Unraveling the myths of Chinese American giving: Exploring donor motivations and effective fundraising strategies for U.S. higher education
Drezner, Noah D
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Chinese Americans form a growing population of individual philanthropists in U.S. universities and colleges. Despite their continuing contributions to the development of U.S. higher education, the voices of Chinese American donors have not garnered enough scholarly attention. In fact, there still remain hidden "myths" about Chinese American giving: 1) Chinese American donors are "non-traditional"; 2) Chinese American giving is "small, private, and personal"; 3) Chinese American giving differs generationally; and 4) increasing international Chinese student populations in the U.S. will generate positive effects on overall trends in Chinese American giving. Using interview data from fourteen Chinese American donors who have supported U.S. higher education, this dissertation explores these four "myths" regarding Chinese American giving to U.S. higher institutions. The findings highlight that the impact of "traditional" and "non-traditional" perspectives regarding donor motivation combines to form a more holistic dynamic of Chinese American donor behaviors. While cultural factors influenced donors in different ways, "traditional" donor motivations did encourage Chinese American giving to U.S. higher education. These included familial obligations, community and institutional reciprocity, and an appreciation for the impact and value of education. In contrast, though, while donors' motivations could be characterized as "traditional," the way in which Chinese Americans donated to higher education was decidedly "non-traditional." Donations described in the study were large, institutionalized, and public, all of which characterize Western patterns of philanthropy, not Chinese. However, participants in the study were not Chinese; they were Chinese American, and nearly all of them cited the impact of Western culture on their giving practices or their concept of philanthropy. Many elaborated further, referencing their use of skills acquired in capitalist ventures as influencing how they donate funds. In other words, donors acquired and implemented American models of professional philanthropy. Chinese American donors interviewed for this study gave directly to universities and established nonprofit foundations to operate their charitable funds. Others served on university boards, providing strategic advice and assisting with institutional fundraising efforts. While still influenced by traditional concepts of Chinese philanthropy, Chinese American donors have transformed their practices into a new and unique culture of ethnic philanthropic giving.