A Conversation with Sara Velten, Vice President of Philanthropy at the Latino Community Foundation

In a recent conversation, Sara Velten, Vice President of Philanthropy at the Latino Community Foundation (LCF) in California, shared her organization’s work funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving grant opportunity. Latino Community Foundation has a mission to inspire philanthropy by and for Latinos to invest in Latino communities and to lead transformative solutions for change.


Q:  What are your current efforts to catalyze community giving?

A: Almost three years ago, we hosted our first Latina Giving Circle meeting in San Francisco with 14 women. These diverse and intergenerational Latina women were given the opportunity to share their personal stories, to learn about Latino issues, and to donate $1,000 into a pool of resources that would be invested back into the community. In three years, those women have raised and granted out $80,000 in grants.  More importantly, they ignited a movement! Today, we have recruited 135 Giving Circle members in 7 active chapters.

This investment goes beyond the dollars. We’ve created communities of donors, a sisterhood and brotherhood in the cases of the female and male groups, who would otherwise never have gotten an opportunity to make change together. It’s also a really diverse group of Latinos. They range from their mid-twenties to mid-sixties with very diverse professionals, immigrants, and many others. The community is just amazing! We are really growing a movement. It’s very inspiring.


Q:  Do you think projects like yours are part of a larger movement to link community-based giving to critical issues in communities of color?

A: Totally. The Latino community is very generous with giving back to our families, churches, and sending money back to our home countries. Giving to institutions is not yet part of our culture, we have to create it. At LCF, we are educating Latinos about what it means to give back to local Latino nonprofits. This is especially true for first-generation immigrants. We also need to help generate trust in Latino institutions. By connecting Latino donors to Latino nonprofits, we are helping create that trust and understanding.

Also, some members have told us that “You’re the first to ask me to become a donor.” Giving Circle members are starting to see themselves as philanthropists. We are very intentional in ensuring that they inspire their friends and colleagues to also get involved. We really believe that the network is helping shape a new narrative about our community. Latinos see themselves as donors who can make a big difference when they give together.


Q:  What would you say is your unique approach to philanthropy?

A: I think we are the first to tap into this powerful demographic! The statistics on philanthropic giving to Latino nonprofits are very disheartening. Less than 1.4% of all dollars go to support Latino nonprofits in the U.S. We give diverse Latino leaders and opportunity to change that reality. We share the facts and ask people to do something about it. Our members are speaking up about the issues and about the lack of resources for our nonprofits. These conversations are making an impact.

Also, a lot of our members tell us that no one has invited them to be a donor before. They like being a donor. We bring experts to the meetings to cover different issues so they are learning along the way, and they are learning together. 

Each giving circle defines its own funding priorities and the Latino Community Foundation puts together a list of grassroots Latino-based organizations that are making a difference in the community. The top finalists come to present in person to the whole giving circle and members get to know their grantees better. We bring wine, food, and conversation to every meeting. The discussions are rich and really challenge mainstream philanthropic thinking. We want to trust Latino-based nonprofits and ensure that there is a long-term partnership. In summary, I would say that our approach is very entrepreneurial and it is fun. People like coming to Giving Circle meetings. We laugh together, and we get things done together.


Q:  How are you documenting this project?

A: It’s very anecdotal. We ask each member for a quote of why they joined the giving circle and a year later we ask them again. We also ask why they remain involved and what impact it has had on them. Each grantee is also asked about their experience with the grant, the impact it’s had on families they support and on the institution.

We are now working with a consultant to evaluate the giving circle network overall. We hope that in ten to twenty years, someone will tell us that she/he has been a member all that time and now her/his daughter or son is part of the circle. We’re also tapping into the power of social media. Not only to attract new members, but to share our successes. We write blog posts and are hoping to get coverage in local and national newspapers/outlets. Our movement is challenging the traditional narrative of Latinos. We are inspiring others to get together to give.


Q:  Where can people go to find additional information?

A: Our website has information about what we do and testimonials from the giving circles. There's our Facebook page.

The men’s giving circle was featured on The White House Initiative for Educational Excellence in Hispanics Facebook page. We also have a radio interview with Stanford Hispanic Broadcasting.

Our blog is another great way to connect with us.