Skip to main content
ColumnistsGuest ColumnistJACL

Guest Columnist: Update on Membership and Fund Development

By February 19, 2021March 25th, 2021No Comments

Phillip Ozaki

I’m deeply honored to be promoted to JACL’s Program Director for Membership and Fund Development and wanted to share a little bit about myself, a membership update and our plans for the future.

My first memory of JACL is reading Executive Order 9066 at my local Day of Remembrance as a teenager. My grandfather, Sam Ozaki, asked me to do it. My hero — grandpa was in Jerome, fought in France for the 442nd and became Chicago’s first Asian American public school principal. I’m a product of JACL’s programs. I won a scholarship and was JACL’s Norman Mineta Fellow in 2010.

I led the efforts to pass the Congressional Gold Medal for Nisei Veterans, visiting Congress with a photo of my grandparents.

I always say that we have to change the paradigm of how we report on membership. Yes, it’s true that membership numbers have slowly declined for the last many years. However, we have to report on what is going well.

In 2020, membership revenue actually increased by about 8 percent. I’ll share why later. In addition, we must welcome last year’s 635 new members, which is the most ever in JACL’s recent history.

Finally, we also need to celebrate that about 75 percent of our members renew every year, compared to 60 percent for most nonprofits. Thank you for your belief in and loyalty to JACL!

Right now, I believe that new members are our most important membership metric because they are the future of our organization. In a survey of 368 new members, we learned that 91 percent engage with us on email, are well educated and have known our brand for quite some time.

A large proportion of new members are Yonseis who are charged up for social justice and participate in our youth programs. Another big chunk are Sansei who want to re-engage with the community. It’s important to understand that our new members are a perfect representation of JACL’s multigenerational and diverse community in terms of profession, geography, mixed race/ethnicity and age.

We asked new members the primary reason that they signed up for JACL. At 29 percent, the second most-common response was “to advocate for the civil rights of all.” At 21 percent, the third most-common response was “to connect with my Japanese American heritage.” That makes the most common response, at 31 percent, “to get involved with the Japanese American community.”

More than half of new members are primarily here because of the “Japanese American” part of JACL. When we look for new members, we certainly must mention that our purpose for existing is social justice. However, we must remember that we are also here because of the power of belonging to a wonderful community like ours.

One of JACL’s biggest questions is if we should focus on the Sansei/Yonsei or on Shin-Nikkei and the greater AAPI community. When strategizing with Saki Mori, our new VP for Membership, we compared our stories.

My family has the camp legacy, while hers doesn’t. Saki is a Shin-Nikkei from New York whose family immigrated in the 1970s and ’80s. Although our family stories are different, we both agree on JACL’s role in transforming Asian America and as an activated network of Nikkei. We really mean it when we say, “There’s a place for us at JACL, and we know there’s a place for YOU, too!”

Two really great things about our budget is that it’s quite diversified, and I can confidently say that we’re in a solid financial position. In a simplistic way, our budget has three big chunks. About one-third each are membership and investment income. Then the last third is a mix of fundraising, convention and Pacific Citizen revenue. By the way, new members and old ones, alike, do enjoy reading the Pacific Citizen.

I didn’t know the powerful story behind our investment income until recently. After we won redress and folks like my grandparents received their $20,000 reparations checks, many were so grateful for JACL that they donated a portion of their check to JACL’s Legacy Fund (and other Endowment Funds).

They wanted to continue JACL’s important civil rights and educational programming for future generations. Now here we are today and those funds — which keep growing with legacy giving — are a major source of income.

Even though membership has exceeded budget in the last two years, we know that the decline will be slow and steady, which means that, with my new position, the time to search for new funding has arrived. These include institutional, new and upgraded donors and legacy (planned) giving. We have a very exciting education campaign that we will announce soon. Just as our members see value in JACL, especially in modern times, so will our newest partners.

So, why haven’t we found the next big new fundraising sources yet? To no surprise, you should know that institutional givers also exclude AAPIs. According to Asian American Pacific Islander in Philanthropy (AAPIP), a 1990 study found that only 0.18 percent of $19 billion in foundation funding went to the AAPI community. In 2020, AAPIP reports that AAPIs now make up 7 percent of the U.S. population, yet our distribution of foundation funding is still well below 1 percent.

We’re delighted to have a handful of very solid corporate partners, and I am confident that we will find more. State Farm, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and UPS have helped fund our youth and leadership programs, National Convention and more.

For our large corporate partners, it makes sense to partner with the oldest and largest AAPI civil rights organization. We must strike the right balance of corporate funding. It’s no secret that we do not agree with unjust corporate behavior. On the other hand, many corporations share our values. Right now, there is a huge emphasis on racial equity infrastructure that we must tap into.

Finally, we must continue to innovate the way we engage regular people like you and me in our fund development. This means that, on one hand, we have to promote our different philanthropic vehicles including premium memberships and legacy giving, which I already mentioned. Did you know that as of last year, you can now make monthly automatic donations on our website?

Similarly, one new benefit for premium and life members is monthly credit card payments. Many corporations offer their employees workplace matching programs. Last year, about a dozen folks hosted birthday fundraisers on Facebook, including myself.

Former JACL VP for Membership Haruka Roudebush presents one of Bob Matsumoto’s “Remembrance” posters to Karen Koremastu, founder of the Fred Korematsu Institute, for becoming a JACL Millennium Club member at the last in-person National Convention in 2019.

Finally, I wanted to send a few appreciations. First, thank you to Haruka Roudebush, who served as the VP for Membership the last few years. Haruka helped organize our National Membership Committee, which has been an effective and fun community that shares membership ideas across the country.

Second, I want to thank artist and supporter Bob Matsumoto, who donated “Remembrance” posters that give tribute to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. Through Bob and Haruka’s leadership, we were able to increase premium and life memberships to bring in an extra $41,400, which is one key to 2020’s membership growth.

Thank you to all of our members, donors, partners and P.C. subscribers. Despite the pandemic, we’ve been meeting our membership budget goals to fund critical programs because of you.

Lastly, thank you to JACL’s volunteers, and there are well over 500 of you. We could not have our reach and impact without grassroots chapter leaders, those who sit on district and national committees, the National Youth/Student Council and the Young Professionals Caucus. Together, we will bring JACL and our community into a new era of prosperity.