New Citizens, New Power: What Funders Are Doing to Push Latino Civic Engagement

Philanthropy plays a bigger role in elections than many people realize — or might like to admit. As we've detailed in the past, "charitable" dollars can and are deployed in ways that may shape electoral outcomes.

For example, donors can support voter ID laws that suppress turnout by communities of color or support nonprofits like Judicial Watch that engage in targeted attacks on candidates. Funders can also bankroll efforts to register and engage key constituencies, helping change the makeup of the electorate in ways that will affect outcomes. 


One group that everyone's been thinking about lately are Latinos, and recent years have seen seen a range of grantmaking that aims to boost civic engagement in this demographic, which has historically low voting and registration rates. Among the top recipients of grants have been Voto Latino — an organization that seeks to "empower Latinos to be agents of change" which has received over $5 million in funding from foundations like Ford, MacArthur, and Open Society since 2010. The National Council of La Raza, supported by many foundations, has also worked to boost civic engagement, including through its NCLR/mitú voter registration app, which facilitates door-to-door canvassing and other local outreach. Mi Familia Vota Education Fund has also received foundation funding, as has the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Additionally, a range of local groups have won philanthropic backing to boost Latino civic engagement, like the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the Latin American Coalition in North Carolina, and Promise Arizona, which argues says that "building immigrant and Latino political power is key to bringing hope, dignity and progress to our communities." That last group is right in the middle of the fight to turn Arizona blue this election cycle. In that state, as in others, new Latino civic power has the potential to dramatically upend past electoral patterns  with big gains for Democrats. 

 The National Latino Civic Engagement Table has been a key hub of recent mobilization work. Earlier this year, it announced a voter engagement partnership among the nation’s leading Latino organizations "to galvanize and motivate millions of Latinos ahead of the 2016 elections."

While some Latino mobilization efforts are strategically targeted in such swing states as North Carolina and Florida, California has also been a hotbed of civic engagement work, with an eye on the long-term goal of creating a more inclusive democracy in this majority-minority state. Major foundations that have backed such work include Irvine and the California Endowment. Another important player right now is the California Community Foundation, which focuses on Los Angeles and has granted more than $200 million locally since 2000.

Los Angeles County’s population has increased 20-fold over the past century, with Latinos fueling quite a bit of this growth, making it larger than 42 states today. But here, as in so many places, Latino civic power doesn't come close to equaling the demographic footprint of this group. 

In its most recent grant cycle, CCF awarded nearly $2.5 million in grants to groups in Los Angeles County. The amount of giving isn’t the significant part, here, since the funder has given away far more in past grant cycles. But what is interesting are the categories in focus and the timeliness of this recent giving.

New grants went to groups in CCF’s unprecedented U.S. citizenship campaign, ¡Protégete! ¡Ciudadanía Ya! In total, there were seven recent grants totaling $490,000 in CCF’s civic engagement and public policy category. New grantees are Azteca America, Estrella TV/Liberman Broadcasting, Fuse Corp., KMEX 34 Univision TV and Univision Radio, La Opinión, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Leaders (NALEO) Educational Fund, and Telemundo 52 Los Angeles KVEA.  

The campaign behind CCF’s big push aims to educate and motivate over 755,000 eligible permanent residents in Los Angeles County to apply for citizenship. Getting new citizens to exercise their right to vote is another goal. The campaign was spawned by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Step Forward L.A. initiative, and the other philanthropic partner at work here besides CCF is called Juntos Podemos/Together We Can.

A press release about the new grantees says, “These organizations and news outlets will engage Los Angeles County residents on voter education to help newly naturalized citizens access accurate information and resources about the electoral process and voter rights.”

CCF funder also awarded grants to Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce for immigrant integration efforts.

Related: A Look at CCF’s Recent Grants – And What This Funder Is Thinking About