Cultural & Motivational Differences in Giving

I’ve been out of the office and off the grid following the passing of my mom two weeks ago.  It was busy preparing for the funeral, hosting out-of-town relatives, and having the funeral.  Now my family and I are adjusting to the new normal we have in our lives, without my mother.

One of the more stark cultural & motivational differences in giving between Asians and Americans came out in the process of holding the funeral service.  Typically at American funerals few or no monetary gifts are given, except in the case of flowers to be sent to wherever the funeral service is held.  This is in contrast to Asians, which typically give money, usually to the family (in this case, to my father) to help with funeral and other expenses.  We didn’t want so many flowers at the funeral home, nor did my father necessarily need the money, so we specifically requested that in lieu of flowers, that a monetary gift can be made to the building fund of the church my mother attended in her memory.

What was not surprising was that most of the younger (40s and under) and American/Asian American friends did not give any gifts, and most of the older and Chinese (1st generation) friends did give a monetary gift.  Many gifts were made to the church, and a smaller percentage of gifts were given to my father.  As we tallied up the gifts, my father and I wondered if we hadn’t specified that gifts be made to the church, would a smaller amount would have been given to my father than what they gave to the church? Would some people rather give more to church knowing that it’s going toward something lasting, being more philanthropic (i.e. a building fund) versus covering short-term expenses, or “charity” to my father? While we’ll never know the true motives of gift giving, it is probably true that a combination of factors is at play, perhaps the tax deduction may well be a factor, as well as the preference of giving a gift to the church versus an individual.

Readers, what do you think?

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