Tag Archives: nonprofit

5 Causes Asians should donate to right now

Every year there is a large uptick in charitable giving around the holidays, for many reasons.

  • Donors need to make their gifts by December 31 in order to qualify for tax deductions. It literally pays to give. So why not?
  • Retailers aren’t the only folks who need to end up in the black. Many non-profits increase their solicitations between Thanksgiving and New Years in order to close out their year positively. Maybe recently you received a direct appeal in the mail?
  • The holidays are support to be a time of goodwill and charity; perfect for supporting those less fortunate than ourselves.

This year, I decided to make gifts to the UW Pipeline Project, Jackstraw Cultural Center, and $1 to the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition. I was actually just testing their donation page to see if it worked–it did.

But with all of the worthy causes out there who need our support, which ones should you give to? A New York Times article wrote that Asian Americans tend to donate to their communities and native homeland. They are also “giving to prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals.”

Of course, not every dollar needs to go to a “prestigious” institution. There are many wonderful grassroots community organizations that need our support too. Here are five areas Asian Americans should invest their charitable dollars. Hopefully one of them resonates with your vision and values!

Youth Development

Recently arrived refugee and immigrant students experience tremendous barriers to success and self-sufficiency, including language and cultural adjustment. They are often unfamiliar with English and the American education system, which makes it difficult for them to succeed in school. As a result of these barriers, about 26% of Limited English students in the Class of 2012 dropped out of school in Washington, compared to 14% statewide. The graduation rate for this group is 60%, compared to 79% statewide.

How you can help! Donate to academic and enrichment youth programs. Look for organizations that provide culturally competent services, such as language support or honors youths’ native cultures.

James’ recommendation: My organization of course! The Vietnamese Friendship Association! Students who participate in our programs achieve one grade-level higher than their peers on math and English. Woohoo!

Civic engagement

Asian-Americans are one of the fastest growing communities in the United States according to the US Census. This rapid growth means that our impact and influence on US politics will greatly increase over time. Asian Americans have the potential to reshape the political landscape over the coming decades by continuing to exercise our voting rights, and all signs point in this direction.

How you can help! Donate to organize that promote civic engagement in the Asian American community. Although it’s a broad category, civic engagement can take many forms: voter education, get out the vote campaigns, political candidates, leadership development…just to name a few. Find one that works for you!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Pacific American Coalition for Equality (APACE) works for social and economic justice by transforming our democracy through the political empowerment of the broad API community.

Senior Services

From 2000 to 2010, there has been a 44% increase in Seattle’s Vietnamese senior population. According to the 2010 census, Vietnamese seniors currently make up nearly a quarter of the local Vietnamese population. Depression and social isolation are commonly reported among Vietnamese seniors. Perhaps most worryingly, more and more seniors are living on their own, independent from the care of their children. This is a big fat Asian faux pas (almost as bad as failing math). One time, I interpreted Vietnamese (poorly, I admit) for an elderly man and his dentist because his children weren’t there to help him.

How you can help! Donate to organizations that provide social, mental and emotional support to our seniors. Hot meal programs are very popular among Asian elders, especially if the meals include rice. Seniors also have difficulty accessing transportation, so consider supporting any programs that address this need.

James’ recommendation: Kin On! Their mission is to support the elderly and adults in the greater Seattle Asian community. They offer a comprehensive range of health, social and educational services sensitive to their cultural, linguistic and dietary needs. Plus, they host Mahjong Nights. It’s like the Asian version of senior bingo.


It is widely accepted that the United States spends more on health care than most other countries in the world. Yet we’re no better off for it. Health disparities are even greater for many Asian American communities. “But wait, I thought most Asians were doctors. What gives?” False! Language and cultural barriers prevent many Asian Americans from getting the care they need.

How you can help! Donate to community health centers. These awesome organizations offer affordable health care services to many vulnerable communities. They are usually located in medically underserved areas; places where traditional hospitals might not reach. Health centers also provide a great alternative for Asian children, who fear being coined by their parents.

James’ recommendation: International Community Health Services provides affordable health care services to Seattle and King County’s Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, as well as other underserved communities. They serve over 20,000 individuals a year!

