Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders Turning to Giving Circles

Asian Americans are turning to giving circles to help fund cultural activities and support the needy in their communities, the Los Angeles Times reports.

One such group, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Giving Circle, was founded in 2007 by Leslie Ito, president and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, who saw how charities serving her community tended to rely on a single source of funding. While philanthropists such as the late George Aratani, founder of the Mikasa china company, gave millions of dollars to restore historic buildings in Little Tokyo and help finance the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, "there's not enough of these major figures," she told the LA Times. In an effort to try to fill that gap, the LA API Giving Circle has donated more than $72,000 to twenty-two Asian-American/Pacific Islander organizations in the Los Angeles area, including the Chinese Parents Association for the Disabled and Tafesilafa'I Pacific Islander Festival.

The L.A. group is hardly the only active giving circle focused on Asian Americans, however. According to Noelle Ito, senior director of community philanthropy at  Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, over the last six years some four dozen Asian-American/Pacific Islander giving circles across the country have distributed a total of $2.2 million to more than four hundred nonprofit organizations — helping to fill a gap created in part by the perception that Asian Americans excel in academics and business. According to Foundation Center statistics, in 2012 organizations serving Asians and Pacific Islanders received only 3 percent of grant dollars designated for ethnic/racial minorities by the top one thousand U.S. foundations.

"People naturally give to the homeless or the elderly,” said Ito. “Yet when it comes to Asians, they're led to believe we're all successful, that we rarely experience illness or setbacks. But that's so far from true.” To address the issue, she is working to recruit the next generation of donors and encouraging Asian Americans who have succeeded to help support nonprofits serving the Asian American community.

"What happens if some of us don't get involved and these groups are even more marginalized? How will people understand the heart of Asian Americans unless we highlight their work?" said Leslie Ito. "You don't need to be Bill Gates to donate to your community, especially when that community has huge needs — unmet by traditional philanthropy."