May 17, 2012
by Paul Miller
As an artist, grant writer, and advocate for the Tibetan culture, Dianne Aigaki (B.A. '68, M.A. '70) has been around the block a few times - or rather, around the world many times.
In the mid-1990s, Aigaki went to India on a tour and visited the area where the main Tibetan refugee community is located in Dharamsala at the foot of the Himalayas. She met with heads of the Tibetan Exile Government and reviewed their project plans and proposals for funding for health, education, employment and other programs that kept alive the Tibetan culture-in-exile. She could immediately see they needed training in project planning and articulating the value of their programs to potential funders.
“I’ve been doing training like that all over the world as a consultant for non-profit organizations for 40 years, ever since I was at CSU,” she says. “My business, the Funding Forum, trains non-profits to do solid, meaningful project planning and teaches them how to partner with donors – to see donors as more than a check.
“It’s a huge area of concern. Nonprofit organizations doing good work are often seen as ineffective and wasteful of donor dollars; but they’re rarely trained to have the skills to think clearly about what their organization or project is about and how to evaluate it effectively.”
Aigaki’s love of the Tibetan and Indian people has given her work a significant depth. She’s lived part-time in Dharamsala for 16 years, where she built a home with extensive gardens, and has continued to work as a volunteer for various Indian and Tibetan non-profit organizations and government departments. Over the years, she’s trained hundreds of people, resulting in better project management and raising millions of dollars for worthwhile programs.
“The variety of people who come through the training is astounding – they’ve represented projects ranging from building orphanages and old-age homes, leadership training for Indian women, teen pregnancy prevention, tiger conservation, water sanitation projects, and keeping elephants out of crop lands.”
Since 2004, she has spent summers traveling in eastern Tibet, herding yaks, riding horses, and sketching and painting botanical illustrations of flora that grow from 11,000 to 18,000 feet.
“The flora documentation is part of an exhibit that travels around the world to show the Tibetan culture and environment and all the incredible plants that grow on the Tibetan plateau that have medicinal properties and are highly sought, but overharvested,” she says.
“The exhibit allows me to go out into the world and speak about the situation in Tibet and bring a fresh perspective to it instead of just concentrating on human rights abuses and the Tibetan independence issue, which of course are also very real.”
Aigaki has recently set up another home base in New Orleans, where she hopes to concentrate more on her art, finish the botanical exhibit about Tibet, and present an exhibit on large-scale landscape paintings of Tibet. She’s also looking forward to more work with the Funding Forum to facilitate a series of conferences that include five days of intensive training for a hundred non-profits that attend each conference.
“Several cities and locations around the world have asked for this to happen,” she says. “Participants write many different projects in one week that are all serious business plans. One of the powerful things about the training is that people come out after five days and they’re blown away by the documents they’ve created. They go back to their organizations with a complete, functioning plan that can be implemented right away, and so they can attract donors who want to see solid project planning and a commitment to effective monitoring and evaluation.”
In addition to being a well-known consultant to nonprofits and a motivational speaker, Aigaki is a member of WINGS Worldquest, which supports women explorers; the Society of Women Geographers, one of the premier organizations of women explorers in the world; Rotary International; the American Society of Botanical Artists; and the Guild of Asian Botanical Artists.