Human and Social Services

The Asian American community has enormous, even unlimited, potential for success. Despite the “model minority myth” (flattering yet misguided, like the Kardashians) many Asians continue to face systematic barriers—economic, political, cultural, social, etc—that prevent them from achieving their dreams. For example, Asian Americans still endure ugly biases and prejudices from people who think we’re all foreigners.

How you can help! Donate to human and social services! Do not get suckered into all the talk around “efficiency” or “sustainability” or “collective impact.” While these are important, they alone don’t tell the full story when it comes to charitable giving. Basic needs are equally vital. Until people have their basic needs met, they will never be able to realize their full potential. Find an organization that provides these life-saving and life-changing services. Do it now!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Counseling and Referral Service is an organization I have tremendous respect for. They have a food bank, ethnic meal programs, citizenship classes, job training, violence prevention, and much more.


Where else should Asian Americans donate their money and time? Any suggestions? I’d love to hear where other’s are giving to this year. Leave a comment below or on Facebook. Thanks!


Besties or frenemies? The real story behind government, foundation and non-profit partnerships.

This past week I was on a panel discussion about understanding and connecting with communities. As Seattle becomes more diverse–economically, culturally, linguistically–there has been a rising interest in how to better engage, and ultimately serve, these emerging communities.

On the panel were representatives from City government, a gentleman from a local Foundation, and me–speaking from the non-profit perspective. Together, we represented “the big three.”

The moderator asked questions like, “How do you use data to understand the community and shape programs, investments and strategies” and “What tools do you use to understand your community?” We each shared how our respective institutions uniquely approached community development. Sometimes our work and vision clearly align (besties!), and other times we butt heads  (frenemy).

Rather than going into too much technical detail, I decided to write a fairy tale to explain the magical world of government, foundations and non-profits.


The Immigrant versus the Three Magi

A long, long time ago, far away in sleepy land cursed with eternal rain and little sun, there lived three magi: Government, Foundation and Non-Profit. Together, they watched over the entire kingdom with good intention and grace; each blessed with a different gift.

Government was born with the gift of influence, and lived in great hall filled with cubicles so massive they are rumored to steal one’s soul. Any man, woman, or child unfortunate enough to mistakenly wander into the hall would be lost and forgotten beneath reams of paperwork for all of eternity.

Foundation was blessed with wealth and lived in an ivory castle high above the clouds. There, she enjoyed a life filled with gold, jewelry and retirement benefits. Though Foundation had many suitors with whom to share her wealth, she was always hampered by a fear of long-term commitment.

Finally, Non-Profit–the smallest but most beautiful of the three–had neither influence nor wealth, but was given the gift of heart (and lavishing skin with perfectly symmetrical facial features). Non-Profit lived in a humble abode, which he had to split with other two roommates because he couldn’t afford rent.

Once a year the three magi emerged from within their walls to meet with the kingdom’s inhabitants, and each other. The gathering was known as the Great Equity Summit, an annual celebration where the magi granted audience to the people, listened to their needs, and offered solutions to their problems.

“Send in the first citizen,” announced Government.

“Your majesties, I am a poor shopkeeper who recently came to this Kingdom from across the eastern ocean, in a place called the Orient. I was able to find moderate success selling gluten-free water at the local market, but recently the cost of living has risen faster than my income. Now I can’t support my family and I am worried we will lose our home. Other families are growing anxious and more desperate too. Please help us.”

“Your words have moved me stranger,” replied Government, “and if what you say is true, then we must begin by carefully studying this problem. I shall appoint an independent Royal Assessor to collect data on other citizens in your neighborhood. We will conduct surveys, organize focus groups, and host community gatherings to get the input we need for a written report. Only then will I be adequately informed to make a decision.”

“We must act now!” interrupted Non-Profit. “What you need are new skills and opportunities for leadership. I shall create a job training program to teach you English and math, and find you an internship with the local masons. With hard work, you will earn a higher income, save your home, and strengthen your family.” Non-Profit spoke with passion and determination. “But first, is there anyone in this great Kingdom willing and able to volunteer as a tutor, case manager, and/or web designer for the shopkeeper?”

