U.S. Asians make mark with giving

Kirk Semple / New York Times News Service /

NEW YORK — About 800 people gathered in November in a ballroom in midtown Manhattan for one of the year’s more elegant galas. They dined on beef tenderloin with truffle butter, bid on ski and golf vacations in a charity auction and gave more than $1 million to a nonprofit based in New York.

But this was not an old-money event. The donors were largely Korean immigrants and their children.

Members of a new class of affluent Asian-Americans, many of whom have benefited from booms in finance and technology, are making their mark on philanthropy in the United States. They are donating large sums to groups focused on their own diasporas or their homelands, like the organization that held the fundraiser, the Korean American Community Foundation.

And they are giving to prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals — like Yale University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The institutions, in turn, are increasingly courting Asian-Americans, who are taking high-profile slots on their governing boards.

SungEun Han-Andersen, a Korean immigrant who runs two family foundations and is on the boards of the New York Philharmonic and Boston University, said the philanthropic impulse was for the first time becoming deeply rooted within her circle of Korean acquaintances.

“I don’t have to ask for funds twice, because they’re beginning to understand,” Han-Andersen, a former management consultant and concert pianist, said.

Pradeep Kashyap, an Indian immigrant and former senior executive at Citibank, described this shift as “the journey of becoming American.”

“They see their mainstream American peers giving, and they say, ‘I’m going to do that,’” said Kashyap, vice chairman of the American India Foundation, one of the largest and most successful of the new Asian philanthropies.

The growth in philanthropy by Asian-Americans parallels a surge in the Asian population in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, according to the Census Bureau, the number of people who identified themselves as partly or wholly Asian grew by nearly 46 percent, more than four times the growth rate of the overall population, making Asian-Americans the fastest growing racial group in the nation.

Lulu Wang, a money manager and philanthropist in New York, and her husband, Anthony Wang, established themselves in the vanguard of this new wave of Asian-American philanthropy when they donated $25 million to Wellesley College, her alma mater, in 2000.

“With this new display of philanthropy, there are many more who are looked at with great interest by these boards,” said Wang, who was born in New Delhi and is of Chinese descent, and who sits on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum, Columbia Business School and other institutions.

Another Met trustee who is Chinese-American, Oscar Tang, said, “There’s a group of us who all know each other and support each other in this tendency.”

Among Tang’s contributions have been major gifts to Phillips Academy Andover, including a donation of $25 million in 2008, and Skidmore College, as well as the Met.

Asian cultures have a strong tradition of philanthropy in the broadest sense, although it has usually involved donations to relatives, neighbors, churches and business associations. Many Asian immigrants have not immediately embraced the Western-style practice of giving to large philanthropic institutions, organizers said.

“The reaction is: ‘Why should we give money to a third party?’” said Cao K. O, executive director of the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit group in New York City established in 1989 that manages a community fund.

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