By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The more than 400 guests who attended the Northwest Asian Weekly’s 35th anniversary gala on Oct. 21 would probably conclude that it was a smooth night. Except it wasn’t.
It’s ironic that recently, I have been writing about crises we’ve been through in the past 35 years — they have seemed to be relentless in the past few months to the point where I no longer consider them crises, but I’ve accepted that “life is a theater.”
Right before the gala at China Harbor Restaurant, I had to be an emergency caretaker twice that day. My husband had (and still has) appendicitis. The doctor said he doesn’t need an operation, just antibiotics.
On Saturday morning, he was feeling so sick that he didn’t know whether he could show up to our gala. I delivered his written questions to the doctor’s office and begged the doctor to call him. Finally, the connection was made, and the doctor advised he could attend, but not to move frequently. Good thing the doctor works on Saturdays.
And our event manager Stacy Nguyen texted me that she hurt her back. The moment she arrived at our office, I was ready with Chinese medicine oil to rub on her bare back to stop her horrendous pain.
“That’s intimate,” said Stacy. For a moment, I felt like I was her mom taking care of my daughter. I had never done that, even for my own sons. The oil did soothe the pain partially.
Then, another shock came. During the reception honoring 27 leaders, two honorees, Rep. Sharon T. Santos and Joan Yoshitomi, were involved in a four-car accident on the way to our event. They were not hurt, but they missed the part where they were honored. When I heard the news, I wondered if I had picked the wrong date.
Why I didn’t want to celebrate initially
Last December, Ken Collings, Goodwill’s emeritus CEO, reminded me that the Asian Weekly’s 35th anniversary was approaching. My reaction was, “Wow, you remember! Am I supposed to do something?”
We celebrated our 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries with big bangs. Why I wasn’t thrilled about the 35th was, I couldn’t find a purpose then. Perhaps, after many challenging years of running the business, I didn’t want the work of organizing such an event.
But his interest inspired me. Maybe, I could and should do something.
In February, I found that a scholarship endowment in Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post’s name would be great to have. When announced, many thought I was crazy that we aimed at not just one, but two scholarship endowments at the University of Washington, at $100,000 each, in celebration of our 35th anniversary.
If you were there at the gala last Saturday, you would agree that I am not overambitious. Through sponsorships and ticket sales, we actually raised $100,000 net before the event. So we already had one endowment for the School of Education for an undergraduate degree.
Why a scholarship endowment
The endowment idea wasn’t mine. In 2004, former University of Washington (UW) Regent and the late Ark Chin challenged me. He said, “Make your scholarship meaningful. Think big.” How? With an endowment, the scholarship will be able to continue forever after one year. That lump fund will appreciate. With Chin’s help, we raised a scholarship endowment to honor former governor Gary Locke through the Dan Evans School of Public Affairs. It has now increased to over $220,000, and has helped 16 students get their master’s degree, and even some PhDs over the years.
How we overcame our challenges
Unlike many Asian organizations, such as ACRS, Kin On, ICHS, and Keiro NW, which have a sophisticated fundraising department with three to seven people working full-time, we have zero. We don’t even have a full-time sales representative.
Our strategy was to focus on sponsorships, rather than individual tables. Most organizations, including the Asian Weekly, request that honorees buy tables. This time, we told our honorees who have made a difference in the community over the past decades, not to do that.
The last small fundraising we did was five years ago — for the International District Emergency Center at our 30th anniversary gala. We had become rusty when dealing with auctions.
To raise money, we had to execute all three fundraising methods, including a live auction, dessert dash, and raise the paddle. Between honoring Asian American leaders to organizing a silent auction, I chose leaders.
I have to confess that our live auction was born in the last two weeks with the help of our planning committee. With our generous donors, we managed to develop fun items without spending much time on them, including a food walk in the International District.
The dessert dash was perfect for us since Chinese restaurants don’t offer desserts. It’s very time-consuming and required a lot of manpower on site. However, the desserts created an appealing sight at the restaurant’s entrance. Also, we were fortunate to have Tracy Luu who volunteered to bake 12 lovely and delicious cakes. I was shocked that one table bid $1,000 for a cake. The best part was the number of donors (more than half) participating in the dessert auction, and exceeding my expectations.
Wing Luke Co-president Ellen Ferguson (left) and UW President Ana Mari Cauce | Photo by Rebecca IpWing Luke Museum’s co-chair Ellen Ferguson was the first person to raise her hand for $10,000.
The most beautiful moment was when 51 hands propped up their bid cards after Nate Miles, who was doing the ask, received a phone call that an anonymous donor would match $5,000 for 50 donors of $100 each.
On stage, UW President Ana Mari Cauce whispered in my ear that she would donate $5,000.
And the politicians were generous, too — Rep. Sharon T. Santos and many other elected officials contributed money, including candidates Jenny Durkan, Cary Moon, and Janice Zahn.
At the end, there was another surprise. Shaunta Hyde of Alaska Air said to me quietly that her company will contribute an additional $2,000. She told me, “At Alaska we care about our community and preparing youth for a brightfuture. The Asian Weekly has been at the forefront educating our community for 35 years.”
It wasn’t an easy night. But everything clicked together in the end. We were fortunate to have the right people reaching out to us and donating the right resources. When Matt Chan heard that I wanted to have a video, he volunteered. It’s what I wished for, but didn’t dare to impose. From researching to interviewing honorees, he spent lots of time putting together the video, which received many positive reviews. People teared up while watching the video, said John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming. Thank you, Matt.
Thanks to those who came and even those who couldn’t show up, and called in to make their donations. Now, the goal of $200,000 doesn’t seem to be impossible.
Our business is about community. What we have done, is not so much about raising funds for scholarships, it’s about giving hope to future generations to purse their dreams and upward mobility through education.
If you’d like to support the scholarship endowment, you may mail a check to 412 Maynard Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98104.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.