Latinos Challenged to Give More to Charities

In the Romero household, extra money earned picking onions and berries was sent to family in Mexico or dropped into a church’s donation basket.

Any extra time the immigrant family had between jobs was spent mowing lawns for elderly neighbors in Tolleson and taking them to shop for groceries. The family didn’t consider the good deeds as charity, just something they did.

Mario Romero, the family’s oldest son, is now a successful real estate agent and newcomer to organized philanthropy. He still volunteers but now it’s with arts groups and non-profit organizations. He writes $15,000 in checks every year to Valley non-profit organizations. It’s not charity, just something he does.

At least one national charitable group sees Romero’s ascent and generosity as a quickly growing Hispanic trend and wants to leverage it into raising funds from Latinos for Latinos, especially to support small grass-roots groups.

San Francisco-based Hispanics in Philanthropy recently selected Arizona to receive $500,000 in national funds if local officials can match the money. If successful, it could mark Phoenix’s arrival as a big-time player in Latino-led philanthropic circles along with states such as Illinois and New Mexico.

“It’s the nature of the Latino culture for people to be very generous, and their initial inclination is to support families with informal gifts . . . and churches,” said Henry A. J. Ramos, a principal of Mauer Kunst Consulting, a New York-based philanthropic company that advices non-profit organizations on ethnic giving.

“As people become more acculturated to American society, they realize if you want to make it in a law firm or as a CPA in a big Phoenix firm, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you to get in that charitable mode and follow suit.”

1st organized effort

This is the first organized effort in the Valley that brings together major foundations, corporations and individuals to raise money for mid- and small-size Hispanic-led organizations, which are typically the first place that residents turn to for help, officials said. In the past, much of the focus has been on larger non-profit groups, such as Valle del Sol Inc., Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. and Friendly House.

Local leaders since February have raised about $220,000 from the Arizona Community Foundation, charitable funds and individuals. They hope to hit $300,000 by the end of the year. The money would fund social-services, arts and community groups with budgets of less than $2 million. Local officials have identified about 80 organizations that could be eligible to apply for the money, which could be distributed throughout the state, Valley and possibly to border communities through a competitive process.

Organizations that could benefit from Hispanics in Philanthropy include a Tucson social-service agency, Nosotros, and an advocacy group in Nogales, the Way of the Heart: the Promotora Institute.

At the same time, the Arizona Community Foundation is recruiting Latino donors, hoping to bring together groups to raise tens of thousands of dollars. The initial focus is raising money for Hispanics in Philanthropy but could be broadened to promote general philanthropy.

Working for the effort are a growing group of middle- to upper-class Hispanics such as Romero, 50, and the unprecedented work of charitable foundations and social-service agencies to tap Hispanics.

Working against it is an institutional bias held by some that money doesn’t go to strangers but to family, friends and churches.

Latinos represent more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but Latino non-profit organizations represent only 0.3 percent of all non-profit groups and receive less than 2 percent of all foundation grants, according to Hispanics in Philanthropy.

A 1998 Gallup poll on charitable giving and volunteering commissioned by Independent Sector found that about 63 percent of Latino households made contributions to charity, according to “Building a Tradition of Latino Philanthropy: Hispanics as Donors, Grantees, Grantmakers, and Volunteers,” a study co-written in 1999 by Ramos. That’s compared to almost 75 percent of Anglo households.

Latino donors, on average, gave less than half of what Anglo donors did, both in dollars and as a percentage of household income. Ramos in his report, also points to a 1993 Direct Marketing News survey that indicates Latinos received an average of 15 to 20 solicitations yearly, compared with the 300 other ethnic groups received.

Realizing tax benefits

“We don’t have the history of giving funds to organizations such as foundations and non-profits because we haven’t been approached,” said Francisca Montoya of the Arizona office of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation in west Phoenix, which could benefit from Hispanics in Philanthropy. “Once there is a concerted effort to really target the Latino community . . . they’ll realize the need to give to other organizations, not just their church. They’ll become aware that there are tax benefits.”

Latino giving circles

Officials are banking on people like Romero, who plans to give to Hispanics in Philanthropy. They hope to reach hundreds of people like him through Latino giving circles, which bring together about a dozen people to raise $1,000 to $5,000 per person.

At the same time, participants go through a professional-development program that teaches them about local Latino-led non-profit groups and puts them in touch with other Hispanics interested in philanthropy.

“We’re trying to create a big tamale,” said Rudy Guglielmo, a program officer for the Arizona Community Foundation. “The Community Foundation is the corn husk that holds the masa. The masa is the individuals that can give. What we really need is the meat and the chile, which can be the other foundations and the corporate sector. If we cook the tamale, it will double in size. As it doubles in size, we feed this community . . . to enable them to respond to the growing health and social needs of Hispanic families.”

Since May, Hispanics in Philanthropy’s Funders Collaborative has been able to raise nearly $18 million for more than 230 Latino-focused grantees nationally. Groups in 15 areas throughout the United States, including Philadelphia and Southern California, and in Latin America are part of the push.

Hispanics in Philanthropy focuses on midsize and smaller organizations, not established groups with money in the bank.

No? Vargas, Ana Diaz and Rodolfo Lizarraga would reach more Spanish speakers about the immunizations, infant mortality rates and depression if the effort succeeds. More money means the health specialists for Concilio Latino de Salud Inc. would hit more churches, schools and mercados to lower rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases among Hispanics.

“(Some Hispanics) only go to the doctor when they’re sick or have a toothache,” said Vargas, 32, a native of Nyarit, Mexico. “It would translate into hiring more staff to do health promotions, buy some time on the media to send a message of prevention and awareness of certain diseases and lower the rates.”

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-4712.