A group of Fresno-area Latinos have started a philanthropy group to pool their money, raise funds and give it to Central Valley organizations dedicated to helping the Latino community thrive.
The first 41 members of the Central Valley Latino Giving Circle already have pledged $41,000 – giving at least $1,000 each to jump-start the pot. The goal is to bring on 10 more members by the end of this year and raise $100,000 by next spring, when the first grants are expected to be awarded.
“There is sometimes this perception in the community that minority groups don’t give their fair share,” said Tim Rios, a founding member. Rios is senior vice president at Wells Fargo bank.
“As an immigrant in this country, growing up, I’ve always felt we give to our churches, our schools, to our families,” Rios said. “A lot of immigrants send money back home. But, we’re not strategically giving and not organized around philanthropy.”
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Rios and Dora Westerlund, chief executive officer and president of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, set out to change that. They started talking a year ago about finding a way to organize Latinos in the Central Valley to help support Latino community groups.
$40,000 raised so far by the Central Valley Latino Giving Circle
$100,000 goal by spring 2017
“They’re a generous people. They’re good people,” Rios said. But, in many cases, Latinos don’t know a lot about philanthropy or “maybe they are distrusting of nonprofits and where their money is going.”
Latino nonprofits, on the flip side, receive less than 1.1 percent of all philanthropic dollars, according the Latino Community Foundation, a San Francisco organization that invests in nonprofits and promotes philanthropy.
Rios and Westerlund contacted the foundation for help starting a philanthropy group under the organization’s “giving circle” model. The concept is simple. Anyone can be a member, no matter their wealth. Each person pledges to donate at least $1,000 a year or $86 a month.
The Central Valley circle has members in their late 20s just starting their careers to seasoned financial professionals, lawyers and others, Rios said. The group will accept corporate donations or matching contributions.
The San Francisco foundation helps giving circles identify the community issues that are important to its members and provides experts to educate them about those subjects. The members then decide whom to give their money to.
“It’s Latinos strategically giving to Latinos through the causes, through things, that are important to us and things that are important to grow our community and make it better,” Westerlund said. “I believe that’s a very strong message to other Latinos to join us and help other Latinos in our community.”
Volunteering and donating allows you to form the very community you want to live in.
Jose Antonio Ramirez, community development consultant
The foundation started its first giving circle in 2012 with a group of women in San Francisco and has grown to about 280 members in 12 circles located mostly in the Bay Area.
The Central Valley is the foundation’s first outside group, said Sara Velten, the foundation’s vice president of philanthropy. A giving circle has started in Los Angeles, and one is emerging in Sacramento. Together, the groups have invested $280,000 in Latino nonprofits.
The Central Valley’s first group meeting “was literally magic,” Velten said. “We had 13 people around the table, and we hadn’t even finished talking about the idea of the giving circle and we had folks already writing the checks and saying ‘I want to be part of this.’ In a month and a half, they already have 40 members. They’re super ambitious.”
The foundation’s largest giving circle is the San Francisco Latinas group with 41 members. Fresno is running head-to-head with the group by recruiting 41 members in only a few months with ambitions for more.
The Central Valley group will cover communities from Bakersfield to Stockton. It already has identified community development organizations, groups that support leadership within the Latino community and entrepreneurship as the areas it wants to help first.
Community development is close to Jose Antonio Ramirez’s heart. The former city manager of Firebaugh and Livingston is now a community development consultant who works with local cities on water issues, housing and more. Ramirez wrote the first check to the Central Valley group and encourages more people to get involved.
“Volunteering and donating allows you to form the very community you want to live in,” Ramirez said.