Uplifting Voices this Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

In thinking about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I find myself pulled between feeling hope and pride but also anger and exhaustion. The rise in violence toward members of the AAPI community is inexcusable and is adding further challenge to this community during an already difficult time.

In reflecting on my own feelings this AAPI Heritage Month, I also recognize that my voice is only one of many represented in the extremely diverse AAPI community. Individuals in this community may have backgrounds stemming from dozens of different countries, with each person having their own unique perspectives and experiences. 

The AAPI community is not a monolith, and their diverse stories and voices should be uplifted, which is why this month, we are happy to hear from three leaders in the Madison-area nonprofit and fundraising community.

As an AFP Greater Madison chapter member, former board member, and long-time member of the communications committee, I have been fortunate to meet many fundraising and nonprofit colleagues. I am finding, however, that there are so many more people I want to connect with, voices we can lift, and stories we need to share. Do you know a community member we should highlight, have a story we can share, or have feedback for us? Let us know.

Below, learn more about three of the leaders in our community, their work, the communities they serve, and how they think fundraisers can be at the forefront of addressing challenges to the AAPI community and overall fundraising efforts.

Marissa DeGroot

Marissa DeGroot

Renee Moe, United Way of Dane County

Renee Moe

President & CEO, United Way of Dane County

United Way of Dane County’s mission is to unite the community to create measurable results and change lives. We mobilize the community’s caring power in giving, advocacy and volunteerism to increase wellbeing and economic stability, and reduce racial disparities in education, income and housing, and health for local families. Critical to this work is disrupting inequitable systems and building capacity in nonprofits – while we are a work in progress, we aim to be a change catalyst that leads in anti-racism and inclusion for all residents of Dane County. Our tagline is The Power of Many. Working for All.

What is something you are most proud of professionally? Through partnership and collaboration, we were able to reduce family homelessness by 50% through community-built Housing in Action strategies: increasing affordable housing inventory, case management, landlord and tenant connections, and access to food to stretch family budgets. Key partners are The Road Home, YWCA, Salvation Army, City of Madison, County of Dane, United Way donors and many more. The pandemic and rising housing costs continue to challenge our community goal of ending family homelessness. In more recent news, UW Credit Union made a $1 million gift to the United Way Foundation for a racial equity fund. United Way staff Gabe Doyle set up a volunteer committee to invest in Black, Indigenous, Latinx, SE Asian and other marginalized or communities of color-led organizations with a simple application form and no reporting requirement to pilot trust philanthropy with grassroots organizations working on racial justice. We’ll be announcing the second round of grants at the end of May.

Given the growing and more visible challenges for the AAPI community, have you seen a change in donors, giving, and support? I haven’t personally seen or experienced changes in donors, giving or support directly related to increased visibility of challenges for the AAPI community. What I have seen is an overall increase in awareness and fluency in talking about how philanthropy and the nonprofit sector can continue to lead in anti-racism. Businesses in particular are leading where they stand and helping to amplify the conversation. That is very exciting.

What are you hearing from your donor communities and those in the populations you serve? How can fundraisers be more at the forefront of addressing those concerns? Perhaps the most profound comment I heard from a donor about recent AAPI violence was, “I saw and read the news, but until it was personal, I didn’t really feel the responsibility.” I am glad more donors are feeling the responsibility and opportunity to dig into the root causes of inequities and community instability. For the populations we serve, and from our 211 callers, we are hearing more stress, more isolation and more hopelessness as the pandemic continues. We are proud to partner with nonprofits and others on the front lines to offer support and transform systems – education, healthcare, law enforcement – to open lines of communication, get individuals proximate for increased understanding, and to take action for measurable and meaningful change.

Anything else you’d like to share with our community of fundraisers? Keep doing the work! The opportunity to listen to a donor’s dreams and educate them about what our stakeholders say they need the most is powerful work. Continue to build bridges and get donors closer to the issues so they can truly understand and invest where it’s needed most. Remember to increase the relationship AND task tension – we are not just here to serve donors, we are here to serve our missions and those who don’t always get access to donors, prominence or the resources needed to forge change. For a provocative read, check out the book Decolonizing Wealth: https://www.edgarvillanueva.net/. As development professionals, we can help fuel extraordinary change for the better with thoughtful and intentional stewardship. Embrace the hard conversations – getting uncomfortable is how we grow, and how we grow impact!

