SAN FRANCISCO—When the startup where Buck Gee served as CEO was acquired by Cisco in 2004, he suddenly found himself sitting on a fortune. But when Gee wanted to give back to the community, it proved harder than he thought.
“I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I felt that I was lucky,” Gee said. “My goal was to help make other people lucky too.”
But the dazzling number of nonprofits for Chinese Americans made it hard for Gee, who comes from an immigrant family himself, to know which ones to donate to.
The Bay Area is home to some 385 foundations that have Chinese Americans at their helm. According to Gee, nonprofits are “generally very small and generally underfunded.”
Now Gee serves as the treasurer for the newly launched Chinese American Community Foundation. Launched on Feb. 28, the foundation is the first community foundation in the United States that focuses specifically on Chinese Americans.
“I look at it as a resource for newly emerging Chinese American donors who are looking for some place to give back. Making them more aware of the needs and the ways you can give back,” Gee said.
The Chinese American Community Foundation is the brainchild of Rolland Lowe, known in the Chinese community for his longstanding community work as a physician, and co-founder of the Asian American Health Forum.
Now at age 80, Lowe, who serves as chairman of the new foundation, says that he had been thinking about the foundation for 15 years.
The foundation aims to attract donors from an increasingly wealthy Chinese American community and to use these funds to build up the community.
According to Lowe, there are multiple needs in the Chinese American community. “There is a constant flow of immigrants that come into the community. And each wave of new immigrants have different needs, not just because they are poor but also because of a language barrier,” Lowe said in an interview at the event marking the launch.
Lowe says his organization is looking at both immigrants and Chinese Americans as potential donors.
According to vice chairman of the foundation, David Lei, philanthropy is a deeply embedded virtue in the Chinese culture, dating back to Confucius thought and Buddhist traditions.
Lei himself is a third-generation immigrant who has been very active with nonprofits in Chinatown. He believes that educating the Chinese American community about how they might donate is very important, as well as letting them know about things such as tax benefits. “We really want to build up this community and donors,” he said.
Lei says that many of the small nonprofits are struggling to get by, spending much of their resources on daily operations without having the time to form a long-term vision.
“Things are done much more efficiently, you can tackle much larger projects if you have a community, instead of when you do it individually,” he said.
David Chiu, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who spoke at the launch of the foundation, said in an interview that “given the Chinese community’s 164-year-long history in our country, it is about time that we finally have a community foundation that will pull the resources and good fortunes of past and present generations of Chinese Americans into how we invest in our future.”
In his address at the launch of the community forum, Chiu described it as a historic and “glorious day.”
Looking toward younger donors
According to Chiu, there are many needs in the Chinese American community, and he hopes that the new foundation will identify the holes in the current coverage of services and find opportunities to invest in.
Increasingly, hopes are moving more toward younger donors. Chairman of the Chinese American Community Foundation, Rolland Lowe, says he worries about the future of many nonprofits, saying they are normally built around a few people, with no thought given to who will be the future philanthropist.
The new community foundation has brought on a younger board member to specifically look into how to develop an interest for philanthropy in the younger generation.
According to Supervisor Chiu, there are newer generations of leaders in the Chinese American community who have wealth and resources. “We have to figure out how to do a better job of pulling that together to make sure that our community will continue to make our mark,” he said.
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