Nonprofit organizations serving Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities receive just 20 cents out of every hundred dollars granted by institutional philanthropy. That statistic, furnished by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, is the context in which New Breath Foundation (NBF) seeks to shift philanthropy to create hope and promote healing for those affected by systemic racism, mass incarceration, deportation, and violence.
Founded by Eddy Zheng in 2017, the national public charity foundation aims to address the underinvestment and invisibilization of AANHPI communities, focusing on incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and those directly impacted by the criminal legal system.
Guided by three core pillars—hope and healing, keeping families together, and movement building—NBF seeks to create a more compassionate and just society. The organization’s innovative, trust-based approach emphasizes strong relationships with community leaders driving real change and keeping those directly impacted at the center of the decision-making process. By “leading from the back,” NBF and Zheng ensure that their work is rooted in the real experiences of community members.
“Our key value is really focused on trust-based philanthropy and participatory grantmaking,” Zheng said. “This helps us build collaborative relationships with movements that focus on racial solidarity.”
Zheng has built much-needed funding infrastructure for AANHPI communities. As a Rosenberg Foundation Leading Edge Fellow, an Open Society Foundation Soros Justice Fellow, former co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and co-founder of ROOTs, the first ethnic studies program in San Quentin State Prison, he has also changed the narrative of what a philanthropist within BIPOC-led movements could look like by bringing his lived experience to the field. Zheng didn’t have a traditional journey to his post as a leader and visionary of modern philanthropy, which has positioned him as a pillar in the community, proving that philanthropists don’t have to fit a limiting, outdated mold. Having navigated the harrowing “school to prison to deportation pipeline,” Eddy is uniquely qualified to confront and discuss the issues of trauma, stigma, and shame within the AANHPI community.
In a video on NBF’s website, he recounts his experiences as a young adult: “I know what it feels like to be counted out. I know what it feels like to have no hope. And I know what it’s like when people never gave up on me.”
“Eddy is a role model in this space as somebody who is not coming from wealth and represents AANHPI communities,” said Son Chau, lead institutional partnerships officer at EBCF. “He’s in essence changing the narrative and changing the concept of our work in the industry.”
“The fact that I’m at the table in the institution of philanthropy is a success story, because that opens doors to so many marginalized members of the community,” Zheng added.
East Bay Community Foundation is proud to partner with New Breath Foundation as the host of the donor-advised fund they use for grantmaking and two agency funds used to build long-term financial sustainability.
Partnership with East Bay Community Foundation
When Zheng resolved to start his journey as an innovator in the world of philanthropy, he was convinced he needed to build his personal wealth in order to become a philanthropist. In conversations with leaders of social movements and progressive philanthropy, he realized that there was an alternative route that involved collectivizing philanthropic resources and organizing funders. This is where the idea for a partnership with EBCF was born.
Zheng knew his local community foundation could provide grantmaking infrastructure and investment management services that would allow his team to focus on growing its portfolio. EBCF has played a crucial role in NBF’s growth and development by taking on an administrative role, but also, has connected Zheng with other leaders in community philanthropy who share his values and objectives.
Chau describes EBCF’s role as helping Zheng focus on building relationships instead of IRS rules and regulations, and other “red tape.” “It’s hard to do anything as a grassroots leader trying to build something like this. Not everyone has access to this information, infrastructure, or technical expertise. We’re here to make sure that people like Eddy have access to these tools in order to carry out a very bold and visionary mission,” he elaborated.
NBF uses a donor-advised fund (DAF) for grantmaking activities and one agency fund for receiving incoming donations from private foundations, individuals, and other entities. They retain a second agency fund as a long-term investment strategy leveraging EBCF’s investment expertise to build an endowment and grow an operating reserve. NBF, among hundreds of EBCF donors, have pooled their assets with EBCF’s portfolio of mission-aligned investments that builds wealth, power, and voice for BIPOC communities most harmed by systemic bias and racism.
An agency fund is a type of charitable fund established by a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that allows it to take advantage of a community foundation’s professional investment management services while promoting sustainability for its mission. Learn more about agency funds and other charitable fund types on the Open A Fund page.
By providing infrastructure, financial management, and valuable connections, EBCF has helped New Breath Foundation stay focused on its mission, build trusted relationships, and create a lasting impact in the AANHPI community. This partnership serves as an example of how community leaders engaged in philanthropy can work hand-in-hand with their local community foundation to advance their work.
Guided by Community
Zheng and the team at NBF are guided by the tenets of trust-based philanthropy through the beloved community model, which emphasizes nurturing connections with community leaders driving real change. NBF demonstrates its commitment to this by focusing on collaboration and racial solidarity. “As long as we are breathing, there is hope,” explained Zheng. “We want to show up as authentic philanthropists who are non-transactional, but rooted in this idea of a beloved community together.”
Since 2018, NBF has awarded more than $3.8 million in grants (from only $13,000 in 2018) to community organizations, according to their 2022 impact report. Leaning on EBCF’s infrastructure and administrative support, NBF stayed focused on their mission and relationship-building—and as a result increased their grantmaking by over 1,200%.
As NBF continues to grow, they’re working toward a goal of raising $10 million for the We Got Us Fund, created in response to rising anti-Asian violence to address the need to assist frontline organizers. The fund will allocate substantial resources for capacity building, sustainability, and infrastructure, serving as a testament to NBF’s ability to raise significant funds and direct them effectively.
Promoting Racial Solidarity
Zheng recognizes that Black and Asian communities have shared histories of oppression and have been pitted against each other in harmful ways. This is why NBF is committed to dismantling the “model minority” myth that erases the experiences of Asian Americans and contributes to anti-Blackness.
“We need to challenge the model minority myth that is perpetuated within our communities and recognize the anti-Blackness that exists,” said Zheng. “We need to build a sense of racial solidarity, collaborate with other organizations, and invest in initiatives that address these obstacles. Our goal is to uplift marginalized communities and create lasting change by pushing back against harmful myths and narratives within our communities.”
In tandem with addressing white supremacy and systemic racism on a broader level, NBF works to push back against anti-Blackness where it emerges in their communities. They prioritize presence, collaboration, and collective liberation with other like-minded partners as a crucial step in addressing these challenges. This includes dedicating a significant portion of their resources to work with other foundations and investing in racial solidarity initiatives.
One example of NBF fostering unity between the Asian American and Black communities occurred in San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood in February. Zheng played an important role in the 13th annual Black History Month and Lunar New Year celebration, which hosted cultural performances from both Asian and Black communities to promote mutual understanding and unity. Amid tragedies impacting both groups, Zheng stressed the need for promoting peace and building trust through a deeper appreciation of each other’s cultures: “We use this opportunity to really uplift each other’s culture, history so we can really come together and build community and build trust,” he said in an interview with CBS. Zheng also highlighted the importance of focusing on positive cultural differences to counterbalance media coverage that has created barriers between the two communities. The joint celebration helped to dispel fears and stood as a testament to the communities’ fight for racial solidarity, in the spirit of shared histories of violence and injustice.
NBF has also been involved in advocacy efforts to address systemic issues affecting both communities. For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, NBF joined in solidarity with Revolve Impact and AAPI Women Lead in fighting the racial tension that surfaced during the global crisis by facilitating and participating in conversations about systemic and community-centered ways that they can address anti-Asian and anti-Black violence.
New Breath Foundation is a critical player in philanthropy, striving to challenge traditional practices and create a more equitable environment for marginalized and underserved communities. “We will continue to partner with our community, continue to be rooted in the community, and never deviate, never miss a beat, in honor of where we came from: the grassroots,” shared Zheng.