Fewer donors say they are willing to give to a charity when it supports immigrants – especially if they are undocumented
Overall, immigrants are slightly more likely to be low income than other Americans, and many are discriminated against. In addition, many immigrants, especially those with low incomes, undocumented or have trouble speaking englishneed help settling in the United States. Therefore, there are charities that support these newcomers.
Two of us are immigrants From Canada and India who are looking for non-profit organizations. The other, who studies race and ethnicity and immigration policy, is the child of immigrants from Mexico. We wanted to know if the immigration status of people helped by a charity can influence the public’s willingness to donate to it.
“Helping children thrive”
To find out, we conducted an experiment by asking 1,209 people to complete an online survey to gauge their willingness to donate to an imaginary charity. The participants didn’t know that the group we formed, “Help Kids Thrive”, was not a real organization when they heard about its activities. They had to answer a few questions about the group and if they could donate.
We hired Dynata, a private company, to conduct this survey in October 2019. In exchange for their time, the company allows participants to earn points that they can redeem for gift cards, frequent flyer miles and other rewards. Those who participated were a nationally representative group of Americans in terms of race and ethnicity, geographic region and most age categories – although women and those aged 18 to 24 were been slightly underrepresented.
To assess whether the demographics of people a nonprofit like Help Kids Thrive has supported matter to Americans, we focused on four beneficiary groups. One concerned families who are homeless or who cannot afford basic necessities; a second was made up of recent immigrant families from three Latin American countries – Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador; a third was composed of recent immigrant families from three Asian countries – China, India and the Philippines; and the fourth was families from anywhere in Latin America who are undocumented, threatened with deportation, or both.
We chose these countries because they are among the top sources of immigrants to the United States.
Everyone who responded to this survey was randomly assigned to one of these four groups. They were told that Help Kids Thrive helps families in one of these categories.
We also experimented with suggested donation amounts. Half could choose to donate $5, $10, $15, or $20, while the other half saw higher suggested amounts: $20, $40, $60, $80. Overall, it was also possible for those who answered the survey to say that they would not give anything at all or to write their own amount. To be clear, no one gave real money to our imaginary charity.
About half of survey participants said they would be willing to donate. They wrote down donation amounts from $1 to $500 or selected a suggested amount.
By asking participants three questions about Help Kids Thrive, we were able to identify those – 492 people – who had carefully read the information provided and focus on their answers.
Support less likely for immigrants
Overall, we found that people were less willing to donate to the charity when its beneficiaries were described as immigrants. The likelihood was even lower for immigrants who were undocumented, threatened with deportation, or both.
For example, after controlling for other factors, the average person in the sample had a 67% chance of saying they would donate to Help Kids Thrive when told it helped low-income families. If told that the charity helped immigrants, that likelihood dropped by 13 or 14 percentage points, to 54% for Latino immigrants and 53% for Asian immigrants.
The likelihood of them saying “yes, I would donate to this association” fell to 47% for undocumented migrants.
Within the group of participants who read the experiment carefully, we found that gender, age, and political ideology did not affect their responses. Even their attitudes toward immigrants did not play a statistically significant role in their willingness to donate.
In this study, we focused on immigrants from Latin America and Asia because they represented more than 80% of immigrants without papers. We have not addressed the anti-black discrimination faced by many immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, but I think this is an important subject to study in the future.
People who speak other languages at home
Respondents to the survey also answered questions about themselves, such as their age, gender, political affiliations and education.
We found that having the same racial or ethnic identity as the charity’s beneficiaries did not affect willingness to donate to this fictional charity. Identifying as Latino or Hispanic, or having Asian American heritage, made no statistically significant difference. It also didn’t matter whether the investigators thought the immigrants helped were from Latin America or Asia.
But those who had strong enough ties to another country to speak a language other than English at home were more likely to say they would be willing to donate. The likelihood that the average survey participant who speaks another language at home would be willing to donate was about 13 percentage points higher than for the average non-Hispanic white respondent who speaks English at home for each scenario we tested.
Conflict, economic distress and climate change result in more migration around the world, including large numbers of asylum seekers or refugee status in the United States. Because governments lack the resources and political will to serve immigrants adequately, nonprofit organizations can help fill these gaps.
But raising funds to help undocumented immigrants seems to be much more difficult for charities, even though these immigrants may need the help the most.