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My Father and Philanthropy

January 2, 2009

A few weeks ago Archana and I wrote a bit about discussing philanthropy with the people in our lives.  I talked specifically about how one might begin to have a conversation with parents.  In the spirit of practicing what I preach,  my fiance (Sendhil) and I recently sat down with my father to talk with him about his views about charitable giving.

I began by giving him an update on this forum.  He was sincerely enthusiastic about the mission and started discussing strategies for success.  He talked about the best ways to reach people of his generation and gave me names of notable people who could provide a positive influence on this issue.  A few minutes into his presentation, I interrupted with “Dad, actually I wanted to talk to you about your giving.  Why don’t you donate to nonprofits?”  To soften what may have sounded like an accusation,  I added “And, why don’t people of your generation donate more?”

He provided to reasons: (1) lack of trust and (2) lack of funds.    And, while his reasons weren’t novel, his explanations were interesting.  He, of course, first explained away the “lack of giving” phenomena with the fact that he couldn’t trust nonprofits.  “Who knows what they’re doing with our money,” he stated (forgetting for that I run a small nonprofit, and therefore must also be a crook).  He also added that Indians from India grew up with very poor impressions of charities as crooks.  To support his continuing view of the charities as crooks idea, he exclaimed, “Remember that guy from United Way who made 1.5 million dollars a year and then took money from the organization.”  (Interestingly, he did not bring up the Madoff scandal.)   I responded with my own work in the nonprofit world and reiterated that such occurences were anomalies.  Also, I asked if rating mechanism for South Asian not for profits would facilitate his giving.

My father soon realized that his “lack of trust” argument was not on solid footing, so he looked down, fidgeted with his napkin, and then said “and the other thing is, I just don’t have enough to give.”  And, I know in his view he does not have enough to give.  Normally, at this stage in the conversation I would become incredulous and argue until I was blue in the face about how we are upper middle class and we absolutely have money to donate.  Luckily for my father, I took a different tack for the purposes of this post.  I asked him how much would be enough.  He offered that he would consider himself able to donate to charity if he earned enough interest from his savings to take care of his annual expenses.  At that point, he would be willing to donate 20-30% of any extra earned interest beyond his expenses.  I, of course, pointed out that with increased income expenses have a tendency to increase.  He agreed.  And, we stopped there.   

Again, nothing we spoke about was revolutionary, but our conversation reminded me that talking about philanthropy is the first step in encouraging philanthropy  No one person or one group has held my father accountable for his giving or, really, systematically challenged his thoughts and potential misconceptions.  Finally, no one has talked with personal rewards that come when you donate. 

So, I will continue this conversation with him and keep you posted.  

Has anyone had conversation about philanthropy with their families?  How has it gone?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nehal A. Patel permalink
    July 2, 2009 7:39 pm

    Venu’s observations from this interview are important to explore in more detail, and they remind me of my and my wife’s efforts to encourage philanthropy when we got married several years ago. We included a line in our wedding invitations that asked people to give to one of a few listed charities in lieu of giving gifts to us. I was delighted that many people gave to our listed charities.

    Unfortunately, I do not recall the exact differences between the donations from South Asians vs. non-South Asians. If I remember correctly, I noticed that a higher proportion of non-South Asian guests offered donations when compared to the South Asian guests. In addition, the donation amounts from non-South Asian guests tended to be slightly higher but still in the same ballpark when compared to the donation amounts from South Asian guests. I also recall that many of our non-South Asian guests made positive comments about our efforts to encourage charity-giving as opposed to gift-giving for our wedding, and they seemed to automatically understand that it was incumbent upon them to give. In contrast, there seemed to be a smaller proportion of South Asian guests who commented to us about our donation request–and their donations may have been slightly lower than those of the non-South Asian guests–but they were far more enthusiastic about our efforts than anyone else. These South Asians were in their fifties or sixties and typically had strong spiritual beliefs and/or had a history of working for humanitarian causes. For the overwhelming majority of other South Asians, however, it did not seem to me as if the call to give donations sunk in that deeply. As a result, it seemed as if a small but wildly enthusiastic group of South Asians gave donations, while a much larger proportion of non-South Asians gave donations and gave those donations quietly without as much outward excitement.

    Although my observations are informal and not systematic, I think that they seem consistent with the concern of the South Asian philanthropy blog as a whole: although South Asians give, as a group they may not give at as high amounts, at the same percentages of their population, and with the same frequency as non-South Asians in the U.S. However, I hope that more South Asians use traditional events such as weddings as opportunities to awaken a greater consciousness of philanthropy (and to collect more data to add to our wedding observations!).

  2. asridhar permalink*
    July 9, 2009 2:18 am

    Thanks, Nehal! It is wonderful that you did that at your wedding – what a great way to engage with philanthropy as you and your wife build your life together. Your observations about South Asian and non-SA guests is fascinating. We’re trying to work with a group of academic researchers to generate more systematic data to observe trends like the ones you noted. Thanks for tuning in!


  1. The Power of Volunteering « The South Asian Philanthropy Project
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