Asian Causes on Short End of Charity Gifts


While charitable interests such as United Way have begun more active courting of Los Angeles’ ethnic communities, a new report has found that less than half of 1% of all donations from foundations and corporations in the region went to Asian causes.

Given that Asian-Americans make up about 10% of the population in Los Angeles County and have become the county’s fastest growing ethnic group, Asian community leaders met Friday to talk about becoming better charity recipients.

“An initial reaction to the study might be: ‘Japanese (Americans) don’t need help,’ ” said Bill Watanabe, president of the Asian Pacific Planning Council, which issued the report. He said that the council represents about 50 agencies that serve the 10 major Asian Pacific communities in Los Angeles.

The report stated that some Asian organizations are hampered by “the general fallacy” of Asians being a “model minority” with fewer problems than other ethnic groups.


Another problem, Watanabe said, is that Asian organizations historically have had limited success in applying for grants. Many Asian groups, because they have few or no ties to foundations, he said, assume that they will not get grants.

“We are not criticizing or pointing fingers at the major funders,” Watanabe said at the meeting in Marina del Rey. “This study was done more in the spirit of asking ourselves, ‘Are we doing things right?’ and ‘Where do we go from here?’ We hope the donors are doing the same.”

The study, which examined the four-year period from 1984 through 1987, profiled corporations and foundations across the nation, as well as in Los Angeles. It included a look at the philanthropic powerhouse, United Way.

Of the 360 charities funded by United Way in the Los Angeles-area, only eight were Asian American groups. And, even though United Way funding increased from about $200,000 in 1984 to $350,000 in 1988, the latest figure still represented only .6% of its total donations. This year, United Way raised nearly $95 million.


The percentages for all corporate and foundation donations to Asian agencies nationwide were similarly low, the report stated.

“We are not, in any way, going to fool ourselves into thinking that the United Way network reaches all ethnic groups,” said Leo Cornelius, president of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “All I can say is we are taking a look at what funding ought to be.”

He added, however, “In some fashion, ethnic communities benefit from United Way’s agencies which address the issues that transcend any one community,” such as the lack of AIDS treatment centers and child care.

Cornelius, who was credited by Watanabe for initiating a “ perestroika- type effort” within the United Way, said that a 2-year-long reassessment of the organization’s priorities will end soon.


The Asian-funding study concluded that agencies need to persist in applying for grants, thus giving donors the opportunity to learn more about the needs in the community.

“People giving out the grants would like to know who they are giving their money to,” said Jack Shakely, president of the California Community Foundation, one of the state’s largest philanthropic donors. “They are human beings, after all.”

(Southland Edition) CHARITABLE DONATIONS Contributions from foundations to various groups in the country and California: Total foundation support in United States: $2.44 billion Minority: $1.9 billion Other: $2.25 billion Total foundation support to California: $278.2 million Minority in L.A. County $8.4* million Los Angeles County $114.5 million Other: $278.2 million * Contributions to Asian non-profit organizations made up .39% of the total in Los Angeles County. The contributions to Asian groups amounted to $384,500.