By: Herbert Castillo
In my experience going to Google for fundraising events and pitches, I have always sensed an urgency to stand out and differentiate myself in a room full of competition. In my time fundraising and participating in Accelerators (YC, 500 Startups, and Fast Forward) I have learned to compartmentalize my trauma, put on my mask, and ignore some of the inherent inequities of philanthropy. This is why I want to take my learnings from the LCF Latino Nonprofit Accelerator Retreat and scream them from all the rooftops! At LCF’s Accelerator, leaders are not starting at a place of deficit, they are honored for their grit, determination and encouraged to lead from a place of strength. All attendees were supported to address and then shed their personal baggage or shame around money as a way to become more powerful resource organizers. So far, this is the only Accelerator I’ve seen that is truly building on community collaboration, instead of pitting organizations against one another.
At the Retreat, I attended a session called “Our Cultural Relationship to Money” where LCF staff, grassroots leaders, and funders were paired into small groups to share our first encounters with money. This is a complicated, but necessary discussion when you are a funder or a fundraiser. Knowing that there may be trauma, as well as joyful and proud moments, we were encouraged to remove our masks, bring our full selves, and be present to hold and honor each other and our stories. I wanted to cry of joy. My break out table faced each other in a circle and we all introduced ourselves. Deborah was born and raised in the SF Mission District to Guatemalan immigrants; Rajiv is an Indian immigrant turned fundraiser; Camila is a woman raised in the commune under the United Farm Workers Union; Heather is an LCF Board member who grew up with more privilege in Marin; and me, a Salvadoran born immigrant raised in Redwood City. We were such a diverse group. As we explored the very first time we learned about money, and who introduced us to money we became entangled in painful stories from our youth hearing parents talk about being unable to afford rent, being told as children that money was evil, and feeling like outsiders in our own communities.
“We were encouraged to remove our masks, bring our full selves, and be present to hold and honor each other and our stories. I wanted to cry of joy.”
Even though we could all point to positive experiences early in our lives with giving or being in service to the church, our families or our relatives, there was a layer of shame that lack of money brings. Many leaders who started or run the nonprofits LCF supports did not come from generational wealth, the vast majority grew up in immigrant families. Rajiv, who had worked to create independence from his father as he paid his way through school, found himself in a tough spot between undergraduate and graduate school. Needing money for tuition and moving costs, he was afraid to ask his parents. Instead he asked a friend, worked his way through school, and years later became a funder himself. Over the last few years, he’s been exploring his own personal trauma behind his fundraising fears. Now, when he looks at fundraising, he is really organizing. He is building relationships, listening to personal stories, connecting on values and then giving folks an opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves. He is cultivating a deeper and richer experience of community philanthropy that is only possible when we change the dynamics of fundraising for ourselves. I have never spoken or heard so much vulnerability and honesty from a funder, and felt blessed to be at the table.
The Latino Community Foundation is creating a new model for effective fundraising training. Through this Accelerator, grassroots leaders are supported in building better brands, sharing more authentic stories, and leading from a place of strength, not deficit. The most unique and transformative piece was that LCF created a healing space to address the deeper challenges Latino leaders face around money and fundraising. It was profound and it was very effective.