AAPIP Voices

Reflections on Building a Giving Circle Network: Q&A with Alex Wong, AAPIP Community Philanthropy Manager


Alex Wong has served as AAPIP’s Community Philanthropy Manager since 2012. At the end of 2017, upon the successful completion of our 5-Year National Giving Circle Campaign, Alex will be departing AAPIP to focus on his graduate studies. Over the last 6 years of service, Alex has been an invaluable addition to AAPIP and Community Philanthropy programming. His work highlights that anyone– whether you are in the private, public, or nonprofit sectors– can drive social impact. Alex recently shared a few thoughts on what he’s learned during his time working with AAPIP and giving circles.

1) What was your work with the AAPIP Giving Circle Network?

Since 2012, I worked with AAPIP’s partners and other community philanthropists to grow a national network of Asian American and Pacific Islander giving circles that support AAPI communities in a wide variety of issue areas including immigration, civic engagement, youth empowerment, health, and education.

2) What were some memorable highlights or surprising insights that you gained from helping to grow this field over the past 6 years?

The biggest surprising insight as a program manager working with people on the ground in their respective regions was the import of listening and observing what everyone was doing so that their feedback can feed into our program and models. There was so much diversity and breadth coming out of our giving circle network (large circles vs. small circles, different regions, different focus areas, etc) that it would have been unproductive to push out tools and resources early on. It really took some years to let giving circles form in order to reflect with the help of outside evaluators, and subsequently understand some of the best practices out there.

A work-related highlight: on my first flight ever for work– one of many during my tenure at AAPIP– I had a flight from San Francisco to Birmingham with a layover in Dallas. The first leg of the flight was delayed, so I missed my second flight to Birmingham. I complained, and they put me up at a Motel 6 near the airport just so I could wake up at 6AM to catch the next flight. To say the least, not the most auspicious start to my first work trip. However, there was a silver lining that changed what would have been a lowlight to a highlight. On my flight to Dallas, I bumped into, said hello to, and sat near Stanley Burrell, also known as MC Hammer. He must have been my good luck charm because ever since that first trip, I’ve never missed any flights in the next 5 years at AAPIP.

3) What have you learned about giving circles, within the context of the AAPIP Giving Circle Network and also within the broader field of giving circles and community philanthropy?

Recently, the Collective Giving Research Circle (CGRC), a national research collaborative, conducted a landscape survey and analysis of North American giving circles. That study aligns in many ways with AAPIP’s initial data and evaluation of our 5-Year Giving Circle Campaign. In both the CGRC national study and AAPIP’s campaign evaluation, we learned that our giving circle participants, like the ones in the broad study, joined giving circles to learn about the community. Our comparative data also suggested that giving circle participation augmented–rather than replaced–other charitable giving. AAPIP is currently reviewing the Collective Giving Research Circle’s North American study in conjunction with our own network evaluation to help us formulate our next phase of giving circle programming.

4) What’s next for you?

I will be taking the time to recenter myself and focus on completing my MBA at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. Though I will really miss the cross country travels to meet with regional giving circles, I am glad that I will be able stay close to home while still being connected with local AAPIP activities.