Dia de los muertos procession in San Jose, California, 2019. Sundry Photography/shutterstock
Dia de los muertos procession in San Jose, California, 2019. Sundry Photography/shutterstock

More than a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that marginalized communities, particularly low income and communities of color, have been most affected by COVID-19, both in terms of the virus itself and the economic fallout that’s come with the pandemic. In California, those most impacted have been Latinx, a group that comprises 39% of California’s population but constitutes 48.5% of all COVID-related deaths in the state.

But long before the pandemic began ravaging the Golden State, Latinx people have faced significant inequities in key issues like income, education, health and housing. Making things worse, even in Silicon Valley—a part of the state that is bursting with private wealth—nonprofits serving and led by Latinx people are often overlooked by philanthropy. A 2020 report drove that reality home, and has prompted a new pooled fund that’s setting out to remedy the problem, launched by two regional funders.

The Castellano Family Foundation (CFF), in partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), commissioned the report, “Blueprint for Change: A Call to Action for Silicon Valley Philanthropy,” to look at the needs of Latinx-led organizations that serve San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, where Silicon Valley is located. In addition to the hardships that local Latinx communities, institutions and leaders face across the region, the report found, they are further exacerbated by “a lingering lack of access to Silicon Valley’s expanding private and charitable capital.”

“The findings were not surprising and very disappointing,” said Nicole Taylor, president and CEO of SVCF. “We all had this gut feeling that… this was the reality, but just to see it in the report is—you can’t ignore the facts.”

The report called for philanthropy to invest aggressively in local Latinx nonprofits and their leaders to help them overcome some of these longstanding inequities. Now, in response to the report’s findings, CFF and SVCF have launched the LatinXCEL Fund, an initiative to directly support Latinx leaders and organizations in Silicon Valley and cultivate greater funding for these communities. The $10 million initiative has so far raised $1 million toward its goal, including backing from Castellano, the Chavez Family Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and Sunlight Giving.

The report’s findings

According to Taylor, Blueprint for Change had been in the works since 2018. Between August 2018 and August 2019, CFF spoke with more than 65 Latinx-led and Latinx-serving grantee organizations about their needs. The report identified a greater need in four key areas: leadership development; capacity-building, organization development and infrastructure needs; cross-sector collaboration; and unrestricted funding to engage in policy advocacy, movement-building and coalition work.

The blueprint found that while Silicon Valley’s Latinx population continues to grow at a rapid rate and is predicted to reach more than 1 million—matching the predicted white population—by 2050, Latinx people continue to struggle in the face of “vast and growing income inequality, pockets of deep poverty, exploding housing costs, and looming health issues.”

These disparities extend to philanthropy, as well. Between 2008 and 2013, individual giving in the region increased from $1.9 billion to $4.8 billion, a staggering 150% increase. But funding to community-based organizations has stagnated, with such groups receiving only 26% of total revenues, and losing out to large institutions like universities and hospitals. Meanwhile, the report points out, only 1% of all philanthropic investments in the U.S. go to Latinx groups. This disparity is also seen in terms of philanthropic leadership, with only 2% of private foundation CEOs having Latinx heritage.

Among its many findings, the report noted the difficulty Latinx nonprofits face in making connections with funders. One-size-fits-all capacity-building solutions are also not as effective for Latinx organizations that work on a wide variety of issues, and leaders require training and support in order to cultivate the next generation of leadership. The biggest need nonprofit leaders and staff expressed to CFF was support for capacity building through unrestricted grants.

Additionally, Latinx nonprofit leaders reported feeling “undervalued by philanthropy, overtaxed by the demand for their services to communities in need, and largely invisible and irrelevant when it comes to new wealth donors.”

The report made several key recommendations for supporting Latinx nonprofits in Silicon Valley, including forming funder collaboratives to address and resolve social inequities—starting with education—in the region. Authors also recommended investing in leadership development, internship and fellowship programs, resource hubs, and new innovation funds, and creating authentic opportunities for Latinx communities to engage with foundations and the wider philanthropic sector.

The LatinXCEL Fund seeks to build on these recommendations and findings.

Closing the gap

According to CFF President and CEO Carmela Castellano-Garcia, the fund is part of a multi-year effort to build on the legacy of her mother, the late Carmen Castellano, who co-founded CFF in 2002 with her husband Al Castellano after the family won a record-breaking state lottery jackpot.

“She was really always calling for an investment in the Latinx nonprofit sector and an investment in Latinx nonprofit leaders,” said Castellano-Garcia.

The fund, which will be housed at SVCF, will award grants in rounds of RFPs over a three-year period, beginning in June. While it will award grants to organizations that serve and support Latinx communities, the fund will focus especially on Latinx-led organizations.

But beyond providing grants, the fund will also seek to encourage greater support for Latinx nonprofits as a whole.

“One thing we really want to do is motivate foundations to make long-term strategic investments—and not just grants—in Latinx organizations, in their leaders and communities,” said Castellano-Garcia. She stressed that these investments don’t necessarily have to be through the LatinXCEL Fund. “We just want to encourage greater grantmaking. We want to be a direct response to the needs identified in the blueprint.”

According to Castellano-Garcia, the fund has already drawn attention from local philanthropic leaders, and will be turning its attention to both the corporate sector and local government.

Castellano-Garcia added that the fund is an opportunity to directly address the disparities and inequities in the region. Much of it has to do with timing and the crossroads philanthropy finds itself in. Thanks in large part to the Black Lives Matter movement and its subsequent impact on society, foundations like CFF and SVCF have been able to build on the greater focus on equity issues in philanthropy.

In that vein, Castellano-Garcia expressed her hope that the fund will ultimately lead to greater support, not only benefiting Latinx nonprofits, but also strengthening partnerships with other racial and ethnic groups.

“We hope to work in a collective, multi-cultural agenda and see our Latino networks connect with the Asian, Black, Indigenous groups in the long term,” said Castellano-Garcia. “You know, we really hope that this just helps build the multicultural strengths within our local community in Silicon Valley.”

According to Taylor, SVCF’s ultimate goal for the fund is to transform the region into one that’s more equitable, inclusive and just, where all community members, including Latinx community members, can thrive.

“We’ve got to start dismantling the systems of injustice that have led to Latinx community members [being] hit hardest when something like a pandemic happens,” Taylor said.

The LatinXCEL Fund also aligns with SVCF’s new strategic direction, in which equity, racial justice and social justice are at the center for the foundation’s work. The fund complements SVCF’s other work, including the California Black Freedom Fund.

Taylor added, “We’re continuing to pursue the really hard work of deep structural change, and these funds allow donors and other foundations a way to do that work, to come together and do that work.”