The Give: Ramón Murguía Looks to More Latinos in U.S. Philanthropies

Ramon_MurguiaPublic service runs in the family for Ramón Murguía, a former HIP board member and attorney who serves as a trustee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. One brother is a U.S. District Court Judge, a sister serves on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, and another sister, Janet, served as deputy assistant director for Legislative Affairs in the Clinton White House on her way to becoming president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Born and raised in Kansas City, Kan., they were four of seven children of an Oklahoma-born steel manufacturing plant employee and a homemaker from Tangancicuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. Ramón Murguía, most of his siblings and their widowed mother still live in Kansas City, Kansas. “That is the basis for a lot of work that I’ve been doing in philanthropy, my connection back to this community,” he said. He heads his own general business law practice and serves mostly small businesses, many of them run by Latinos. He has been involved in civil sector endeavors for so long that he remembers serving for five years in the early 1990s on the board of HIP, having had a hand in writing its bylaws, and publishing a paper for HIP about different models of philanthropy. HIP co-founder Herman Gallegos, who also worked with the National Council of La Raza, encouraged him to get involved. Murguía also recalled being inspired in his community service endeavors by Henry A.J. Ramos, a national philanthropic consultant, and others who had input in establishing philanthropic endeavors serving Latinos in Kansas City. Among the outcomes was the founding of the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which has awarded $2.5 million in scholarships over 28 years and is part of the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund. Murguía now chairs the Development Fund’s Advisory Board. It is an affiliate of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. “As part of our work here in Kansas City, it has really brought to my attention the power of Latinos in philanthropy and how we need to have a voice in setting the philanthropic priorities for our community,” he said. The lawyer, 53, met his wife, Sally, at a law firm where they both worked after completing law school. He credits his Spanish-speaking wife for backing up his civil sector efforts with public education advocacy. They have a son in ninth grade and a daughter in seventh. “The kids go to public schools with high Latino ratios, so she’s very active in the [Argentine neighborhood] community where I grew up,” Murguía said. “Someone like me couldn’t do what I do without a supportive and helpful spouse.” He says that he feels deeply the need for more Latinos to develop into philanthropic donors better able to influence the way in which U.S. philanthropic funds are invested. To that end, the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund participates in the National Latino Funds Alliance, a group of eight Latino funds working together to increase Latino involvement in philanthropy. He also became chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza, before his sister became involved with that national Latino advocacy group. For this article, Murguía stressed that he was speaking as a private individual and not as a representative of any organization.   CB:  What changes have you seen over time across the U.S. philanthropic landscape concerning the funding of Latinos? RM:  There’s more awareness of the lack of sufficient grants that are going into these communities. There’s been a push to diversify boards, but staffs of these foundations don’t understand our communities sufficiently to fund them. Of course, there are some foundations that are making more progress than others, and I would put Kellogg in that category; we are certainly trying to improve our record rapidly.   CB:  What would help to improve their record with Hispanic communities? RM:  They need to continue to hire the right people in the program staff who understand how services are delivered in these communities. And I think the president and chairs of the boards need to [give guidance] to staff. I think it requires an intentionality that hasn’t existed in the past.   CB:  What’s wrong with the indirect giving model, by which funders provide resources for such areas as education with the expectation that their actions will benefit many Latinos and other minority students? RM:  It makes a difference who you’re giving the grant to, not just what you’re giving it for. Unless you’re familiar with the intricacies of those communities, you may not give it to the people who need it the most. HIP has a lot of credibility with a lot of foundations and program officers and, in my opinion, HIP needs to keep the pressure on them, like with this Foundation Center report that came out, that they are not getting the job done. [“Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. and for Latin America,” a Foundation Center report commissioned by HIP, found that less than two percent of funds awarded by U.S. philanthropies target Latino communities, and that funding level has remained flat over a decade.] CB:  Do they need intermediaries to help select Latino-led and Latino-serving nonprofits to fund? RM:  I think that’s a possibility. Personally, I think there are a lot of national organizations, like NCLR and others that can do that role. But I think, without advocating duplications, that HIP’s ability to connect foundations with others is an important role.   CB:  How can the underfunding of Latino communities be reversed? RM:  I think [funders] should make a better effort at giving grant dollars to organizations that are closer to the communities that they are trying to reach. And, as I’ve said, I think they have an obligation to look at the demographics of their staff and board and make them more reflective of the communities that they’re working in, because I agree with those who talk about the value of diversity and the value of diverse opinions on these boards. This is where HIP has been working a lot since its founding to try to get people like me on these boards to speak with professionalism, to speak on these boards for the voiceless. I learned from Herman Gallegos how to speak up for our communities on these boards.   CB:  Are there other specific ideas for improving the situation? RM:  Each foundation is so different sometimes in their goals and their missions. But I think, if they’re trying to serve Latino communities in this country, it’s incumbent on them to go to organizations of different sizes. One can’t just go to the United Way and think they’re going to have a big impact in those communities. They need to be working day to day and take an interest in those communities.   CB:  What would you like to see U.S. philanthropy do better in Latin America? RM:  Kellogg is working in Mexico and some other countries… Many of my relatives are in Mexico, and I work with [these communities]. I can only tell you that [Mexico] needs a lot of help when it comes to improving social services and outcomes for young people in those communities. In a lot of Latin American communities, there aren’t sufficient [non-governmental organizations], and we need to be more supportive in finding those groups that are on the ground and help those organizations to help the communities help themselves. When you go to these small villages, there’s this huge spirit of wanting to improve their lives. There’s a willingness to work hard, but there’s not a lot of resources to improve their lives and their communities, and I think that’s where the money could be better spent. CB:  If you had a magic wand with which you could make the world a better place, in what field would you start? RM:  A lot of my efforts have been in getting Latino students to graduate high school and go to college and give back to communities. So, if somehow I could wave a magic wand, all these Latino kids in grade school now could graduate from high school and go on to college and give back to their community–I’d be happy. As to education, I do think that foundations have a role in improving public school outcomes. A lot of money is spent. I know it’s a real intractable issue. But ultimately, if we continue to work at solving that public education question, our country is going to be better off. CB:  Is there anything else you would like to add? RM:  I want to share with you the one thing I’ve learned from being involved with our foundation. Hispanics are generous. Many times they aren’t asked to give. But if we could tap into the community that is so generous, then we could create more philanthropy for our community.