Indian Americans, the wealthiest community in the nation, donate an estimated $1 billion annually to non-profit organizations, but give far less than their potential because of a wariness of how their donor dollars are spent, summated Indiaspora July 17, releasing the results of a first-ever survey of Indian American philanthropy.
The survey found a large “giving gap,” of $2-3 billion, and noted that Indian Americans give only one percent of their annual income in charitable contributions. The U.S. population as a whole donates roughly four percent. If Indian Americans contributed at that same rate, they could be donating as much as $3 billion per year, concluded the survey.
The primary reasons for Indian Americans’ philanthropic underperformance are a lack of reliable, accessible information to determine which organizations are reputable; a lack of trust in philanthropic intermediaries, particularly those operating in India; and a cultural attitude that favors ‘informal’ giving to family or friends over giving to social organizations, concluded the survey.
Indiaspora founder M.R. Rangaswami said in a press statement announcing the survey’s results: “Today, we are discussing what lies next for Indiaspora in our role as a philanthropic catalyst, which is one of the core pillars of our mission. We are in the early stages of strategically planning what we should do to move the needle – which is to say, increase the amount of Indian American philanthropic giving in America and to India, and make it more effective.”
Rangaswami later told India-West the survey revealed that Indian American donors have a propensity towards funding organizations who work in India. Citing the work of Devesh Kapur, Nirvikar Singh, and Sanjoy Chakravorty who wrote “The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” Rangaswami noted that more than a quarter of Indian Americans live below the federal poverty line and more than 400,000 are undocumented. He hoped that Indian American philanthropists could focus some of their dollars on the concerns of the Indian community in the U.S.
The Indiaspora-Dalberg Community Engagement Survey was released during a day-long philanthropy summit at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The summit featured leaders of several non-profit organizations, prominent philanthropists, and policy experts. Keynote speakers included: Tom Vajda, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia at the State Department; Gloria Steele, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia at USAID; Sunil Wadhwani, founder of the WISH Foundation; Shaheen Mistri, founder and CEO of Teach for India; Geetha Murali, CEO of Room to Read; Frank Islam, of FI Investment Group; and Atul Satija, founder and CEO of the Nudge Foundation.
The survey queried 800 respondents; 28 partner organizations released the online survey to their members. The average annual income of survey participants was $335,000; 15 percent had incomes of greater than $500,000; while one-third of respondents’ incomes were between $101,000 to $225,000. Three-quarters of survey responders had attained masters’ degrees or higher, and almost as many had lived in the U.S. for more than 21 years.
The average age of respondents was 51.
Education and health in India were amongst the biggest concerns for Indian American donors. Interestingly, almost two-thirds of women surveyed listed gender equality as one of their top four priorities; only a quarter of the men said the same. While 38 percent of respondents overall said that gender equality was a priority, less than 25 percent reported making a donation to an organization working towards that goal.
Sanjeev Joshipura, executive director of Indiaspora, later told India-West that women who are recipients of philanthropy manage donations much more wisely than men. Indiaspora is trying to increase the visibility of women in philanthropy by inviting them to speak at panels, and promoting female role models, he said.
Passion versus donation gaps also appeared in environmental concerns: 27 percent of respondents said they were concerned about environmental issues and climate change, but only 17 percent reported donations to environmental organizations, and nine percent to organizations addressing climate change.
Aging issues and the rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer people ranked the lowest in priority, and received the least amount of funding from survey participants.
The survey also asked respondents about the number of hours they volunteer annually. An Indian American donor typically volunteers 220 hours each year, far exceeding the U.S. national average of about 130 hours. Interestingly, increased hours of volunteerism also increased the amounts of donation, noted the survey. Of donors who reported annually giving $10,000 or more, 38 percent said they spent 20 or more hours a month volunteering. Of those who gave $0 to $500, 42 percent responded they spent no time volunteering.
Joshipura told India-West that Indiaspora is aiming to enhance trust in NGOs, by promoting platforms similar to Guidestar and Giving Compass, which rank the efficacy of U.S. non-profits.