The Latino Community Foundation Helps Communities Thrive By Encouraging Constituents to “Act Local”

Here’s how one local foundation helps ensure community-based nonprofit work remains sustainable and relevant.
According to the Colorado State Demography Office, 34 percent of Denver's population is Hispanic or Latino. “Colorado is one of ten U.S. states with over a million Latinos,” adds Carlos Martinez, executive director of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado.

That explains the variety of food here and the legendary festivals surrounding holidays such as Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo, the latter of which advances a two-day celebration drawing over 400,000 visitors to Civic Center Park annually.  

“There are lots of vibrant Latino communities here,” Martinez says. But he counters, “There are also lots of challenges.”

“Right now, the Latino community is left out,” Martinez continues, noting that, “We have some of the lowest economic indicators.”

Latino educational attainment rates, for example, fall below the state average. And Colorado’s Latinos have a history of being disproportionately impacted by poverty and low wages; as a group, the median household income of Colorado Latinos still lags behind the median income for Coloradans in the wake of the recession.

“It’s like, ‘Okay. There’s an issue here,’” says Martinez.

So how do activists ensure Latinos have the same access and opportunities as other Colorado residents? One answer might be money.

The Latino Community Foundation's Annual Forum, which took place at Denver Art Museum on October 31, raised awareness and cash while sparking some lively conversation on everything from civic power to social disparities

While there are plenty of local nonprofits dedicated to addressing specific issues in Colorado’s Latino communities, there hasn’t always been much funding to support those organizational efforts.

Enter the LCFC.

Don’t feel bad if you hadn’t heard of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado until now. Our LCFC is one of just six Latino community foundations in the country.

Intermediary philanthropic organizations like the LCFC have had a hard time attracting endowments large enough to make them sustainable. “There is Hispanic funding,” Martinez clarifies. But because of the way Latino community dollars are pooled, foundations that aren’t careful risk siphoning funds from the very organizations they’re hoping to support.

That’s why the LCFC relies on continued support and attendance at events like its Annual Forum, which took place at Denver Art Museum on October 31, raising awareness and cash while sparking some lively conversation on everything from civic power to social disparities.

About 200 turned out for this year’s forum — but the foundation’s roots are much smaller.

Truly Community-Based  

When a national report released in the mid-2000s showed that less than 2 percent of foundation funding funnels into Latino organizations, 14 Colorado families came together to form the LCFC, ponying up $25,000 each – leveraging another $650,000 community dollars – to launch their locally minded foundation in 2007 with $1 million.

As far as the LCFC is concerned, the best way to uplift a community is by encouraging civic engagement — and that’s why the foundation’s overarching mission is to fund Colorado-based organizations that help Latinos “act locally,” as Martinez puts it.

Local Engagement

Sure, Colorado is a progressive state. But Martinez says, “Latinos need to be part of the fabric of our community in order for Colorado to really capture its human talents.”

The Latino Community Foundation's Young Latino Philanthropists group is "a new generation of philanthropists dedicated to tackling pressing issues in the Latino Community through culturally relevant giving."

The LCFC, then, contributes to a range of community-based organization serving Latinos statewide. The list of partners is large because the foundation has been funding 35 to 40 organizations annually for a decade.

But there’s a common thread connecting, for example, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition to Downtown Aurora Visual Arts and Centro de la Familia. Every organization the LCFC supports does work that – one way or another – paves the way for higher levels of civic engagement in Latino communities.

This isn’t just about getting Latinos out to the polls on election day. That’s a piece of it, sure, but Martinez is equally interested in getting community members to turn up at their city council and PTA meetings.

Knowledge is power, after all.

For a lot of folks right now, politics isn’t necessarily a good thing. “We see what’s happening at the federal level, and we forget there’s still a lot we can control at the local level,” says Martinez.

“To really engage in your community, you have to understand what’s happening in it,” Martinez points out. “By getting involved, that’s how you change things,” he says.

Over a decade, the LCFC has invested about $5.3 million into the community, supporting nonprofits with mini-grants and larger contributions reaching $50,000. “We have some targeted grants, too, around immigration or education,” Martinez notes.

While some foundation grants have strengthened the Latino communities in the San Luis Valley, Montrose, and Colorado Springs, for example, many organizations the foundation supports are right here in Denver, including Girls Incorporated, Adelante Mujer, and Colorado Circles for Change, formally VORP of Denver.

Colorado Circles for Change has been around for nearly 25 years. “We were established in response to the Summer of Violence,” says Angell Perez, the nonprofit’s executive director.

In 1993, during the so-called “Summer of Violence,” heightened gang activity led to harsher penalties for juveniles in Colorado.

“Our founders were looking at how to intentionally support youth of color in the Metro area who were experiencing violence and systemic oppression through incarceration,” Perez explains, noting that the organization has three tiers of programming surrounding restorative justice, youth leadership, and family-based support.

While the nonprofit serves all youth of color, Perez says, “Given the demographic of where we are living, the majority of the youth we serve identify as Latino or Latina.”  

The partnership between Colorado Circles for Change and the LCFC started in 2013, when the nonprofit received a foundation grant for capacity building.    

“Our evolution has really been connected to the LCFC’s work with us,” Perez says.

But the foundation didn’t just fork over cash: It provided “critical support,” says Perez.

By providing education, mentorship, coaching, and leadership services – in addition to funding – the LCFC helped Colorado Circles for Change incorporate a “cultural lens” into its programming.

“Youth are completing our program at higher ranks than ever before, and we believe it’s because we are now incorporating that cultural lens,” Perez says.

“We’ve been able to increase our reach thanks to the LCFC and the intentionality behind their giving,” she continues, reiterating, “We got so much more than financial funding. The LCFC understands the scope of our work in a way other funders don’t, simply because of their mission.”

“The way we invest in our communities is more relational based, as opposed to transactional,” Martinez concurs. “We really like to get to know organizations so we can know how to best support them,” he adds.  

As for Martinez, he thinks the future looks bright for Colorado’s Latino communities. “Despite all of the obstacles we go through, we’re still a very resilient community,” he says.  


Read more articles by Jamie Siebrase.

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer who who writes about art, culture, and parenting for Westword and Colorado Parent.
Signup for Email Alerts