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Engaging Asian Giving: A Guide to Philanthropy and Community Involvement

By Judy Zhu posted 10-26-2023 13:55


As an individual who embarked on a transformative journey from China to Canada, I've been fortunate to witness and partake in the tapestry of cultural experiences, values, and traditions that distinguish both of these vibrant societies.

It's in this delightful tug-of-war between my Chinese roots and my Canadian dreams that I've come to appreciate the unique ways we all think about community, charity, and helping others.

It is against the backdrop of this unique perspective that I invite you to explore the dynamic and inspiring realm of "Engaging Asian Giving."

In Asia and Canada, giving and philanthropy occupy unique places. The fusion of Eastern and Western ideals has carved a distinct path for individuals like me, uniting the customs of Asian philanthropy with the opportunities and challenges of multicultural contexts in Canada.

Whether you're an immigrant, an organization seeking to bridge gaps, or a philanthropy enthusiast, this guide offers insights and inspiration for making the world a better place through culture and community giving.

The Rich Tradition of Asian Philanthropy

Asian Canadians comprise a substantial minority, with over 7 million ethnic Asians in Canada. This demographic is expected to grow further, with Canada’s South Asian population alone projected to increase from 4.7 million to 6.5 million by 2041.

Chinese people living in Hong Kong were the first Chinese group to migrate to Canada. Immigration from mainland China began in the late 20th century. These individuals tend to be educated, middle-class, and active in charitable activities, often led by businesses and community groups.

Similar to the United States and some European countries, religious organizations receive the largest share of the total value of donations in Canada. Health care ranks second, followed by social services in third place.

In comparison, Asian Canadian giving behaviour is influenced by the cultural and historical context of Asia, with education always being a priority, followed by health care, specifically hospitals, and then religious institutions. Asian giving originates from the same sources we traditionally think of, including individuals, corporations, foundations, and planned giving. 

In Asian cultures, there is a long tradition of individual giving. However, this giving is not always reported to the government or tax authorities and often seeks to avoid public exposure.

Giving Approaches

Giving among first-generation Asian Canadians is typically private, often occurring through family, religious institutions, or home-country communities. The patterns of Asian-Canadian philanthropic giving are deeply tied to personal connections. 

This giving culture is rapidly evolving among Canadian-born Asians and immigrants who arrived around the year 2000 from mainland China. From 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million Chinese immigrants came to Canada, representing over a quarter of Canada's total Asia-Pacific immigrants.

More than 50% of Canada's current Asian immigrants are highly educated and work in skilled professions. Unlike the first generation, this group is accustomed to the practices of volunteerism and philanthropy and can comfortably integrate into Canadian mainstream society without language or cultural barriers.

In the U.S., Chinese philanthropic giving is on the rise. Chinese Americans increased their gifts of at least $1 million by fivefold between 2008 and 2014. This trend is also seen in Canada.

Asian-owned Canadian businesses engage in strategic giving that aligns with their personal beliefs and values, rather than strictly business objectives.

Foundations and grants are growing, with both public and private foundations reflecting personal beliefs and values.

Incorporating Diversity and Awareness

To engage Asian donors effectively, consider inviting Asian ethnic representation into your organization's leadership. Demonstrating commitment to valuing Asian constituents can be achieved by including them in decision-making groups, task forces, and senior staff roles.

Engaging Asian Philanthropists: Building Authentic Connections

The "LAI" principle (Linkage, Ability, and Interest) in fundraising is crucial. Asian Canadians are more likely to research organizations and their plans before making donations.

The capacity and motivation to give are equally important. Many Asian Canadians hold degrees and are financially stable.

Peer fundraising can be enhanced by leveraging your Asian leadership volunteers or current donors.

Their networks can be invaluable during significant cultural events tied to giving like Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival. The latter, which may be unfamiliar to those in Western culture, is held on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar and dates back 3,000 years. 

Cultural experts or Asian leadership volunteers can assist in translating materials and providing insights into Asian culture. Materials translated into Asian languages add credibility. However, avoid using direct translation, which can lose emotional connections. Investing in well-written materials in Asian languages can be beneficial to your organization’s cause.

Engaging Asian Giving: Expanding Horizons

Planned giving is on the rise among Asian Canadians. Consider hosting webinars about estate and gift planning as well as in-kind gifts specifically for this audience. Provide translated materials to educate donors on available options.

As the trend of creating donor-advised funds from major banks gains momentum, it provides another communication channel for Asian donors to engage with philanthropy.

Moving Forward

Understanding Asian culture is vital, and diversity within the Asian community should be recognized. Organisations that build dedicated strategies to attract and engage the Asian community stand to prosper manifold.

By taking these steps, organizations can effectively tap into the vibrant and growing Asian philanthropic community in Canada.