Asian American nonprofits in Minn. see increased giving, but disparities persist

·5 min read

Unexpected donations have streamed into nonprofits that support Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders in Minnesota, reflecting a nationwide trend in the wake of numerous anti-Asian incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last three weeks alone, corporations and donors have given $40,000 to the Coalition of Asian American Leaders in St. Paul. Another St. Paul nonprofit, the Hmong American Partnership, has drawn a record $3,200 from individuals.

The support follows the attack last month in Atlanta where a white gunman shot and killed six women of Asian descent and two white people. About $26 million has been pledged for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups or causes nationally, according to the Associated Press — up from less than $600,000 that was committed this year before the incidents.

But because philanthropic funding has long lagged for AAPI communities — as it has for all communities of color — Bo Thao-Urabe worries it's just one-time emergency aid.

"We're glad for the support ... [but] there is a lot more that could be done," said Thao-Urabe, executive director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL). "I am hopeful ... that it is the beginning of recognition that this community also deserves support."

AAPI communities make up about 7% of the population of the United States, but AAPI groups received only 0.2% of all foundation funding in 2018, according to a new report by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.

In Minnesota, $23 million was distributed to AAPI groups between 2014 and 2018, according to the report. However, Thao-Urabe said most of that money went to universities, churches or major organizations, not small cultural nonprofits — perhaps partly because of the "model minority myth," a stereotype that sees Asian Americans as successful and without need of economic assistance.

"I think philanthropy is waking up to the issue," said Mai Moua, interim chief operating officer at the Hmong American Partnership. The model minority myth, she said, "really does create even more disparities for us, because people don't think that the community needs support or resources."

Disparities in fundingSince George Floyd's death last May sparked a racial justice movement, local foundations and nonprofits have begun to look at reforming philanthropy.

About 500 national organizations — including the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul — have signed an open letter pledging to expand philanthropy to Asian American groups and all communities of color. In 2021, about two-thirds of the foundations surveyed by the Minnesota Council on Foundations said they plan to give more to groups led by people of color.

The St. Paul-based Bush Foundation announced last month an unprecedented $100 million to close wealth gaps for African Americans and Native Americans. A new Black-led Twin Cities coalition, the Alliance of Alliances, has raised $3 million to advance racial equity, while a coalition started last summer called the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice is raising $25 million for a fund for Black-led nonprofits and groups.

While there is no current data on racial disparities in Minnesota philanthropy, nationally only 0.23% of philanthropic funds go to Native American-led nonprofits, according to the First Nations Development Institute.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found that 1% of grantmaking from 25 foundations was specifically designated for Black communities. And funding for Latino issues remains about 1%, according to Hispanics in Philanthropy.

"There is no excuse for this pattern," said Kevin Walker, CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation. "The whole point of philanthropy is to improve people's lives. We as a field have done a bad job of targeting our resources where they're most needed."

Reasons for the disparities are complex, Walker said. Foundations will often fund white-led organizations that help communities of color rather than the nonprofits actually led by people of color, he said. He said the Northwest Area Foundation gives 80% of its grants to organizations led by people of color, with 40% of that support going to groups led by Native Americans.

Growing supportThe newfound support is a bright spot for Thao-Urabe, who started CAAL in 2013 and went a year without taking a paycheck because of underfunding. Since then, the small nonprofit has grown to 12 employees and a $2 million annual budget.

CAAL just received $10,000 from U.S. Bank Foundation, part of $60,000 the Minneapolis-based corporation distributed to AAPI communities in California, Atlanta and Seattle. In May, Asian American chefs and bartenders in the Twin Cities plan to offer video classes to raise funds for CAAL.

Since the Atlanta attack, the nonprofit's leaders have lobbied for legislation to improve hate-crime reporting and police training, distributed 100 care packages to Asian American women and started a listening and healing circle.

"When something tragic happens, the best that we can do is to bring communities together and ... take action to make things different for the future," said Thao-Urabe, who's been working 12-hour days over the last year to respond to the pandemic, civil unrest after Floyd's death and the Atlanta attack. "It has felt like [it's been] one crisis to another."

At the Hmong American Partnership, which has a $14 million annual budget, foundation grants and donations make up only about a quarter of its revenue. But Moua said the rise in individual giving amid growing anti-Asian incidents the past year is significant.

More than 300,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live in Minnesota, representing more than 40 ethnic groups — together making up more than 5% of the state's population. Yet, only a few of the more than 9,000 nonprofits in the state are cultural groups. Often, they're the first place refugees or immigrants turn for culturally specific services, Thao-Urabe said.

During the pandemic, CAAL started a fund to support other small AAPI nonprofits, giving $270,000 in grants and microgrants. At the Legislature, a bill would expand a four-year-old program to provide $2 million between 2022 and 2023 to small cultural nonprofits that may face barriers to state funding.

"We also need a representative ecosystem of nonprofits that are led by and created by the communities to serve themselves," Thao-Urabe said. "It's important to invest in that."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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