Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI*) communities are leading a shift in the philanthropic landscape. As demonstrated in the “Stop Asian Hate” movement or in response to the Maui wildfire’s devastating effects on local Lahaina communities, AAPI-led movements are mobilizing major resources.

Asian Americans “were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. from 2000 to 2019” (Budiman & Ruiz, 2021, para. 1). In 2021, the estimated number of Asian American residents in the country was 24 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2023). The 2020 election voter turnout rate for the non-Hispanic Asian population saw the largest jump (from 49% to 59%) of any identity group from 2016 to 2020 (Fabina, 2021).

Alongside this growth, however, stark patterns of inequality exist in parallel. In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that income inequality was the greatest among Asian Americans. Over an almost fifty-year period, the distribution of income “transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic groups” (Kochhar & Cilluffo, para. 2).

Key giving efforts to answer these calls have gained visibility and align with an array of existing philanthropic priorities, from donor-advised funds and giving circles to civic engagement and disaster response.

  • AAPI Data (2020) conducted surveys and interviews of AAPIP members and found “a steady increase of family foundations as well as AAPIs opening donor-advised funds with a focus on AAPI communities” (Ramakrishnan et al., p. 6). They also noted that a 2016 National Asian American Survey found that giving to charitable causes among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders was among the highest.
  • According to AAPIP (n.d.), giving circles are a long-standing practice amongst AAPI communities. However, recent developments, such as $3.65 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation (2023) (part of which helped fund The Chicago Community Trust’s Asian Giving Circle, 2023), The Denver Foundation’s (2023) establishment of a new affinity giving circle, and North Star Fund’s (2022) collaboration with Asian Women’s Giving Circle in New York City (reported as one of their top ten highlights from 2021), show the importance of this giving approach.
  • The AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, one of the largest funders of AAPI movement building, awarded $9 million in general operating grants over the past two years for civic participation (Jin Lee, 2023; Mesfin, 2022). In response to the Maui wildfires, NDN Collective (2023) encouraged Kanaka (Native Hawaiian)-led efforts, such as donations to the Hawai’i People’s Funds, the Nā `Aikāne o Maui Cultural Center, and the Maui Mutual Aid Fund.
  • In 2021, more than 9,000 Asian business leaders and allies, including Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, and OpenTable CEO Debby Soo, generated significant media attention when they pledged $10 million to partner with Asian Pacific Community Fund (Stand with Asian Americans). Meanwhile, The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) reported commitments over five years totaling $1.1 billion in donations and in-kind support from more than 130 partners, leveraging significant support from AAPI business leaders (2023).
  • In July 2023, TAAF and the Walmart Foundation launched The AAPI Nonprofit Database, an interactive resource connecting donors to AAPI nonprofit organizations. This type of tool as a bridge for organizations and community supporters was echoed in recommendations from a 2021 Urban Institute report, “Efforts to convene, connect, coordinate, and break down silos across AAPI organizations can help foster greater investment in the ecosystem and support movement building and the development of policy agendas that unify and advance AAPI communities” (Ford et al., p. 19).

Beyond giving and grantmaking, significant cross-sector actions in service of AAPI communities are underway, such as President Biden’s creation of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (The White House, 2021); the debut of ASIAN AMERICANS, a major history documentary led by Asian American filmmakers lauded as “the most ambitious television chronicle of the Asian American story in the United States” (PBS, 2019, para. 1). NBC News compiled “100 of the ways legislators, teens, artists, schools, athletes and many others nationwide have stepped up to fight hate and increased attacks” (Yang et al., 2022, para. 1).

Additional historic public sector commitments in the past few years, such as $247 million in California and $30 million in New York state, have helped support nonprofits serving AAPI communities ranging in media outreach and social networking to a multilingual hate crime reporting hotline (Sohrabji, 2023; Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, 2023).

Going forward, AAPI Data and AAPIP’s latest report (2023), Stepping up for Community, suggest funders must:

Do the homework on understanding AA and NHPI nonprofits and the communities they serve. Support visibility of the experiences and concerns of AA and NHPI communities … especially under-invested and underserved populations … Invest in … smaller organizations … [and] Invest in the long-term capacity. (p. 3)

Maintaining progress hinges on listening — and amplifying the work and voice of AAPI communities leading by example.

Read the full article about AAPI communities in philanthropy by Trish Abalo and Mandy Sharp Eizinger at Dorothy A. Johnson Center .