“You Don’t Look like You Belong Here”: Latinos in the Nonprofit World in 2020
Five times in my life I have had a police officer point a gun at me. Three times because a white person called me in as a dangerous criminal. One even said I had a gun; it was a clipboard. In that instance, canvassing door to door for the peace movement, a young Hermosa Beach police officer, trembling with a shotgun leveled at my chest said “You don’t look like you belong here”. He apologized later.
It’s funny I’ve remembered that statement because sometimes the nonprofit world makes me feel like that to this day. When you look at the data on how foundations, nonprofits interact or don’t’ with 58 million Latinx, my feeling takes on a larger context. When I see so many nonprofits and foundations calling for an end to racial injustice I would ask them to start in their own offices.
I cannot speak to the African American experience in this nation. I can only stand by our African American sisters and brothers, in their righteous outrage, in demanding change, whether there is a video of an injustice or not. And please remember that Latinx come in all colors, many cultural traditions.
We have seen a huge paradigm shift in the larger world around racial injustice, will this finally move the nonprofit world to action?
For many years I was the only brown guy in the executive team, as a VP of Development and more. Despite improvements, there is still a historic and chronic lack of diversity in nonprofits today.
Especially with Latinx.
There is no video of the injustice inside the nonprofit community against Latinx there are only my observations and few statistics.
When you hear “diversity and equity” most people mean staff but I talk about “full diversity and equity”. To me, that means Program, Staff, Board, and Donors. Even Major Donors. There is no more white’s only club in nonprofits like Major Donors. Its overwhelmingly the purview of straight, old white men. Wealth has changed, that has not.
Let’s talk about racism and implicit bias hiding in plain sight in the nonprofit community. I am talking about nonprofits and foundations. Even Latino focused and led nonprofits.
Its time to flip the lights on and point out the most common racist misperceptions and implicit bias about Latinx in the US today when it comes to philanthropy, nonprofits, activism, and more.
“Latinos aren’t philanthropic”-
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that from liberal nonprofit leaders of all colors. Even Latinx leaders say this! The common denominator with those folks is that they don’t know a thing about fundraising.
It’s like the ugly, smelly, obnoxious guy in a town saying all the women are awful and mean because they won’t go out with him! The problem isn’t with Latinx, the problem is that overwhelmingly Latinx aren’t asked to give and when they rarely are it’s often done poorly. I have seen Latinx focused nonprofits start Major Giving programs only to give up after a year or two because tens of millions weren’t rolling in the door! Ignorance of fundraising. Studies show that when asked, educated about the cause Latinx of all ages give at the same rate at white people.
Ask St. Jude Children’s Hospital if Latinx give. They won’t answer because they are making tens of millions every year from Latinx. My local Latino grocery store is in the poorest part of Oakland. There are certain things you can only get there. One does not compromise with chicharrones. I get in my car and hear in Spanish a pitch for St. Jude on my Spanish language radio station, pick up my mail and there is a bilingual solicitation for St. Jude. At the store the announcer on the PA makes a pitch for St. Jude with the voice a Latinx movie star. When I check out the checker asks me if I want to give. When I part with $5 bucks she rings a bell! The store manager told me in a month they had raised $200,000 in his store. In that neighborhood! Wow.
I am sorry if I have made you crave chicharrones. But the point is that St. Jude did the work, makes the effort and profits immensely. The only number I have seen online is that there Spanish speaking fundraising in the Promesa radio telethon raised $110 million since 1997. That’s one revenue stream. They have many approaching Latinx. And don’t forget St. Jude, a wonderful institution worthy of every dime, is still one the vast majority of these donors will never use or visit.
“We Can’t Ask Poor Latinx to Give, They are Victims”
Yes, there is a high prevalence of poverty among Latinx. But we are people too. People who want to solve our own communities’ problems, who want to fight for our family’s futures desperately. There is subtle victimization of Latinx today. Instead of pitying us work with us to find our own power. Giving is power, even a little, is empowering.
Many Latinx focused organizations focus on fundraising heavily on white-dominated foundations and corporations. Right now those foundations, for example, give Latinx focused nonprofits only 1.8% of their giving to Latinx focused nonprofits.
After all, foundations are still just 18% of philanthropy and corporations are 5%. Individuals are 70%. There are 58 million Latinx. Get the picture? Allow people to give, invest in a vibrant, creative, culturally relevant, and broad-based fundraising program. Stop walking past our own people.
Invest in real fundraising, sustainable, growable, based on relationships. Empowering.
Latinx as Major Donors?
I am literally the only person in the US today saying the words “Latinx Major Donors”. Why? Because there is a great deal of ignorance about Major Giving. Sorry to be blunt. But outside of major universities, hospitals, museums, most nonprofits regardless of color are unaware of the power of major giving. The vast majority are unaware that small nonprofits can have a vibrant, powerful individual Major Giving programs. It takes investment and time. Most nonprofits 70%, have never even tried a Major Giving program. Let’s not even talk about using Prospect Research. The vast majority of small and medium-sized nonprofits stay small, 90% are under $5 million budgets. They work hard not to invest in fundraising and stay small. Too often fundraising is considered “overhead” or even waste! So it’s no surprise that Latinx focused organizations fit that trend as well.
There are many cities in the US today where Latinx wealth has grown exponentially. Yet you can look at Major Donors lists in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and see not one Latinx. No Latinx wealth is not as large as white wealth, yet. But why ignore it? It's there.
“There are no Latinx who are appropriate board members in our community”? Again, this is a nice mix of implicit bias and ignorance. Do your research. Find the connected, wealthy Latinx who care about your organization's mission and focus. Because you don’t know any doesn’t mean they are not there. This is the power of Prospect Research, set criteria for your Board members, and pay the money for the research. Find these nice folks and recruit them. This isn’t being done because most nonprofits ask current Board Members for Board candidate recommendations. Most, 90% of Boards are white, so guess what? That’s the cycle. It takes courageous white board members to see the cycle and break it with prospect research of your community.
I hear about this issue from Latinx nationally all the time, especially Latina’s. The repeated story is of a Latina in a junior development position who has been on the job for years applying for her bosses job that she already knows how to do. Only to have an outside white woman hired in her place that needs to be trained, by her! The hiring manager is invariably white. I counted scrolling through my LinkedIn and email. In 2020 I have had 7 Latina’s tell me a similar story. Not exactly gold standard research but its something I have seen my whole career.
Are there any racists in this? A few. But implicit bias in hiring in the nonprofit world is truly real. If your hiring make the effort to reach out to those who know where Latinx fundraisers work, meet, etc. Hire a search consultant with a record of placing people of color in comparable positions, not one who says they will bring you, candidates. There’s a difference.
Time for leaders, Board Chairs, ED’s to take a hard look in the mirror and ask “Do we look like our community” and if so not why not?
We can post sympathetic messages and posts about racial injustice, but we can also look at our organizations and ask the hard, uncomfortable questions. We have relied for years on shame and guilt to move nonprofits toward looking like their communities, toward looking like America in the future. That tactic has simply failed. All it has produced is liberal white leaders avoiding the topic desperately.
No, we need substantive action and change. 20 years into the recognition that the nonprofit world isn’t diverse I still “don’t belong here”. We need to ground our efforts around diversity and equity in fundraising and the solid fact that to survive pandemics, to truly grow in our communities and be effective we need to include the entire community, including working-class people, including people of color. It’s the only strategy for sustainability, relevance, and impact.