Latinos and Philanthropy: A Movement in the Making

How Latinos organize for charitable giving


By Mara Perez

Last month, just as Hispanic Heritage Month was starting, I walked into a conference room at the Latino Community Foundation of San Francisco. There, 23 women had gathered to hold their regular Latina Giving Circle meeting. This was my first meeting as a Circle member; a great way to toast to Latino causes. Now, as we just closed this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, I write this article and delve into the world of group-centered philanthropy –the Giving Circle. After defining Giving Circles in general, I-ll focus on the Latina Giving Circle of the Latino Community Foundation of San Francisco as an example of collective giving.

The rate of giving is disproportionately small

In an article for Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2013, I mentioned that by 2050 one third of the total U.S. population will be Latino. I also said that U.S. philanthropy’s giving rate for Latino causes remained low and stagnant, at about 1.3 percent a year for the last decade. This giving rate is disproportionally small compared to the momentous demographic shift we are experiencing, and it can be thought of as underinvestment.

This lack of investment leads to underfunded agencies unable to meet community needs. Philanthropic allocations can be good math, or bad math. Investing in a population that is growing is tantamount to investing in the country, to investing in ourselves – as a nation.

Whether because of this underinvestment or not, we are witnessing a charitable movement among Latinos in the U.S. Spreading and accelerating, Giving Circles are sparking civic engagement and propelling social change. Giving Circles are good math.

What is a Giving Circle?

It is a group of people who gather to combine their assets -money, talents, a shared vision and strategy— to identify causes and organizations that they want to fund. Giving Circles are one productive answer to underinvestment by philanthropic institutions. Moreover, Giving Circles (which can be small or large, informal or formal) are effective hands-on vehicles for individuals to:

1.  Maximize their giving power by doing it collectively

2.  Leverage resources

3.   strive towards measurable impact. Giving Circles also serve as empowering means to promote civic engagement.



Latinos-giving-Latin-Business-Today Photo above The Dream Team, left to right: Masha Chernyak, VP Programs; Arabella Martinez, CEO; and Sara Velten, VP Development.                                                                           Top page header photo: author Mara Perez, Latina Giving Circle Member; Sara Velten, VP Development; and Masha Chernyak, VP Programs


Circle members seek and embrace the best methods in the philanthropic field to function strategically, and conduct research, gathering data relevant to their issue area/s. Members jointly decide on the allocation of funds collected through their donations. When housed within granting agencies, Giving Circles have the support of staff members who provide grant-making expertise, links to community organizations, and overall philanthropic know-how to facilitate the Circle’s functions.

At the core, Circle members are individuals who love humankind, AKA philanthropists (from the Greek, philos = loving and Anthropos = man/humankind). Giving Circles are proliferating, perhaps because of their hands-on characteristics, perhaps as a result of the appeal of joining a group of like-minded visionaries, and perhaps due to frustrations with the oft-glacial speed of institutional philanthropy in responding to changing landscapes and emerging issues. Regardless of the reasons, Giving Circles have raised, and, more importantly, deployed hundreds of millions of dollars to communities in need in the last decade.





Mara Perez
Mara Perez
Mara Perez, Ph.D. As Founder and Principal of Mara Perez, Fund Development and Planning Services, Mara provides fundraising and strategic planning services to non-profits. Mara has helped over seventy organizations obtain funding, design innovative work strategies, and execute growth plans. Mara holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago. Community service includes: 2010-present Board Member of Marin General Hospital; 2002-2012 Board Member Canal Alliance, twice Board President; 2005 Spirit of Marin Award, Business Person of the Year; Coro Leadership Community Fellow. She has published articles about immigration, social change, and fundraising. Born in Argentina, Mara resides in California.

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