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Investing in Latino-led Organizations like our Lives Depend on It

Tuesday, April 27, 2021
by Katia Ramos, Senior Executive and Development Assistant, Latino Community Foundation and Manuel Santamaria, Vice President of Community Action, Silicon Valley Community Foundation

In California, the Newsom administration recently made a bold pronouncement that opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Californians 16 years and older on April 15th — an incredible milestone after a year of challenges that fueled a renewed drive for economic, political, and social equity. However, when it comes to achieving vaccine equity, California has a long way to go. 

As funders, we need to meet this moment with an even more urgent sense of social justice and equity. We must trust and invest in grassroots organizations that are working to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.  

Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported on the dismal vaccination rates of Latinos. New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that in California, only 23% of vaccinations have gone to Latinos, even though we account for 55% of cases, 47% of deaths, and 40% of the total population in the state.  

Investing in Grassroots Vaccination Efforts 

Vaccination rates among Latinos will remain low so long as there continues to be a lack of in-language communications, support to sign up online, and transportation to vaccine sites. Other factors that are keeping vaccination levels well below what they should be: few vaccination sites are open after regular work hours, and people are uncertain about whether those who are undocumented or uninsured are eligible for vaccine shots.  

Personally, we both have faced similar struggles with getting our respective parents and families vaccinated. We made lengthy calls, navigated information and websites to secure appointments for them. Others have not been so fortunate to count on someone who can support them. This vaccination effort puts at risk the lives and livelihood of Latinos, of which make up 40% of California’s population.  

Professionally, as funders, we need to act now and think outside the box if we want to ensure that our Latino communities have access to the vaccines. This will require cooperation and solidarity among us all.  

We can look to the many examples across the state where sister foundations have seeded local and frontline community efforts to raise awareness and ensure outreach through promoters or health outreach workers, and communications campaigns – all with local government support. Take, for example, the Latino Community Foundation's COVID-19 Vaccination and Prevention Campaign that supports Latino-led grassroots organizations educating and increasing vaccine confidence in areas often overlooked by funders in California - Central Valley, Central Coast, Inland Empire, and Imperial Valley. 

Or Silicon Valley Community Foundation's Regional Nonprofit Emergency Fund, which provided operating grants for nonprofit organizations that have experienced unexpected costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund assisted organizations across 10 counties and recently provided support for pop-up testing and vaccination sites in high-risk zip codes in both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. These efforts have raised immunization rates in the region, but there is a need for more funding support from other philanthropic institutions to ensure vaccination rates in our communities keep climbing.  

Long Term Transformation 

COVID-19 is affecting all facets of our lives, not just public health. Our education, mental health and human services systems, and our economy are also feeling the brunt. This moment of crisis calls for rebuilding and healing to create an equitable and just California. It's an opportunity to reimagine who and what we fund and to create grantmaking processes that advance social change by eliminating funding barriers. It's about picking up the phone to ask our community leaders how they are doing and what they need to make sure we put them and the communities they serve at the center of our philanthropic work. 

Crisis is an organizing opportunity. This is the time for us working in philanthropic institutions to push for internal changes to meet the COVID-19 challenges in the Latino community.  The following grantmaking recommendations are transformational in ensuring that we reach equitable vaccination rates in our communities. We urge funders to: 

  • Simplify your funding process. Trust your community partners and remove the added stress of submitting proposals and written reports during times of crisis.  Opt for one-to-one dialogues and regular check-ins if at all possible. 

  • Invest in Latino-led grassroots organizations and support initiatives that build their fundraising capacity. Smaller organizations are often the most trusted among the Latino community, yet do not receive funds to the work needed.  Often relying on volunteers and long staff hours, these organizations need not only funding support, but connections to other organizations they can partner with to develop long term community strategies.  

  • Diversify your funding of Latino-led organizations and uplift their work. Check out this Latino Power Map for a comprehensive list of Latino nonprofits across the state and ask your colleagues and leaders, “which Latino nonprofits are we funding?.” 

  • Fund community rooted groups, the arts, cultural organizing, and mental health/healing work. Our community leaders have been tirelessly responding to this crisis for over a year. They need support, encouragement, and love just as much as they need funding. Grants that support their well-being to continue to work in our communities are crucial to curtailing burnout. 

  • Fund community organizing and power-building as part of your disaster philanthropy or COVID-19 relief work. These investments support grassroots organizations in the long term. The reality of power in this country is that it is disproportionately held by small and unrepresentative groups of people. If we want to change these dynamics, provide support to organizations that are employing multiple approaches to achieving systemic change on issues of racial and economic justice, such as grassroots organizing, investing in communications and advocating for policy change. 

Now is the time to come together, if not now, when? If not us, who? 

This op-ed was written by Katia Ramos and Manuel Santamaria, members of the Bay Engaged network, a network of Latinx Funders in the Bay Area. To learn more about the Bay Engaged network, please contact Amalia Brindis Delgado, associate vice president of Hispanics in Philanthropy at

  • Manuel Santamaria is vice president of Community Action at Silicon Valley Community Foundation and is currently a member of the board of directors of the Asset Funders Network, past board secretary of the Mission Asset Fund, past treasurer of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants (GCIR) and co-chair of the California Immigrant Integration Initiative. He has a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's degree in public administration. 
  • Katia Ramos is Senior Executive and Development Assistant at the Latino Community Foundation. She is an advocate for the economic mobility and increased civic engagement of Latinos. In 2019, Katia was awarded the Creating a Path to Success scholarship by the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. Katia graduated from the University of La Verne with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.  

Both are members of Bay Engaged, a project of Hispanics in Philanthropy.