According to a recent study, philanthropic gifts from Chinese Americans have collectively increased almost fivefold over the last couple years. This group now gives a total of about $500 million each year to a variety of causes with one of the most significant being higher education. This trend mirrors what is happening in China, which has a booming economy that is producing an unprecedented number of new billionaires. These individuals have achieved a 430 percent increase in the number of registered charities in China over the past decade. Annually, philanthropic giving in China has topped $16 billion. The trend toward increased Chinese philanthropy is seen in the Giving Pledge, which recently added a number of new Chinese donors to its ranks.
The study was undertaken by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Affairs, as well as the University of California, Irvine Long U.S.-China Institute and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. Titled “Chinese and Chinese American Philanthropy,” the report is the first academic look at the size and impact of this community, as well as the changing motivations that are driving an increase in giving. As the research shows, the impact of the community is long-reaching. In addition to increasing access to higher education, Chinese American philanthropy has driven health care research and provided significant support to the arts.
Changing the Perception of Chinese Philanthropy in the United States
The individuals behind the study said that they were troubled by the American perception of how much Chinese and Chinese Americans give back to their community. The Committee of 100, which consists of Chinese American leaders, launched a study in 2001 which concluded that about 20 percent of Americans look at Chinese Americans as an insular, self-focused community. The recent study dispels this idea and combats some of the stereotypes that have arisen about the community in the United States and abroad.
The findings of the study are quite revealing. Of the current Chinese American foundations, over 80 percent have been in existence since 2000. In the period between 2000 and 2014, the total number of these foundations more than quadrupled and now includes about 1,300 organizations. About 1.2 percent of all philanthropic gifts made in the United States between 2008 and 2014 was attributed to Chinese Americans, which is nearly proportionate to their representation in the total population. Two-thirds of the gifts made were targeted toward higher education with the most donations going to private institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Southern California. At the same time, Chinese Americans have collectively donated more than $50 million to public universities in California this year.
Investigating Chinese American Philanthropists’ Motivation
Researchers were also interested in figuring out exactly what motivates these donors. The study identified 35 Chinese donors and 29 Chinese American philanthropists to profile in an attempt to uncover trends in their motivation to give. Some of the donors pointed to faith as a major motivator. Christian philanthropists said that their faith compels them to give, especially if they have the means. Some of the major donors who cited their faith include John Long, who donated $6 million to create the Long U.S.-China Institute, and Shirley and Walter Wang, who have donated tens of millions of dollars in the last 15 years toward educational, public health, and environmental initiatives. Not all of the couple’s philanthropy is monetary. They made money manufacturing plastic pipes and provided 400 miles of pipeline to eight African countries to provide clean water.
Another philanthropist profiled in the study was Ming Hsieh, who said he was motivated largely to give back to those organizations that supported him on his way to success in the development of fingerprint identification technology. Since studying electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, he has directed much of his philanthropy to the school, including a gift of $35 million to his former department and another of $50 million to create a nanomedicine center. These vignettes can provide a glimpse into how to appeal to potential philanthropists of Chinese descent and motivate them to give even more in the future.
Looking Toward the Future of Chinese Philanthropy
The researchers behind the study concluded their findings by providing a number of different recommendations on how we can facilitate better collaboration and understanding between donors, policymakers, and community organizers, as well as the leaders of nonprofit organizations. The study was intended to boost interaction between Chinese and Chinese American philanthropists, as well as other donors in the United States, and to facilitate conversation about best practices and issues of concern for all parties. Ultimately, the researchers plan to launch a five-year effort to continue increasing awareness about the impact of giving by Chinese and Chinese American philanthropists through this study.
Interested individuals can access the entire study and a database of the particular philanthropists profiled online at GlobalChinesePhilanthropy.org. The eponymous Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative is using the study as a launching point to improve relations between China and the United States through a constructive dialogue and opportunities for collaboration.