Photo caption: (From left to right): Lyn Hunter, senior program manager of Philanthropy Northwest, and giving circle co-chairs Elisa del Rosario and Shiho Fuyuki. Photo credit: International Examiner.

After years of discussion, Seattle members of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) are forming Washington state’s first Asian giving circle supported at the national AAPIP level.

This became official at the end of August, when the Seattle philanthropy group members submitted an application to become the 31st AAPIP giving circle in the U.S., says Shiho Fuyuki, who co-chairs the giving circle committee with Elisa del Rosario, the director of grants, education and advocacy for the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Uma Rao, a regional development organizer for the Pride Foundation.

“For years we wanted to see something in Seattle, and now there is movement,” says Fuyuki, a member services manager for Mission Investor Funds, which connects foundations and corporate investors to mission-compatible causes and organizations.

Involved AAPIP-Seattle committee members came up with the name “Kibei” for the giving circle, which means “returning to America” in Japanese.

“We hoped to express and lift the voices of the “trans-glocal” (global and local) diverse community that resides and defines our community,” Fuyuki explains.

AAPIP-Seattle will be a credit to AAPIP’s five-year national giving circle campaign to grow 50 Asian Pacific American-led giving circles across the U.S. So far, the 30 existing giving circles have convened more than 1,200 donors across 12 U.S. regions. Among more than 240 organizations and causes, $1.4 million has been distributed since 2011, when the campaign began, according to Noelle Ito, AAPIP’s senior director of community philanthropy.

“The beauty of giving circles is that there can be multiple circles in one region because of the diversity in issues, groupings of friends and intersection of interests,” says Ito. “For those reasons, Seattle, with its robust and growing AAPI population, we see much opportunity for multiple giving circles to further support community-based organizations.”

The giving circle concept materialized around 2003 when AAPIP chapter members across the U.S. reported a disparity in foundations giving to AAPI organizations and causes, something that was later confirmed in AAPIP’s report, “Growing Opportunities.”

“Sadly this trend has not changed since AAPIP was first founded over 20 years ago,” says Ito. “While AAPIs represent nearly 5 percent of the U.S. population, less than 1 percent of foundation dollars go to the AAPI community.”

AAPIP’s Chicago chapter was the first AAPIP giving circle, growing naturally out of this disparity discussion at a donor forum in 2003. Chicago members sought to pool their donor investments toward the most marginalized communities and overlooked issues, including mental health, sexual exploitation of young women, issues faced by LGBTQ people in AAPI communities and post-9/11 discrimination, says Ito.

In Seattle, informal giving circles among friends and colleagues in AAPI communities are not uncommon. And long before a nonprofit tax status existed, family associations and other groups that call Seattle’s Chinatown-International District home pooled together funds for specific needs to commemorate ancestors or pay tribute to a recently departed family member through a memorial fund, for example. Ito believes there is a cultural resonance in formalizing giving circles in AAPIP communities.

“Historically, community members have pooled their money together to help with big expenses — a wedding, a home, a funeral. Immigrant families have combined resources to help each other open a small business or pay for college tuition because they find it difficult to get a traditional loan. Friends have taken up a collection to help a friend in need,” says Ito. “Everyday people come together, pool their resources, and use it to help others. AAPIP is expanding on that concept of individual action for collective good to build a national movement of dreamers and doers.“

She adds: “We believe that, beyond increasing resources to the AAPI community, giving circles are key to increasing civic engagement, deepening knowledge of the community and democratizing philanthropy.”

Fuyuki hopes that APAs in the local giving and nonprofit communities participate as well as those who don’t normally think of themselves as philanthropists. One of the biggest incentives for joining an Asian giving circle, says Fuyuki, is “being able to make an impact in your own community without being a foundation.”

Seattle chapter’s participation in AAPIP’s national giving circle campaign comes with “an approximate 50 percent match [from AAPIP] going back into the giving circle pool,” Fuyuki says.

With five core members helping to pilot the circle in its first year — including Fuyuki, Del Rosario, Rao, Joshua Heim and Manami Kano — plans are in order to select causes and organizations that AAPIP-Seattle will form a giving circle around. Throughout September, the committee will be talking to organizations and researching projects that fit their areas of interest: multi-ethnic coalition building, leadership development, cultural work and empowering the next generation of APAs.

The committee will also be collecting funds through their networks, and before the end of 2013, AAPIP-Seattle plans to celebrate and award select recipient(s) with giving circle proceeds.

Fuyuki hopes participants in the giving circle’s first year can walk away with the message that , collectively, all participants “can be philanthropists with our limited resources, our time and our commitment to our community.”

Learn more at www.aapip.org.

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