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Overlooked (Part One) – Foundation Support for Asian American and Pacific Islander Leaders and Communities

Despite the heavy toll the pandemic and its economic impacts have taken on AAPI people since early 2020, few foundations have stepped up their support for AAPI communities.

Ellie Buteau, PhD

Director of Research Projects and Special Advisor on Research Methodology and Analysis, CEP

Katarina Malmgren

Katarina Malmgren

Former Associate Manager, Research, CEP

Hannah Martin

Former Manager, Research, CEP

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Across four research studies the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) has conducted in the past two years, we’ve noticed two concerning trends emerge for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Native American nonprofit leaders and communities (trends that we do not see for nonprofit leaders and communities of other races/ethnicities).

Finding One

AAPI nonprofit leaders report having less positive experiences with their foundation funders than nonprofit leaders of other races/ethnicities. This has been the case during, as well as prior to, the pandemic.

In data spanning the last decade, Asian American leaders have rated their foundation funders lower than nonprofit leaders of other races/ethnicities on the strength of the funder-grantee relationship, and both Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders rate foundations as having less understanding of their organizations and the contexts in which they operate.

“Sometimes it feels like foundations are just checking a box, that as long as they have contacted what they consider to be an AAPI organization, then that covers the whole AAPI community. It’s not accurate.”

– Nonprofit Leader

Finding Two

Despite the significant challenges facing AAPI people, most foundations continue to overlook nonprofits that serve these communities.

Over the past two years, AAPI communities have suffered devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pacific Islanders have experienced one of the highest death tolls from COVID-19 in the United States.

In addition, Asian-owned small businesses rapidly lost business at the start of the pandemic due in part to discrimination surrounding the origins of the virus.  Between 2019 and 2020, Asian American workers went from having the lowest unemployment rate in the country to one of the highest.

At the same time, across the country, crimes targeting people of AAPI descent have risen substantially, with more than 9,000 reported anti-Asian incidents since March 2020, and likely many more that have gone unreported.

Data From Foundation Leaders

Currently, almost two thirds of foundation leaders say that they provide little or no grant dollars to organizations primarily serving AAPI communities.

Data From Nonprofit Leaders

More than two thirds of nonprofit leaders whose organizations primarily serve AAPI communities report that they did not receive new foundation funding in 2020.


Despite the heavy toll the pandemic and its economic impacts have taken on AAPI people since early 2020, few foundations have stepped up their support for AAPI communities.

Organizations including Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) have advocated for decades for foundations to better support these communities. For a list of resources from these organizations and for advice from AAPI nonprofit leaders, download the full report.


We are very appreciative of the support from the Long Family Foundation and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, which funded this research effort.

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To find out more about CEP’s research, contact Elisha Smith Arrillaga.

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