- posted by Dien S Yuen
The Diversity in Philanthropy Project recently released a study called, Social Catalysts: A Case Study of Fifteen Successful Diversity Focused Funds. The purpose was to put forth information about these funds so that more collaboration between these funds and mainstream foundations could take place. There are only a handful of ethnic based - community funds in the U.S., and these are naturally the places where individuals start from when looking to give in their own ethnic community. One would also assume that since these funds are closer to their community they can address problems that directly affect them with that much more impact and in a culturally appropriate way.
Of the fifteen funds from the study, three of them are Asian: (1) Asian American Federation (NY); (2) Asian Pacific Fund (San Francisco); and (3) Asian Women's Giving Cirlce (NY). These three groups are very different in structure, strategy and focus. For example, the Asian Women's Giving Circle is a donor advised fund of AAPIP and their funding is derived from a group of donors and volunteers that run the circle. Whereas, the Asian Pacific Fund was started by the United Way and several local foundations and has permanent staff.
The issue with the Asian-related funds are they they are geographically focused. APF serves the Bay Area community, AAF serves NY and the AWGC serves NY and focuses on arts activism. Therefore, donors that do not live in these geographic areas must rely on themselves, their advisors, local community groups, and regional community foundations to assist them.
The study is an interesting read and I hope it helps mainstream foundations understand more of how these funds work. But these funds also need support to sustain themselves when starting out or during its expansion phases. With this research now available as a guide on how to invest in successful focused funds like these, the question now is, who will step up and support not just these current groups but future ones as well? How do we use the information to attract and encourage investments into community philanthropy?
Perhaps, the next step is to position these funds as attractive investments not just for mainstream foundations but also for individual donors. If you looked at the Asian funds, the key to success is really derived from their work with individual donors of the Asian community. So perhaps the investment by mainstream foundations is to grow the capacity of these funds to work more with individual donors of the Asian community. The investment would then be leveraged to increase not just support to the Asian community but also help individuals become engaged philanthropists in the general community overall.
Here is a brief summary of the primary factors that contributed to the success of the fifteen funds:
1. Leadership - all the funds involved grassroots leaders committed to increasing philanthropic dollars in their particular communities. They were founded by a dedicated leader(s) who were willing to invest in starting and sustaining a new venture. In the case of APF, the executive Gail Kong, has been there since their founding in 1993. Hali Lee, still with AWGC is still leading the circle. Cao O, of AAF has led the organization since its inception in 1990.
2. Adaptability - They built capacity by diversifying their funding and investing in staff and infrastructure. Many were able to secure early endowments and/or multi-year funds from established grantmakers.
3. Responsible stewardship - They wanted to ensure that their grant-making would directly benefit the community and that grants would be available on the basis of transparent guidelines and processes. According to the report, AAFmakes about $250,000 in grants each year, and APF makes annual grants totaling $200,000. AWGC raised $60,000 in its first year and $70,000 in the second year.
4. Multiple social change strategies - These funds used multiple social change strategies or a combination of them (they include social service, social partnership, social activism, and social entrepreneurship). AAF is engaged in all these strategies due to the needs of their affiliated agencies. They remain flexible to address infrastructure needs of its affiliated agencies while also investing in programs. As Cao explained: We're not just responding; we are also proactive. From where we sit, we see certain gaps that we have filled by incubating start-ups.
Photo courtesy of Northcountry Boy