Funder Spotlight: Latino Community Foundation
Latino Community Foundation (LCF) is breaking the old paradigms of community foundations by investing in building power—and partnership—among Latino donors and community leaders throughout California. When Jacqueline Garcel (pictured left) took the helm as CEO two and half years ago, the foundation began to shift its practices to elevate the power and potential of California’s growing Latino community. We sat down with Jacqueline to get the full scoop:
Tell us more about LCF’s grantmaking and overall approach.
We are a statewide foundation that exist to unleash the power of Latinos in California, in every sense of the word: from the new philanthropists we engage, to the investments we make, to the organizations we support. We deliberately refer to our “grantees” as community partners—and we deliberately raise funds for core operating grants—because we believe and trust those leaders who have the entrepreneurial spirit and vision to transform and improve their own communities. They are in the best positions to execute that vision of transformation and equity; they are the ones who live and breathe—literally sometimes—the consequences of what’s at stake.
And, at LCF we know our work can’t just be about grantmaking. That’s just one tool we can use. We also see ourselves as an advocacy platform, building political power for Latinos. We are investing in a much larger [philanthropic] table that includes Latino leaders who have been around for generations in California, as well as those who are new and emerging in their work.
How do you identify your community partners?
The process is very open and organic. We sit with our partners to learn from them and learn about what they need to achieve their vision for change. We work with them to create a roadmap, identify what they might need to achieve those changes, and then we work to identify and secure resources—either through our Latino Giving Circle Network and/or our own funding partnerships. And, to be fully honest, we often come up short because the demand is much greater than the opportunities available for funding.
As a community foundation, how do you work to build a donor base for the type of work you support?
We are trying to build a new generation of Latino philanthropists—many whom have never been asked to be part of traditional philanthropy. And, I prefer to call them philanthropists [rather than donors], because, in its truest form, philanthropy is about investing more than money. It’s about using your influence, power, network, and time—in addition to money—to create the change we all hope to see in the world. Donors give money to a cause. A philanthropist is willing to go the distance to make that change possible.
We’re also trying to break through that idea that you have to be a millionaire to give money. In fact, our Giving Circle network is very grassroots, where you can have 40 people in a giving circle giving $40,000 in grants. With this model, we are also trying to change the views of how community foundations are formed. It shouldn’t be about rich people parking their money for tax deductions! Instead, we’re trying to build a sense of unity, building philanthropy and community together as one. For example, Latinos in Tech is one of our giving circles, where most of the folks are young people who work at big tech companies or have their own startups, and they’re just starting to realize their power. We connect them to innovative, Latino-led, tech-related organizations around the state—such as Digital NEST, which is working toward building the next generation of tech entrepreneurs rooted in typically underserved communities. We encourage these new philanthropists to think bigger and bolder about how they can support these organizations beyond just giving money—and many are getting more involved by serving as mentors, board members, and helping expand operations.
We want this new generation of Latino philanthropists to use their power to break through the cycles that hold Latinos back. That’s why we say we are building a movement of civically engaged philanthropists. This is about change, not charity.
How does trust factor into your grantmaking?
For [LCF], trust is where it all starts. We lean on community groups to tell us where support is most needed. When [community partners] come to pitch ideas to a group of philanthropists in our network, our team encourages them to share their personal stories of what motivates them. Let’s not focus on logic models, let’s focus on the people and let them tell us [philanthropists] how and why the organization’s work matters.
Trust also factors into the relationships our team [at LCF] has with our community partners. Our team works to build a relationship with partners where they can feel comfortable and open. When Masha [Chernyak, VP of Programs & Policy] and Samantha [Sandoval, Manager of Programs & Grants] meet with community partners before a giving circle pitch, they are essentially coaching them to feel comfortable and be authentic to who they are. This builds trust and stronger relationships over time.
How do you help your network of philanthropists build trust in the community partners, especially when many are giving for the first time?
We really have to manage donors’ expectations. For example, we have to explain to them that poverty won’t be solved in a year with a $10-20k grants! We also work to help them understand that community partners are committed to solving these problems beyond a one-year grant term. The organizations exist to solve the social ills impacting Latino communities. We must continuously remind new philanthropists that the community leaders we support have so much more at stake [than we do].
How are you measuring impact under this re-visioned approach of community giving?
We are really focused on how we want to define our own impact. When we say were building political power, it’s about working to make the electorate of California more reflective of the Latino population. We’re also looking at voter engagement. Right now, Latino voter engagement is very low, especially for midterm elections. We want to aim to get voter engagement up to 45% for the next midterm election.
And then around our grantmaking and accelerator initiative, we’re probing how we’re building agency. For example, are we helping grassroots movements and organizations secure the resources and visibility needed to achieve systemic and policy change? Are we strengthening human capital at the local level? Have we made a dent in equitable funding for Latino-led organizations? At the same time, we are also wrestling with how to examine the role of hope, love, trust, confidence, and social cohesion in contributing to transformative changes.
What advice do you have for funders who are interested in taking steps toward a more trust-based approach?
Business as usual is not enough. If we want change, let’s start with ourselves. Foundations need to hire more people who are not from philanthropy; it’s so important to infuse organizations with new energy, outside the box ideas, and new blood. Let’s hold ourselves, our staff, and our boards accountable. Are we really taking the risks required of us as a field to bring about equity and justice?
We should continuously ask ourselves: How do we institutionalize trust within our organizations? It has a lot to do with how you go out and invite people to apply, how you oversee the reporting. When you do site visits with grantees, set the tone so it doesn’t feel like you are overseeing their work, but rather how you can collectively work together to achieve the goals that you’ve both set out to do.
It’s also important not to have a cookie cutter approach with our long-term strategies. [In philanthropy] we love doing these 5-year strategic plans. In social change work, there is no such thing as going from box a to b to c in a logic model! The work is messy, you have to give yourself room to deal with messiness of the work. Maybe consider breaking free of logic models, and giving yourself room to experiment. Let people lead with their vision for change and see what happens.
Finally, we all need to spend more time educating our boards and managing expectations. Get them on the ground, bring them to your community partners’ events and activities. They need to see what it takes to do the work, before real change can happen at the board level.
Why do you feel it is particularly important and timely to shake up philanthropy right now?
Our country is at a crossroads. The soul of our country is what’s at stake. The values we all care about in the philanthropic sector—and in our communities—is what’s at stake. It was said recently that anyone doing ‘business as usual right now…would be malpractice!’ We must break free from the old ways of doing business. If we want enduring impact, then trust people that are living out these issues every single day. Let’s invest in people to lead the movement for social change. Let’s invest in the core operations of the grassroot organizations fighting for change. Let’s trust their vision for the sake of our country. Trust me—that is probably the safest bet we can all make right now.