish urban professional.
That said, I don't think I've ever attended a benefit where someone at the table didn't grouse about the crappiness of the food, the squalor of the decor, or the mediocrity of the entertainment. (What did you expect—Cirque du Soleil?) And as for silent auctions...don't get me started. Bottom line: If you're trying to raise funds, stimulating the Asian American bargain-hunting reflex ain't the most efficient mechanism.
Which brings up this article in today's New York Times: Class Divide in Chinese Americans' Charity. The article focuses on how there's a wealthy set of Chinese Americans that's actively giving to charitable causes...but the causes they're supporting tend to be causes already supported by the wealthy set: Art museums. Operas. Ballets.
They're not, generally, giving to social service organizations, civic advocacy groups, or other institutions that help those in need—and they're not, generally, giving to Asian American-specific causes. Says Virginia Lau-Kee of the Chinese-American Planning Council, probably the largest social services organization supporting elders, immigrants, and children in Manhattan's Chinatown: “We’re out of their orbit....We get donations from poor people that we’ve helped. We don’t get donations from the rich, who should be helping the poor.”
Worse yet, the article cites a 2004 paper written by Georgetown University Public Policy Institute fellow Andrew Ho suggesting that “many Chinese Americans do not give at all, and those that do, give to their university, or to their church, but not to ethnic causes.”
But there are those bucking the tide—mostly younger Asian American professionals, such as 34-year-old investment banker (and son of a waiter and a garment worker) Jimmy Pang, who has founded a "giving circle" called AsiaNextGen—a group of friends that pools their donations to directly and collaboratively support a different organization or initiative each year with an impact that solo donations might not obtain. In 2004, the initial five members each put $4000 into the pot, and gave $20,000 to the Queens Child Guidance Center to support the hiring of a social worker. They've continued this philanthropic pact on an annual basis, growing their membership, and funding a different initiative in the Asian American community per annum. (On a similar but more formal level, you also have organizations like Project By Project, which holds annual fundraisers and donates the proceeds to a different Asian American charity each year.)
My wife and I began giving on a larger scale this year (the kind where you write checks with more than two zeroes, but less than four—that's as heavy as we can afford to roll right now)—but I'm intrigued by this idea of pooled and targeted giving, and I'm wondering what the rest of you guys are doing by way of philanthropy, for those of you who are in a position to do so. Hey—maybe we could do an annual Rice Daddies/Kimchi Mamas fundraiser and donate a collaborative gift to an Asian American child-or-parent oriented nonprofit each year...what do you think?