Donor Diversity

A story is told about a southern gentleman who owned a grove of beautiful oak trees. Well established and much admired, these oak trees were a source of great pride. On a trip to another part of the country, the man discovered peach trees. Taken with their lovely blossoms and sweet fruit, he decided that peaches would be a good addition to his grove.

Because the grove was filled with oaks, he decided to graft a peach branch onto an existing oak. He studied grafting, soil and climate conditions, and carefully grafted a peach branch onto one of his oak trees. He tended to the grafted tree and patiently waited for the fruits of his work.

Spring came and passed, and there was no sign of peach blossoms on the oak tree. After repeated attempts, the man finally admitted that his efforts to graft a fruit tree onto an oak were futile.

Philanthropy in America is well cultivated and bears deep roots. These philanthropic practices as they are known to us have evolved through the growth of the nation reflecting the traditions and interests of the early settlers. The increasing number of racially and ethnically diverse people living in the United States now gives us the opportunity to develop new and distinct forms of philanthropy.

Philanthropy in this country will be enriched through the cultivation and appreciation of diversity yielding promise for generations to come.

Hispanics represent the fastest growing population in the United States and this growth is seen in every section of the country: west, south, east, urban and rural. Hispanic or Latino includes many nationalities and a wide range of differences in culture and age. There are fifth generation Mexican Americans living in California along with first generation immigrants. This article describes the highly valued Hispanic traditions of family, church and mutual assistance and the influence these traditions have for philanthropic giving. “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably out of respect for individual preference.

Hispanic/Latino philanthropy includes the tradition of voluntary associations created to provide support to those in need. Hometown associations (HTAs) are an example of Mexican American associations in the United States, organized to support a hometown or community in Mexico.

A traditional giving relationship exists between Hispanics and the church and the church is seen as a trusted advisor or reference for spiritual and ecumenical advice.

Recent Hispanic immigrants will tend to support relatives in their home country before contributing to other causes. The practice of remitting money home is widely practiced by migrant or guest workers living and working in the United States. Remitters are known to send a significant amount of their paychecks home and the monetary value of remittances is billions of dollars annually to Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Hispanic giving occurs informally as personal connections are essential in the act of giving, while other factors such as tax deductions are less important. A strong sense of cultural heritage affects Hispanic giving, and Hispanics place importance on being asked to give by a friend or trusted person.

The number of Latinos (Hispanics) achieving professional career status is increasing, and so is the number of Hispanics who are participating in high-end, organized philanthropy. Henry Ramos in “Latino Philanthropy: Expanding U.S. Models of Giving and Civic Participation,” observed that although Latino donors prefer to support Latino constituencies in need and Latino community causes, they generally give as much — and sometimes more — to mainstream organizations.

Few Latino donors, no matter how forward looking, support endowments. Their preference is to address the most immediate needs of the community.

The word “philanthropy” originates from the Greek word “philos” meaning “love of mankind.” Philanthropy is not meant to apply only to donors giving large gifts.

John Gardner’s analogy of giving in America being a Mississippi River of small gifts suggests that this flow of generosity comes from many sources composed of large and small gifts, from major donors to those who give less, yet in equal in proportion to compassion and proportionate share of income.


Janice Gow Pettey, CFRE, is the author of “Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising” published by Wiley, 2002. She is also the editor of “Ethical Fundraising: A Guide for Nonprofits and Boards” (Wiley, 2008). She is the founder and principal of J.G. Pettey & Associates, based in San Francisco.