The Korean American population has grown tremendously since changes in U.S. immigration laws in the mid-1960s. Little more than 11,000 strong before 1965, today Korean Americans are the fifth largest Asian group in the United States, and one in ten Asian Americans is Korean American. Korean Americans have become an important part of American society, and a growing number of wealthy Korean Americans are found in diverse professions. Though western-style philanthropy is a relatively new concept to Koreans (as it is to Asians in general), Korean Americans also have a growing presence in America’s philanthropic community.
The purpose of this report is to help the philanthropic community better understand and reach out to Korean American donors; to insert the Korean American example into the literature on Asian American philanthropy; and to spark more research and a conversation about the state of philanthropy among Korean Americans.
- Korean Americans’ potential for mainstream (i.e. institutional) philanthropy is growing as the Korean American diaspora includes more upwardly mobile American-born members and accumulates wealth. American-born Korean Americans, in addition to being more affluent than Korean immigrants, are also more likely to prefer an institutional model of philanthropy.
- Korean Americans, particularly immigrants, possess various ‘indigenous’ traditions of philanthropy. These include practices of informal giving to extended family and other close relations, such as friends or fellow church members; and church-based giving and volunteering, which are social norms among the 70-80 percent of Korean Americans who identify as Christian. Though the popularity of western-style philanthropy is growing throughout the diaspora, a good deal of giving, particularly among immigrants, takes these forms.
- Personal relationships/connections (or gwangye, the Korean equivalent of the Chinese concept of guanxi) are important to Korean Americans and often become the basis of why they direct their giving to particular people or organizations. Korean American donors tend to be most supportive of organizations to which a close relation is a donor, or otherwise affiliated, and they often hear about the organizations they support through word-of-mouth in their social networks.
- Korean American donors’ interests and approaches to philanthropy are truly diverse, but a few broadly defined fields of interest attract greater attention. These include education and research, North Korean issues (famine, human rights abuses, and refugees), and community development for Korean Americans.
Information in the report was obtained from in-depth interviews with Korean American donors and advisers conducted between July and October 2010.