Canadian Philanthrophies Should Target Asian Benefactors

I read with interest from The New York Times that many Asian-Americans, who have benefited from booms in finance and technology, are making a huge difference in philanthropy in the U.S. They are donating large sums to groups focused on their own communities or their home countries. They are also giving to prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals such as Yale University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The institutions, in turn, are also increasingly wooing Asian-Americans, who are taking high-profile slots on their governing boards.

According to the American India Foundation, one of the largest and most successful of the new Asian philanthropies in the U.S., Asian-Americans are following the example of their mainstream American peers to give. The U.S. Census Bureau tracks that from 2000 to 2010, the number of people who identified themselves to be of Asian origins grew by nearly 46 percent - more than four times the growth rate of the overall population, making Asian-Americans the fastest growing racial group in the nation. The Asian culture of philanthropy has led to generous donations among the Korean, Chinese and  Indian communities to mainstream philanthropic organizations. And this trend is predicted by many as continuing to grow.

You take a look at Canada and unfortunately, this trend is not being mirrored. First and foremost, Canadian charitable giving lags behind the U.S. even among mainstream communities. According to the Fraser Institute's 2012 Generosity Index, not only did a higher percentage of Americans than Canadians claim a tax deduction for charitable gifts (26.7 percent versus 23.3 percent), Americans who donated to charity reported giving more than twice as much of their income as Canadians - in 2010, Americans gave 1.38 percent of their aggregate income to charity compared to Canadians who gave 0.66 percent of their aggregate income to charity.

The recent lacklustre Canadian economy does not help much. Canada still has a lower GDP per capita than the U.S. even though the latter's economy took a much more serious hit. We are also taxed at higher rates than Americans, so overall, Canadians have less to give to charities than Americans.

But perhaps philanthropic organizations should take a look at the American example of targeting Asian immigrants as benefactors. We have a much bigger proportion of immigrants than the U.S., and although there are always ongoing debates about whether immigrants can get a job here or not, there are a lot of affluent Asian-Canadians who are eager to help their own respective communities and give back to society. There are no official statistics about the current amount given by Asian philanthropists, but if you just take a quick look at most of the national charities' governing boards, Asian-Canadians are simply lacking.

Apart from the Li Ka Shing Foundation which has helped fund the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta, well-known generous Asian benefactors are rarely seen anywhere on the boards of trustees of most national not-for-profit organizations. And Li Ka Shing doesn't even live in Canada!

Here's a piece of advice for Canada's national charities - there are Asians who give, and others who contribute with their wealth of experience and business contacts within their own respective communities. Most philanthropic organizations only invite generous donors with deep pockets to sit on their boards. But it's a vicious cycle - without strategically involving Asian community leaders and 'insiders,' many of whom would rather give their time than money, the charity organizations will find it extremely challenging to understand the Asian culture and properly target the right Asian donors. So, in the end, one generation of white donors will contine to breed another.

With the lingering stagnant economy, most Canadian philanthropic organizations are struggling and reducing their staff. Perhaps it's time to fish where the fish are?

Lina Ko

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