Specialized Funds Show Evolving Latino Philanthropy


By Ana Arellano
Members of the Latino Endowment Fund Steering Committee, from left, Evelyn LaFontaine, Barbara Fernandez, Germán Bermúdez, Rosaida Rosario, and Estela López
As the Latino model of charitable giving has evolved, so has the need for more foundations that can accept and give grants to a growing Latino community here in Connecticut.
At almost 14 percent of the population, Latinos are the largest minority in Connecticut.  And half of Latinos in Connecticut live in New Haven and Hartford counties: home to two public foundations—The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.  Each has addressed the potential and challenges of the Latino Community in different yet congruent ways.
Henry A. J. Ramos, writing in the report, “Latino Philanthropy: Expanding U.S. Models Of Giving And Civic Participation,” said that organized philanthropy as practiced in the United States remains an emerging concept within the Latino cultures because they come from nations where governments and churches, rather than private and nonprofit organizations, have traditionally played the central roles in mitigating social inequalities.
The practice, he said, was the Latinos within the United States have chosen to give in informal ways, usually in small amounts, to religious organizations, especially to the Catholic Church but increasingly to evangelical Protestant orders; family and extended family members in need; and freestanding mutualista societies that provide general charitable services in Latino communities.
The local foundations give general grants for women, the homeless, education, or the elderly, with a focus on Latinos that are part of these groups. Latinos, however, have unique needs—most obviously because of language and cultural differences. Latino poverty rates are higher, and education rates are lower than for other minorities. Most Latinos, however, are above the poverty line.  And some have become successful at business or risen to the top of their fields.
In the past decade, The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven and The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving have found leadership within the Latino community to provide resources and guidance to address the challenges faced by those in need.
For John and Frances Padilla of New Haven, this meant creating the Progreso Latino Fund within the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.  The Padillos began the fund in 2003 “to advance education and socio-economic wellbeing for Latinos in the city of New Haven and the region, with a particular focus on Youth of Puerto Rican Origin.”
The fund also sought to increase the leadership of Latinos in philanthropy.  As Angela Powers, Senior Vice President of the New Haven Foundation says, this gives the foundation “the ability to look at the needs of the Community from a Latino lens.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving created The Latino Endowment Fund (LEF) with a similar goal. As George Chappell, communications officer for the Hartford Foundation said, LEF’s mission is “to increase philanthropy in [the Latino] community and to strengthen nonprofits working to improve the quality of life for Latino residents.” Like the Progreso Latino Fund, they foster a greater leadership role for Latinos within the foundation.
“Generosity is a part of Latino Culture.  You can ask any Latino and they can tell you a family member or friend they have helped financially,” says Dr. Germán Bermúdez, the Hartford Foundation’s Latino Fund’s steering committee chair.
“The greatest challenge for Latinos is to play a role in setting the direction in a more solid way,” says Bermúdez, emphasizing the role Latinos can play in broad-based Foundations. The Latino Fund is set up as a “giving circle.”
Although not a new concept, giving circles have recently gained momentum for all kinds of causes and interests.  According to The Regional Association of Grantmakers, ” a giving circle is formed when individuals come together and pool their dollars, decide together where to donate their collective contributions, and learn together about their community and philanthropy.”
The emphasis on donors as learners is fundamental to the Progreso Latino Fund and the Latino Endowment Fund.  Both sponsor forums for donors and the public.  The Progreso Latino Fund held “An evening with Dan Malloy and Tom Foley” during the 2010 gubernatorial race.  Progreso also sponsored “Latinos Left Behind—Closing the Educational Achievement Gap in Connecticut.”
The Latino Endowment Fund held a forum led by Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr., president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, on the value of civic involvement.  On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Sila María Calderón, former Governor of Puerto Rico, will speak about the importance of developing public-private partnerships to create strong communities.
The idea of partnerships has advocates even in the largest corporations. Five years ago, a Tomás Rivera Policy Institute Conference on the emerging wealth of Latinos was sponsored by a host of corporations such as Allstate, Merrill Lynch, and Ciudad Media. Andrew D. Plepler, Global Community Impact Executive, Bank of America, said at the time, “[There is a] need to end the historical ‘funder-supplicant’ relationship where the non-profit has to figure out how to get the grant while the funder holds the check. Instead, the bank believes, funding strategies should result from a conversation between the non-profit, which knows the community, and the funder, who seeks to invest in the community because its customers are the people who live there.”
Photo by Riley D. Johnson, Jr