Philanthropy in Indian American Community


By Inder Singh
Although Indian American philanthropy will continue even after the first generation Indian immigrants, yet the focus of the next generation Indian Americans, born and raised in the US, may not be India and India-centric causes. They may direct their generosity to local, Indian American and community causes.

Monetary donations are perceived to carry more value than voluntary services but the definition of philanthropy does include contribution of personal time, talents and effort to serve the needs of the community. Volunteering or donating one’s time, talent and services without financial gain, is an integral part of American economy. Many organizations depend heavily on volunteers to carry out their services or implement their projects. Whether it is American Red Cross which responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year, Habitat for Humanity which builds affordable housing for low-income families or neighborhood church, they all depend heavily on volunteers to provide the necessary manpower. The volunteers perform different types of services for their organizations such as fundraising, working in community kitchens for preparing, distributing, or serving food, upkeep and maintenance of temples, coaching, or supervising sports teams, providing professional or management assistance, etc. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63.4 million Americans or 26.8 percent of the US population, donated approximately 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service worth $169 billion for the year ended in September 2009. 

Religious organizations such as temples and churches are probably the largest group among Indian American nonprofits and they depend on volunteers to provide services to preserve and sustain religion and culture. Some temples and religious places have expanded their scope of services to include, besides the traditional worship, teaching of religious philosophy, culture and tradition and thus cannot function without the on-going support of dedicated and committed volunteers. The term Sewa or altruism is used for acts of helping others without any expectation of recognition or reward. Altruism is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and many others. In certain faiths, altruism is a religiously sanctioned practice and is performed with dedication and fervor. 

Besides temples and other religious organizations, there are civic, cultural and public interest groups which are formed as advocacy groups to enhance the voice of their respective constituencies by holding forums, sponsoring activities, or other appropriate means. They too depend on volunteers and community activists to organize various activities. Many Indian Americans regularly contribute their time, skills and talents to serve their community organizations. Some volunteers provide their services to show gratitude while others serve with passion to make a difference. Volunteering is thus an integral part of Indian American society and it is unimaginable to think of any Indian civic body or religious institution without active volunteers. 

Soon after coming to the United States in the beginning of the twentieth century, Indians have been helping their community by their voluntary efforts: mobilizing volunteers and opinion makers for India’s independence, striving for equality and civil rights and more recently fighting for issues and concerns of the Indian American community and India. In the beginning, immigrants from India encountered hardships, hostility, discrimination, humiliation and bigotry. 

—To be continued

Inder Singh regularly writes and speaks on Indian Diaspora. He is Chairman of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). He was president of GOPIO from 2004-2009, president of National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) from 1988-92 and was the founding president of Federation of Indian Associations in Southern California. He can be reached at

June 2011

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