In Myth No. 3 of Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article “Eight Myths of U.S. Philanthropy,” Una Osili, Ph.D., associate dean for research and international programs, professor of economics and philanthropic studies, and dean’s fellow at the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, explores how immigrants give of their time, talent, treasure, and testimony, foiling the xenophobic rhetoric and narrative that immigrants take and don’t give.
Data from the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), suggest that immigrant status does not have a statistically significant impact on the likelihood of giving and the amount of charitable giving after controlling for permanent income, education, savings, and other variables. In addition, Osili and Jia Xue, Ph.D., found statistics that show immigrants and their children are less likely to be a burden on U.S. institutions.
Itay Greenspan, Ph.D., Marlene Walk, Ph.D., and Femida Handy, Ph.D., discovered that even though immigrants volunteer less than native-born individuals, contextual factors such as social networks and membership in organizations play a strong role on likelihood of volunteering, while sociodemographic factors (excepting education) were not associated with immigrants’ proclivity to volunteer.
The authors explain that organizational adaptations and policy interventions could increase immigrants’ likelihood to volunteer, while current lower levels of participation compared to native-born individuals may stem from a lack of equal opportunities and discriminatory or inequitable practices rather than personal barriers.
In addition, the informal philanthropy that immigrants partake in is often not studied.
Jamie Goodwin, a Ph.D. candidate at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, studied informal immigrant giving and volunteering along the U.S.-Mexico border.
One example she provides of a thriving informal network of philanthropy was the Camino de Salvación, a small church in Tijuana, Mexico. Led by pastor, sociologist, and historian Juan Altamirano, this alburgue (shelter) offers just that: safe shelter for immigrants and refugees fleeing poor conditions and crises. This church works on the basis of reciprocal generosity: people assist by sharing meals, helping to find rides and navigate the bus system, looking for work, and caring for children and the sick.
This largely unseen generosity is keeping many of them from going hungry and homeless and enhancing their personal safety in precarious conditions.
So, immigrants formally and informally give and volunteer. How can nonprofit practitioners engage with them to encourage giving and volunteering with their respective institutions?
Lilya Wagner, Ed.D., director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, explains that nonprofits need to broaden the definition of philanthropy to include traditions, preferences, and ways of giving by diverse populations, and not attempt to function under the comfortable “one size fits all” mentality.
“Understanding the giving traditions and habits of the diverse populations in North America is not just an add-on; it’s a necessity,” she says.
Recognizing and knowing diverse giving and volunteering patterns, formal and informal philanthropy, and barriers to and cultural understandings of philanthropy will help inform nonprofit practitioners and others understand and catalyze immigrant philanthropy.
Underneath the myth “immigrants take – they don’t give” is research and lived experience that show that immigrants give much to a society, and have so for many years.