From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population in the United States grew by 43 percent. According to a Congressional Research Service report, by 2050, Latinos will represent one-third of the total US population. A lot remains to be done, however, to cultivate and unleash the potential of Latinos on their path to success—and philanthropy needs to play an instrumental role.

Here are three opportunities I see for philanthropy to revitalize giving:

  1. Embrace a new philanthropic narrative that cultivates the range of advantages that Latinos possess—this means a shift from continually addressing them as disadvantaged.
  2. Increase the allocation of philanthropic dollars through grants directed toward Latino communities. The giving rate of 1.3 percent per year has not increased in 10 years (as a reference point, giving rates for African American-serving organizations remained at 1.6 percent during this period).
  3. Grow giving among Latinos. The potential of donations from Latinos in the US to Latino causes is significant. Giving amounts are unclear, but it is widely recognized that the capacity is large (even outside of current giving for religious causes and remittances sent to countries of origin, which is already substantial). Part of the issue is that historically, organizations have not asked Latinos for donations, often because of the de facto disadvantaged designation. This narrative needs to change. In addition, Latinos need to further develop their own philanthropic giving (see examples below of organizations that are addressing this).

Allow me to elaborate on these three points. First, US grantmakers (those funding social, economic development, justice, educational, and other types of organizations) typically view Latinos through a deficit-centered lens; they see them as economically and socially disadvantaged. While large numbers of Latinos in the US do experience socio-economic hardship, a strength-based approach could alter this view; it would dismantle the dominant philanthropic approach to Latinos as people with disadvantages.

In a recent article, I argued that Latino immigrants possess drive, resiliency, perseverance, and bilingual and multicultural skills. These are personal, community, and national assets. Changing the dominant philanthropic narrative can be an effective tool to buttress socio-economic advancement by intentionally tapping into these strengths. I see two initial steps in this process. Funders can regroup to recognize and strategically assess what those strengths mean in terms of local and national potential, and then redesign and revamp community scans, honing in on high-impact organizations led by and/or serving Latinos.

I am suggesting that by changing perceptions about Latinos, grantmakers will gain a new perspective about them, and their giving will subsequently change. For example, funding for education, community development, and entrepreneurship might be strategically expanded for higher impact within the Latino community.

Second, the rate of US foundation giving to organizations serving Latino communities is disproportionally small compared to current growth and demographic projections. For example, as Latino businesses ownership accelerates nationwide, philanthropy can invest in programs to stimulate economic development and sustainability. Investment in education is equally important to foster future innovation and leadership among today’s Latino youth—a substantial segment of the future US work force.

In sum, philanthropy holding steady at 1.3 percent of giving to Latino communities is bad math. It makes no sense for philanthropy to aim so low, when we can maximize our nation’s progress by redefining foundation giving and investing in a population that is already the majority in some areas of the country.

Finally, how can Latinos be part of a new philanthropic dynamic? Many Latinos have the capacity to give, as well as a philanthropic spirit. They channel billions of dollars a year to their home countries in remittances. When religious, they are generous with their places of worship. But currently, Latinos are not as likely to give to nonprofits. Latino philanthropy in the form of individual donations and donor circles remains underdeveloped in the US. It is incumbent upon them to reach farther with their own giving, supporting organizations that serve Latinos and thereby setting the tone for what giving can do. They can be more intentional about their distribution of resources, keeping an eye on the future of their communities by increasing their giving today. In addition, nonprofits serving Latinos can exercise a greater leadership role in engaging their constituents philanthropically.

There are two encouraging examples in Latino philanthropy. The Latino Community Foundation of San Francisco has created the Latina Giving Circle. As with other giving circles, members make a financial contribution and decide how to allocate the funds through grants. Membership is growing, and in 2013, this giving circle allocated funding toward family education and leadership development.

Another example is the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, which runs a Latino Board Leadership Academy program, with the goal of increasing Latino representation on nonprofit boards and other institutions to positively impact service and giving over time. This is in an effort to drive Latino philanthropy through a sense of connection to the community—embracing “a network of friends, neighbors, and the broader Hispanic community.”

We need to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among Latinos, and capitalize on the advantages they have to offer. Many Latinos work under “no-matter-what" circumstances, strive, and endure, and they have an uncanny ability to fearlessly navigate bilingual, multicultural settings—an advantage in a global economy. These are the hallmarks of the American enterprising spirit. Redefining the philanthropic lens and increasing giving amounts will accelerate success and prosperity for Latinos, and hence for the country.

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