“No, no, no.” said Foundation. “That won’t achieve lasting impact. We need to be strategic and create a road map that will guide our work. I offer a grand competition for people, or corporations, to submit proposals that will address this urgent problem. We will gather new, innovative ideas and rank them according to factors like board composition, spelling, sustainability, and overhead. The champion will be announced in six weeks, and afterward we shall feast on lobster tails sprinkled with gold dust.”

“Foundation, you need to check your privilege ,” cried Non-Profit. “Your ‘grand competition’ always declares the same White Knight as champion.” Foundation felt hurt that her love and kindness was rejected by Non-Profit, who she secretly admired. In anger, she scratched his eyes and put him in a headlock.

“Let me go at once!!!” said Non-Profit. “Biases! Biases I say! Let me go.”

“Say ‘collective impact,’ then I’ll let you go,” yelled Foundation. “Say it!”

Government stepped in to break up the fight. “Friends, be civil, please. Let’s put this to a vote!”

“Everyone be quiet!” yelled the shopkeeper. “Stop fighting with each other; it’s not making anything better. None of you ever listen to the community. You’re always just set in your own ways. Government, you’re paralyzed by process and analysis. Foundation, you spend more time in the clouds than with people like me. Non-Profit, I appreciate all of your energy and enthusiasm, but your volunteers are unreliable.”

The three magi were stunned–no one had ever dared to raise their voice against them before. They all felt embarrassed and thought about the shopkeeper’s words. “Perhaps…it would be best if we worked together,” admitted Government, who agreed to set new affordable housing policies. Foundation decided to use her wealth to support grassroots champions of all colors and creeds. And Non-Profit committed to hiring permanent staff to provide services.

Everyone celebrated this huge milestone, for it represented what could be accomplished when Government, Foundation and Non-Profit used their gifts and talents to support one another.

“Lobster tails for everyone!” Foundation said joyously.

“Finally, a summit the resulted in action!” echoed Non-Profit.

“Wait a minute stranger…” interrupted Government. “You mentioned that you came from the Orient. My data says your people are college educated and high-income homeowners. What gives?”

The shopkeeper, having had his wished fulfilled, ran out the door and yelled “I’m Southeast Orient. Learn how to disaggregate your data, jerk face!”

***The End***

We’re wasting our time “investing” in future generations

One of the big social issues facing this generation of Americans is retirement. CNN reports that “31% of U.S. adults said they had no savings or pension to help them afford retirement.” Although there are many ways to save for retirement, some ways are better than others. Having a pension is like receiving a golden ticket from Mr. Willie Wonka himself. Once you hit 65 you’ll be swept away in a chocolate river drinking bubble juice and floating high into the sky. The euphoria lasts approximately 20 years until you realize you’re about to hit the ceiling fan, then its lights out.

Social Security also provides retirement benefits and is intended to provide support to workers to make sure they don’t have to retire in poverty. At the same time a lot of people are worried social security won’t exists in the future. However you choose to do it, the general idea behind saving for retirement is that you put away a little time, money, or resources now and enjoy a bigger payoff later on.

Investing in the future isn’t just limited to retirement though, it intersects with many aspects of our lives like the environment or the upcoming apocalypse. In my line of work, what I hear most is “we need to invest in young people.” It sends a cringe down my spine. Investing in future generations is a lot like banking on social security; we’re not really sure how it’ll look fifty years down the road or if it will even exist. There! I said it. Now let me take a step back and unpack what I mean.

The other day I was meeting my friend Erin at the Eastern Café to talk about the importance of civic engagement in the Asian American community. Both Erin and I are fairly young community activists. I just hit 30 this year and it’s been awful. I now wake up with back pain, my knees hurt, and I’m spending more and more time watching CBS shows.

Put into context, there are some amazing Asian American leaders who have been in this field longer then I have been alive, and they still have more energy than me. On any given evening Uncle Bob Santos is probably singing karaoke at the Bush Garden while I’m at home figuring out why my socks don’t match.

Erin and I eventually reached the topic of generational leadership in our community. There is a whole generation of non-profit Executive Directors and community leaders who are getting ready to retire. While this transition can be really exciting–like getting picked first in gym class–it can also create a huge leadership gap for our community if we’re not prepared. There is concern that the current 20 and 30-somethings aren’t ready to take over yet. Meanwhile, everyone preaches about the need to invest in the future generation. Well…screw these non-existent children of the future. They sound terrifying—silver haired children with glowing blue eyes walking out of a corn field. I’m just going to add them to Future James’ list of problems to deal with.

