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For Latinos, Charity Truly Does Begin at Home

Philanthropy: A book contends the group prefers to give directly to family and friends rather than organized nonprofits.

April 06, 1999|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not that Latinos don't care about philanthropy. It's just that they have a distinct way of giving--one that tends to go undetected by the Internal Revenue Service and others who monitor philanthropy.

Rather than donate priceless works of art or write checks to their favorite charities, Latinos contribute more at a grass-roots level. They tend to help family and friends privately--which is perhaps why the vast American philanthropic sector has not yet made significant efforts to tap into a community with an estimated $350 billion of purchasing power.

This is one of the findings in "Nuevos Senderos: Reflections on Hispanics and Philanthropy," commissioned by Berkeley-based Hispanics in Philanthropy and published last month by University of Houston Arte Publico Press.

The book, a collection of essays, explores how to involve Latinos as givers and beneficiaries of the mainstream philanthropic sector. The authors suggest the community is underrepresented as organizers, givers and recipients.

The 4,900 Latino nonprofits identified from IRS records account for only .3% of all nonprofits in the country. About 800 of the Latino nonprofits were churches. Only 5% were foundations.

Between 1985 and 1990, it was estimated that less than 1% of all foundation dollars were given to Latino organizations, at a time when Latinos comprised about 5% of the U.S. population, said Henry A.J. Ramos, the book's general editor.

The most recent figures show the percentage of foundation dollars spent on Latino organizations has increased to 2%, while the Latino population has grown to about 13%.

And despite gains, Latinos today account for less than .5% of foundation board members, said Diane Sanchez, an organizational development consultant who wrote a chapter in "Nuevos Senderos" (New Trails).

The book explores how philanthropy leaders can tap into the Latino population by understanding the group's views on philanthropy.

The book notes that contrary to the mainstream philanthropic sector's long-held notion that Latinos don't give, the group does give generously--but not in a mainstream American style.

Indeed, a study commissioned by the California Community Foundation released in December showed that among L.A. County residents polled who sent money or clothing to needy family or friends in another country, 55% were Latino, 28% were other ethnic minorities, and 10% were white.

Ramos points to Hurricane Mitch and the Mexico City earthquake recovery efforts to which Latinos donated a significant portion of the millions raised in the United States.

Latinos are also more likely to give to formal organizations when they are solicited in person and they know the solicitor--often regardless of the cause, said Ana Gloria Rivas-Vazquez, associate head of Carrolton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami and a chapter author.

Latinos' pattern of giving to churches isn't much different than most Americans' giving style, said Leslie Dorman, president of the Sterling Foundation and board member of the Southern California Assn. for Philanthropy.

She cites a study by the American Assn. of Fundraising Council Trust for Philanthropy indicating that 76% of all philanthropy in 1997 was from individuals giving to organizations and causes--with about half of the donations going to churches.

For Latinos, giving customs are rooted in the social and legal structure of Latin America, "Nuevos Senderos" suggests.

There is no formal charity sector in much of Latin America, where fund-raising and charity work are done by government and churches. American tax incentives for giving are virtually nonexistent in most Latin American countries. So, people give to their family and friends.

"Because Hispanics don't play the game the way it's played in this country, we typically don't get viewed as people who bring something to the table," Ramos said.

Even when Latinos in the United States become wealthy, they appear to maintain a grass-roots approach to giving, said Rivas-Vazquez.

She interviewed 60 Latinos in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois--states with the largest Latino populations--who had made donations from $1,000 to $1 million. They preferred causes related to family, religion and education.

It is particularly important to understand how wealthy Latinos identify themselves ethnically, Rivas-Vazquez said, because their donations usually lean toward organizations or causes with a particular national identity.

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One indication that Latinos are becoming more involved in organized philanthropy is the emerging Latino foundations, Ramos said.

One chapter highlights the work of five of the major foundations, including the United Latino Fund in Los Angeles and the Hispanic Federation of New York City. The New York foundation, raising almost $1 million at its annual event, now is host of one of the largest fund-raising dinners in the city.

There has been some criticism of Hispanic foundations, Ramos admits, such as the question of whether the organizations are bringing in new money or diverting money from established organizations. Either would be difficult to prove, Ramos said.

"Nuevos Senderos" also aims to highlight Latinos' needs. One of the essays focuses on the group's low rate of participation in volunteer organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Such organizations are considered gateways to wider participation in the political system, said Rodolfo de la Garza, a chapter author and vice president of the Tomas Rivera Institute, based in Claremont.

Investing in such groups--particularly those that work in Latino communities and focus on such things as voter registration drives--has long-term benefits because it engages people in policy, De La Garza said.

Times staff writer Jose Cardenas can be reached by e-mail at jose.cardenas@latimes.com.

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