Moving from Crisis to Community Building: Key Lessons from a Funder Collaborative

Immediately following 9/11, AMEMSA communities faced an onslaught of civil rights issues – including workplace discrimination, hate crimes, bulling, profiling and harassment – and immigration infractions – including deportations and intimidation by immigration officers and law enforcement.

The politically volatile climate fomented by the “War on Terror” also impacted the philanthropic sector. It made funders and potential funders — both individual donors and foundations – cautious. Some AMEMSA organizations were deemed too risky, due to a general lack of familiarity about them and the communities they serve, as well as perceived political positions tied to the politics of the Middle East. Further, national security laws, policies and legal decisions adopted since 9/11 have had a chilling effect on funding to AMEMSA organizations in the U.S. who face constant suspicion and even illegal surveillance by federal and local law enforcement.

Following the events and climate created by the events of September 11, 2001, a group of Bay Area grantmakers began meeting to learn about communities that were most impacted, and to identify ways to support AMEMSA communities experiencing unprecedented backlash and discrimination. The result was the Civic Engagement Fund (CEF), a collaborative fund housed and staffed at Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) from 2006 – 2013 that invested in building the capacity and strengthening the network of AMEMSA community organizations in the Bay Area.

The CEF was a unique example of AAPIP’s approach of bridging the gap between philanthropy and lesser known communities. As a funding model, it reflected one of our core values: that philanthropy is most effective when it is equitable and inclusive – driven by the assets and leadership of our diverse communities. In particular, CEF’s responsive and collective approach to grantmaking provides many lessons
for the field on how to invest in communities during times of crisis in a politically- charged environment.

In this report, AAPIP shares key elements of our approach in the CEF and highlights for funders what we have learned about the kinds of investments needed to support community organizations that are often overlooked by philanthropy.