In 2017, after joining my family’s foundation as the Director of Programs, I had the opportunity to participate in a “Meet the Funders” event hosted by the Asian Pacific Community Fund. At the time, I wasn’t the most seasoned grantmaker, but it had long been a desire of mine to meaningfully engage with the AAPI community, so I was particularly excited for the opportunity to participate in eight one-on-one sessions with AAPI nonprofit leaders during the event. I believed that as a result of those meetings, I’d have some new connections and make some recommendations to our board about programs that seemed interesting. However, these conversations opened my eyes and ears to the unique, culturally specific assets and particularized needs of the AAPI nonprofit landscape and started me on an ongoing journey of listening to and learning from the incredible leaders serving our precious AAPI communities.

At first, I was incredibly overwhelmed by the number of AAPI organizations that I became aware of, each of them providing critical services to our most vulnerable and hard-to-reach AAPI community members.  Additionally, I became exasperated by the lack of resources that were available to these underserved communities. I further started to see a pervasive pattern: all these organizations, from those boasting multi-million-dollar annual budgets to the organizations with only one full time staff person, were all fighting for the same limited funding from a very small pool of funders. Sadly, this was creating an ecosystem that perpetuates a scarcity mindset, harbors unhealthy competition, and impedes positive community impact.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) report, Overlooked (Part 1): Foundation Support for Asian American and Pacific Islander Leaders and Communities, documents these patterns through feedback and the experiences of AAPI leaders. These realizations raised a difficult question for me to grapple with. Oftentimes, as grantmakers, we rely on our nonprofit partners to tell us the problems they’re addressing; but how often do we ask ourselves if we are contributing to or creating new problems within the communities we serve?

As funders, it is our responsibility to the AAPI community and other underrepresented communities to lead a philanthropic transformation to ensure that vulnerable and insular communities are seen, heard, valued, and protected. From that perspective I’d like to share three guiding principles that I have gleaned through my time working with our community leaders.

Guiding Principle #1: Lead with curiosity and cultivate a comprehensive understanding of AAPI communities.

Guiding Principle #2: Balance the principles of sustainability, innovation, and collaboration.

Guiding Principle #3: AAPI and mainstream funders BOTH need to be reliable, engaged, and postured as long-term resource partners.

Read the full article about uplifting AAPI communities by Vivian Long at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.