Read more from Renee Moe

Max Nguyen

Communications Manager, St. Vincent de Paul Madison

I'm a jack of all trades, master of none! I'm responsible for all donor communications (newsletters, mailings, email marketing), social media accounts, event logistics, stewardship plans, and grant writing. The best part is hearing from and sharing the stories of our clients to our donors, sponsors and other partners and volunteers. Ultimately, it is a team effort and we're proud to work with the community to help families right here in Dane County.

What is something you are most proud of professionally? I'm pandemic proud you could say. We exceeded most of our goals while trying new things as a team. We doubled our monthly givers, saw success by utilizing matching gifts over the holidays, and eclipsed our target goal in our first ever virtual event. Donor generosity during a difficult time certainly helped, but we adjusted our goals accordingly and still made it. It's pretty amazing the care and determination of our community in Dane County.

Given the growing and more visible challenges for the AAPI community, have you seen a change in donors, giving, and support? We are a Catholic organization that helps families coping with poverty regardless of their demographic or beliefs, etc. I think because that is something we always mention to our supporters, however obvious or not obvious it might be, that has been to our benefit. Many of our clients, especially in our food pantry and pharmacy, are minorities, but the only thing we're concerned about is do you need help? Having to reinforce that message on a daily basis to all of our supporters always reminds us that we are in the business of helping human beings!

What are you hearing from your donor communities and those in the populations you serve? How can fundraisers be more at the forefront of addressing those concerns? The biggest question we hear from both donors, other supporters and the populations we serve are what are we doing to help no matter what people look like, etc. As fundraisers, we try to be proactive before the question even comes up. It shows a level of thought, care and compassion that both supporters and clients appreciate.

Anything else you’d like to share with our community of fundraisers? Tell your story in pictures! Whether you are writing an official CEO appeal letter or just emailing a monthly giver, use pictures or other visuals. In a fast-paced world, this is where we have found an easy way to communicate our mission and show the good work we can do with the supporter's help.

Max Nguyen with wife, Macy
Joyce Dieter

Joyce Dieter

Board Chair, YWCA Madison and Board Member, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

What is something you are most proud of professionally? Building my own health and wellness business.

Given the growing and more visible challenges for the AAPI community, have you seen a change in donors, giving, and support? It has no doubt been an interesting and tense time. And though I've seen many examples of actions that would destroy my faith in humanity, I've also seen many examples that restore my faith in humanity. What has kept me grounded and hopeful is to tell myself that the truth is that the good outweigh the bad and that we must continue to understand everyone's story and have real conversations. We are limited by our own lived experiences. Even in the midst of a pandemic, there are many individuals and families that are willing to help those less fortunate and contribute to organizations that have a mission of service to our communities.

What are you hearing from your donor communities and those in the populations you serve? How can fundraisers be more at the forefront of addressing those concerns? Despite what it may feel like (donor fatigue), people do want to help where they can to causes that are meaningful to them. Fundraisers have had to be creative in still connecting to their donors and telling their story in a remote/virtual environment, but for the most part it has been well received. People are anxious to start meeting in person once again, so fundraisers need to be prepared to reach their donor communities with a hybrid approach appealing to both in-person and virtual audiences. Ensuring that you have options to address each individual's preferences (with regard to meeting in-person or not) will be worthwhile. This may mean larger planning teams for events vs. compounding the workload of existing staff to now handle essentially two events in one, or creating volunteer opportunities to address these needs.

Anything else you’d like to share with our community of fundraisers?

  • Set your expectations; fundraising is based on relationships. It takes time to build trust in relationships so focus on how to maintain good connections over time and be okay with the fact that the work you do now may not come to fruition until much later.

  • Make sure your advocates have a 30-second elevator speech and personal story to share about how the organization you serve has impacted them.

  • The answer is always no unless you ask.

  • Don't give up. There are people that do not have a voice that are counting on your voice.