As a relatively young community activist, it’s frustrating to be in a room with older professionals who constantly talk about the need to get youth involved. As soon as one person says that phrase, the entire room breaks into chorus. “YEAH!” “Where are the young people?” “How come they’re not involved in leadership?” “Yeah!” “We need more youth in service!” “Yeah!” “They should quit programming apps and start voting!” “Yeah! Damn apps!” “YEAH!” My initial reaction is “Sigh…they don’t think I’m young anymore,” which makes my back hurt even more. Everyone eventually calms down and goes back to checking their smartphones.

These situations are annoying because there are many young people like myself who are ready and willing to step up in our community. What do people expect from us? Raise our hand and take roll call? “Young person, reporting for duty.” Do we need a leadership badge? Maybe a secret handshake? Millennials have been trained and conditioned to work hard and be optimistic, yet our existing contributions to society are often overlooked. Everyone else is waiting for some other “future generation” to save the day.

It’s unfortunate because young, energetic leaders who have a ton of experience are everywhere. Take my organization, VFA, for example. At the age of 30, I’m the oldest staff member. We have talented directors and coordinators much younger than me. Our previous Executive Director started as an Americorp volunteer. We’re doing some awesome work too, despite our youthfulness and delicate skin. We serve hundreds of refugee and immigrant youth and families, doubled our budget over the past three years, and are about to open a preschool. We don’t have all the answers figured out of course, and are constantly finding new ways to learn and grow from our experiences. But we’re not waiting for the next generation to tackle difficult social problems; we’re doing it right now.

I think most people who talk about the “next generation” or “future leaders” are thinking about some nebulous, abstract being that comes down from the sky. We tend to skip a couple of decades. We imagine adorable six year olds starting kindergarten or the slightly disheveled college bound teenager. But the risk of waiting for the next generation to arrive and solve our current problems is far too great; the margin of error too high. We don’t need to wait another 20 years for these children to grow up and become leaders; we shouldn’t put that burden on them. We shouldn’t use them as an excuse to kick the can down the road.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves how we can empower and encourage our current generation of the 20 and 30-something leaders. There are a group of young folks ready to go. However, we need veteran leaders–current Executive Directors and community activists–to welcome our new ideas and style of leadership. A strong, healthy leadership pipeline, one that is cross-generational, is critical to a vibrant community. This engagement can look a number of different ways.

  • Hiring emerging leaders in middle and senior management positions. We can do more than volunteer at benefit dinners and tutor in after school programs. We can be effective program coordinators, department directors, or board members too. Read “The Youth Engagement / Volunteering Conundrum.
  • Mentoring and coaching young professionals who demonstrate a passion for community work and social justice.
  • Creating a leadership pipeline within organizations that identifies emerging leaders and encourages them to stay in this field.
  • Funding and resourcing existing youth-led initiatives and associations, rather than co-opting their work and energy for our own purposes. Read “12 Winning Strategies for Non-Profits to Engage Young People.
  • Encourage risk taking among young leaders and supporting them all the way through, even if it fails. Read “Winning in life: Our success-driven culture is creating a fear of failure.”
  • Celebrating failure as a form of progress, rather than criticizing young professionals for being naive and inexperienced. Read “Being a Nguyener: Why Asians need to celebrate success.
  • Retiring! Open up new opportunities for young people to lead and innovate.

My point in all of this isn’t that society shouldn’t invest in the future of our children. It’s important we tackle difficult issues like education equity, neighborhood safety, racism and bullying. Our current social and world problems are complex and multifaceted, but we shouldn’t rely on the children of tomorrow to solve the problems of today.

A generation of bright young leaders already exists (you can usually find us meeting up for happy hour once a month). So instead of lamenting why more youth aren’t involved, we should start figuring out how to create opportunities for them to succeed. It won’t be easy—it means transitioning some of our responsibilities, powers, privileges and authority onto them, and entrusting them to lead us. But if we’re successful, then the future generation–our children and children’s children–won’t need to make the world a better place. They can simply kick back and enjoy it.