Behind the Scenes at NBF: Spotlight on Thy Vu

Thy Vu

Photo of NBF staff member Thy Vu, and Asian woman wearing a black top with dyed blond hair.
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Last month, we met with our Operations & Development Coordinator, Thy Vu, to help us kick off the new year. Thy shared about how she came to work at New Breath Foundation, what kind of work she does as Operations and Development Coordinator, and what she looks forward to in 2024. Thy is based in Philadelphia, PA.

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to this work.

My family migrated to the US from Vietnam in 2009 when I was 13. My first year in Philadelphia, I was in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. I had a lot of classmates and friends who were also immigrants from all over the world. Though I am not a directly impacted person, I had quite a few Cambodian immigrant friends at that time and later learned about the plight of many Southeast Asian refugees.

Thy at VietLead's 2018 Lunar New Year Festival

Since college, I worked on and off for VietLead, first as a youth organizer, then doing civic engagement work, and then working in operations. While working in operations, I had a pivotal conversation with a community leader named Naroen Chhin, who shared how in Philadelphia, members of the Cambodian American community are being punished twice. He talked about how Southeast Asian refugees move to the US and are resettled in poorly managed neighborhoods, and for this reason, they become involved in crimes at a very young age. Then they get caught up in the system, do their time, get out, and start leading a new life. But then 10 or 15 years later, ICE knocks on their door, and they get locked up again. He told me how this exact thing happened to one of his friends who recently got deported, leaving a wife and kids behind. This story opened my eyes to the hardships that Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants face every day, especially those with a criminal record. 

After that conversation, I decided to get involved in the newly formed community defense team as a coordinator at VietLead. We helped impacted people get legal support, worked with lawyers, and ran campaigns to try to get a pardon from the governor to prevent deportations. VietLead is now a grantee partner of NBF, and I am grateful to have had that experience with VietLead because I know firsthand how hard it is to look for grants and find funding for such specific work. There is not a lot of light shed on the Southeast Asian or Asian community, especially for refugees who are tangled up with the criminal justice system.

How did you come to work at NBF?

Right before I started at NBF, I had gotten laid off at a tech startup and was unemployed. Before that, I worked for Groundswell Fund, which is an intermediary funder in reproductive justice work. While at Groundswell, I worked on the fundraising side and learned a lot about what the numbers look like for older, more established organizations. I learned the grant application process and learned who the big funders are. When I read the job description for this role at NBF, I knew it was a good fit since I had experience working on a small team (at the tech startup), in philanthropy (at Groundswell), and in operations (at VietLead). The issue areas were very similar to what I had been doing with the community defense team at VietLead. It was an exciting prospect to work at a philanthropic organization whose values were so closely aligned with my own. I’ve been at NBF for 6 months now, and I’m still convinced that this role is a great fit for me.

Can you describe your day-to-day tasks at NBF?

As Operations & Communications Coordinator, I support many back-end projects and daily tasks. On the operations side, I help with finances – processing and coding expenses, uploading receipts, and things like that. I work with our bookkeepers to make sure all of our expenses are accounted for. I am also responsible for building a system and infrastructure for the organization – for example, we recently implemented Airtable to help with tracking and managing our database. Along with operations, I work on communications, such as the newsletter, the website, and any other support that is helpful. 

Thy working out of her home in Philadelphia, PA

On the development side, I work closely with our Director of Strategic Partnerships. We recently transitioned to a new donor management system, so one of my weekly tasks is to manage the system, help build the infrastructure, and create and update the manual. I also assist with donor management – customizing and sending out thank-you letters, pulling donor lists, and tracking grants, which includes tracking when money is coming in, grant length and amount, payment and reporting schedules, and completing and tracking all of the accompanying paperwork.

That sounds like a lot of behind-the-scenes work! What motivates you to keep doing this work?

Your question reminds me of what Nancy Nguyen, the former Executive Director at VietLead, told me when she recruited me to come back to VietLead as Operations Coordinator back in 2019. I remember she said something like, you can have all the organizers organizing on the frontline, but you need a back-end person to make sure these people are getting paid, that their paperwork is getting filed, and to take care of the logistics. Because without the back-end person, the front-line work won’t last very long before people get burnt out and feel like they’re not being valued. And that really resonated with me. Most of the places that I worked at before NBF did not have a strong infrastructure in place. The work I do is not very visible or glamorous, but it is very important. I really enjoy figuring out infrastructure, identifying weaknesses, and how to create something that is long-lasting and efficient for the organization. Ultimately I want to make the organizing work easier for the people on the frontlines.

You’ve worked at several organizations now in various support capacities. What is special or different about working at NBF?

As I said before, the work is enjoyable and fulfilling because the values align for me. Even though I’m doing more back-end development and operations and don’t do the grantmaking, at least I know the work that I do has an impact on disbursing grants and empowering grantees to do the work they need to do. 

In terms of culture, I really like the small team at NBF, and I really like the people that I work with. Since I support both operations and development, it’s almost like I have two bosses, Stephanie (Sr. Director of Operations & Communications) and Maya (Director of Strategic Partnerships). But they both really care about my interests. For instance, I shared during my interview that I’m really interested in creating structures, operations, and establishing systems. They took that into account and assigned tasks and projects that allowed me to work in my areas of interest. So I feel really appreciated and valued because my co-workers listen and help me fulfill my professional goals and interests.

Thy with Mari Yamagiwa, Program Manager at NBF

I also like that at NBF, we do monthly one-on-one check-ins with other staff members that we don’t work with on a daily basis. Just because I don’t work with them doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be having conversations with them, right? During these check-ins, we talk about almost anything, mostly work-related, or discuss how our time has been so far – that’s usually what Eddy asks me about. I really appreciate getting to know my co-workers and feeling cared for on a more personal level.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

We have a busy year ahead of us. I’m looking forward to strategic planning and looking ahead to the next several years as we continue to grow and put into place the systems and infrastructure that we need to help sustain our growth. This May marks one year of working at NBF for me, and I’m looking forward to attending this year’s fundraiser and meeting the other NBF staff in person. Aside from planned events, I know, having worked at NBF for the past 6 months, that unexpected events come up. I’m looking forward to facing whatever unknowns come our way in 2024 and supporting our staff and grantees the best I can.


Thy was born in Vietnam and migrated to Philadelphia with her family in her early teens. She brings years of experience in non-profit operations and development. Since college, she has been involved in local community organizing work in various capacities with VietLead, from coordinating civic engagement events and supporting community defense work to spearheading the creation of the organization’s infrastructure and system. During her time at Groundswell Fund, she supported the stewardship of a vibrant community of funders. Thy is passionate about making changes to the current system and providing support to those who were affected by it.