Opportunities and Challenges to Vietnamese-American Philanthropy

In this blog series, we hope to explore the history, cultural traditions, and current practices of Vietnamese-American giving in order to demystify for many a demographic that holds great potential for the philanthropic sectors.

Given the unique history and culture of the Vietnamese-American diaspora, there are accordingly unique ways in which it approaches philanthropy. Charitable organizations hoping to connect with this group should be mindful of the reservations still prevalent among Vietnamese Americans about institutional philanthropy. Opportunities to overcome this lie in personal touches. This is not a direct-mail constituency but rather one that responds to community relationships.

The idea of giving to larger charitable institutions, as opposed to personal contacts or local groups, is something of a novelty to many Vietnamese-American donors. Vietnamese Americans may be well-acquainted with charity but philanthropy as defined by Western precepts is new and difficult to explain. It is up to NPOs to demonstrate to Vietnamese Americans the value of institutional giving, whether that value comes from providing tax benefits or increasing accountability of how donations are used. NPOs must also be transparent about how they operate in order to assuage Vietnamese-American reservations.

In addition to raising awareness for institutional philanthropic mechanisms, building trust and social networks are important factors in galvanizing Vietnamese American philanthropy. So much Vietnamese-American giving begins informally and between close acquaintances that asking them to give institutionally represents a paradigmatic shift. The levels of separation between the individual donors, the operational figureheads of institutions and the eventual beneficiary of their donations inevitably create hesitation. Vietnamese Americans, like donors of any community, want to be assured of the worthiness of an NGO, and they want to know that their dollars are reaching identifiable beneficiaries.

Looking forward

Vietnamese-American giving practices are complex and deeply rooted in historical and individual experiences. As the demographics of the community shift from a majority foreign-born population to a community well integrated in the American mainstream, the giving practices that define Vietnamese-American philanthropy may also see change. There is certainly more room for research on the matter, especially in regards to philanthropy and its relationship to the religious, generational, and geographical origin differences that exist within the diaspora.

The Vietnamese-American community is dynamic, and there are hints of philanthropy’s future role in community building efforts. Just this month, a long-awaited Vietnamese American community center opened up in Sacramento thanks to $2 millions worth of funding from businessman Tim Thien Do and his family. Many more possibilities for Vietnamese American philanthropy remain to be seen.

This post concludes our blog series on Vietnamese-American philanthropy. We hope you enjoyed learning about it just as much as we enjoyed researching and sharing our knowledge with you!

About the Author

DSC_7053 final_smallAnh is the communications and development coordinator at Vietnam Health, Education & Literature Projects (VNHELP), a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Vietnam’s poor.  Prior to her current position, Anh worked with Give2Asia in the business development department to research and develop material for Vietnamese American and corporate philanthropy. She also served as managing for Vietnam Talking Points (part of OneVietnam Network), where she wrote about Asian American identity and culture.

Also in this series:

The Rise of Vietnamese American Philanthropy
How and Where Vietnamese Americans Give in the US
How and Where Vietnamese Americans Give Back to Vietnam
NextGen Vietnamese-American Philanthropy

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