AAPIP Voices

2014 National Giving Circle Convening: Expanding Our Circles and Growing the Pie


Cynthia Brothers is an independant consultant and a member of Kibei Giving Circle.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to join AAPIP Giving Circle members from all across the country, as a representative of Seattle’s Kibei Giving Circle. Meaning “to go home to America” in Japanese, Kibei is in its second year, and aims to reflect the “transglocal” diversity of Washington’s communities by supporting multi-ethnic coalition building, leadership development, empowerment of young women and girls, and cultural work. In its first year, Kibei raised enough funds to provide grants to two organizations (supporting both to expand programming and leverage additional fundraising): The Coalition for Refugees from Burma, which serves nine different refugee communities in addition to Burmese; and Tasveer, a South Asian arts organization that produces the South Asian Film Festival and showcases thought-provoking, critically engaging films, stories, and issues from the South Asian diaspora.

As a nonprofit and philanthropic consultant working primarily with national foundations, I had several motivations for joining an AAPIP giving circle. True, I wanted to break out of the sometimes limiting and glacially paced protocol and approach grantmaking from a place where our personal and collective passions could sit front and center. But I was more so excited by the opportunity to become better involved around the innovative work happening in my local AAPI community, and help direct resources to smaller, grassroots AAPI organizations that often don’t have visibility or access to institutional philanthropy – especially national dollars.  And of course, to have fun!  As a longtime fan of AAPIP, I’ve been crashing happy hours and meetings, from New York to the Bay to the Northwest, ever since I first started working in this wild world of philanthropy. So joining a giving circle offered a meaningful (and official!) opportunity to engage with AAPIP’s networks, support, and plain old good folks.

I could make an inadequate attempt here to capture all the fantastic best practices, peer-learnings, and other happenings of the Convening, but AAPIP staff closed the day with an exercise that I feel serves as an elegant summary of my experience: what we learned, what we will take back to our respective communities, and what inspired us.

I learned that, while AAPI LGBTQ organizing and activism has a longstanding (often overlooked) history, astonishingly less than a handful of AAPI LGBTQ organizations in the entire country have paid staff — demonstrating the sobering lack of philanthropic resources dedicated to this community. What I took back with me was a commitment to learn more about AAPI LGBTQ work in my local community, and a reminder of the value of intersectional, holistic strategies. Too often our institutions, analyses, and accordingly grantmaking, operate in siloes — but in the words of the great Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.”

And finally, what truly inspired me was the remarkable growth of the Giving Circles over four short years, and the vision and leadership of the individuals that drive them. I believe this “for us by us” collective engagement model is the key to supporting and sustaining vibrant, vital AAPI communities, and ensuring that we — to borrow language from the Devata Giving Circle — not only survive, but thrive.