The best part of my job is getting to learn from and partner with incredible leaders that have demonstrated passion, commitment, and perseverance for those they serve. Nowhere are those qualities more evident than in the individuals and teams that have dedicated their careers to serving the AANHPI community. Although the Long Family Foundation hadn’t yet articulated our commitment to funding AANHPI-serving organizations when I started in this role six years ago, I am so grateful to the women and men that invited me to understand not just the work at their individual organizations, but the unique assets and challenges of the entire AANHPI nonprofit ecosystem.
About five years ago, the Long Family Foundation embarked on a journey to define what our commitment to the AANHPI community would be, I was fortunate to be guided, encouraged, and challenged by not just nonprofit leaders but also by other fellow AANHPI funders. Through observations, conversations, and a lot of listening, two distinct but intersecting opportunities emerged as the cornerstone of our AANHPI strategy: to support capacity building efforts for AANHPI serving nonprofits, and to develop the AANHPI philanthropic community. The need for both approaches was underscored in the recently released Center for Effective Philanthropy report “Overlooked: Foundation Support for AAPI Leaders and Communities.” CEP’s research had two primary findings:
- Finding One: AAPI nonprofit leaders report having less positive experiences with their foundation funders than nonprofit leaders of other races/ethnicities. This has been the case during, as well as prior to, the pandemic.
- Finding Two: Despite the significant challenges facing AAPI people, most foundations continue to overlook nonprofits that serve these communities.
The overwhelming reaction to this report from AAPI nonprofit leaders and funders was disappointment, but not surprise. Anecdotally, the research findings are consistent with my observations (which admittedly are not as deep or experienced as most of our partners). I certainly don’t have all the answers to how we can solve this issue, but there are some recommendations I’d like to share with funders that are considering how they can best support the AANHPI community:
- Communicate your commitment to the AANHPI community. Some of the most consistent feedback I receive from nonprofit leaders is that they don’t know where a funder stands when it comes to their priorities or approach, making it difficult to start a conversation even if there is a connection made. As funders, we are constantly asking potential partners to share their strategic plans, but how often do we articulate and share ours? After we set forth our AANHPI strategy and communicated it with current and potential partners, we found that the conversations became much more mutual and efficient for both parties. It gave our partners an opportunity to evaluate whether they aligned with our goals, provide specific information, and ask questions that are relevant to our shared interests. Additionally, I am indebted to the nonprofit partners – some of whom we have funding relationships with and some of whom we don’t – that looked over our strategy and shared their honest thoughts on factors we might have overlooked, or what we might consider for the future. I’ve found that feedback from the experts – in this case, nonprofit and community leaders – is a vital part of crafting, refining, and evaluating our Foundation’s strategy.
- Invest in organizational health. AANHPI community building is one of five areas of focus for the Long Family Foundation, and each of our five priorities has a distinct nonprofit landscape. While traditional philanthropy is quickly (and rightfully) being replaced with trust-based philanthropy, the AANHPI nonprofit community has been much slower to see that shift in their donor base. This has led to a critical underinvestment in organizational health and capacity building for our AANHPI serving leaders, seen consistently from organizations with eight figure annual budgets to grassroots movements. It took me a couple of years to process the trends I was observing from the AANHPI nonprofit ecosystem and influenced the Foundation’s decision to establish our capacity building strategy. In addition to funding AANHPI research like the CEP report, one of the initiatives we championed and support is a collaboration between the Asian Pacific Community Fund & Nonprofit Finance Fund: the Asian Pacific Islander American Financial Leadership Initiative. In recognizing the distinct and deep need for greater financial health management capacity for AANHPI serving nonprofits, this pilot is a community-led program that includes financial consulting and participation stipends to honor the work of leaders.
- Pursue collective and collaborative models of giving that empower experts and the community. Another positive trend in mainstream philanthropy has been an increase in collaborative models of generosity, like giving circles and funding collaboratives. However, one deeply entrenched philanthropic fallacy is that funders alone are best equipped to make grantmaking decisions. The reality for most funders is that, while we have deep passion and the best of intentions, we are not experts in all the issues that we seek to solve with philanthropic capital. We are much better poised to make greater impact if we pursue counsel from the experts in the field: those who have built trusted relationships with the community and have an accountable track record of successful work. I am grateful to share these perspectives with my fellow Asian American Futures board members, many of whom are also funders. It was with this mindset that we established the Gold Futures Challenge, a first-of-its-kind $500,000 grants challenge to AANHPI serving organizations. While the prize money is funded by the collective generosity of private donors (including the Long Family Foundation), it’s unlike a giving circle or funding collaborative in that those of us that have contributed financially have no decision-making authority over the process. Rather, we enlisted an incredible national Selection Committee composed of AANHPI academics, advocates, and industry leaders to help us select the top 10 organizations, that then the public would vote for and determine the winners. Ultimately, the process is entrenched in a belief that funding can be most impactful when both experts and those who are most affected (in this case, the public) are invited to lead the process.
- Prepare for Leadership Transition. I am frequently asked the question: “How can I increase diversity and representation on my nonprofit or foundation board?” And the question I ask in return is: “Do you have term limits?” While only inquiring about term limits may seem reductive to the greater topic of board governance, I’ve found that it is a fairly telling indicator of the board and organizational culture. The real question is, what kind of environment are you inviting new board or team members into? If you have no term limits and the majority of your board has been there for 10+ years, it will likely be challenging (if not impossible) for new voices to significantly influence the organization, whether they sit on the board or are staff leaders. As funders, we are often invited to join boards, and almost every board is having discussions right now about engaging a younger and/or more diverse audience. But in order for that engagement to be genuine and successful, transitions must take place and funders have an incredible opportunity to champion, prepare for, and execute those transitions. Through encouraging nonprofits to plan ahead for change and providing dollars for succession planning and board governance and development, funders can help nonprofits thoughtfully and proactively navigate complex shifts rather than having to react to crises.