Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

It was a glorious day when Danny Villanueva, Sr., Managing Partner of R.C. Fontis Partners, announced his one million dollar contribution to expand Myrna’s Children’s Village, an early childhood education laboratory school dedicated to his wife, at his alma mater, New Mexico State University. Throughout his career spanning professional football, broadcasting, and finance, Villanueva makes it his life’s mission to give back, especially to ventures emphasizing his commitment to education.

To the New America Alliance, Inc. (NAA), Villanueva embodies the philanthropy culture to aim for in the Latino community. As the youngest and fastest growing segment in this country, the Latino community needs to cultivate its philanthropy mindset and create an infrastructure to support the needs of our own community. We as leaders must create it.

Recently, the New York Times reported the Census Bureau discovered two Hispanic surnames – Garcia and Rodriguez – were ranked No. 8 and No. 9 in the top 10 most common U.S. surnames. With these changes, the NAA asks, “Why can’t the next Rockefeller or Carnegie be a Garcia or Rodriguez?”

The NAA, co-founded by the Honorable Henry Cisneros and Raúl Yzaguirre, is comprised of prominent American Latino business leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals united to promote the economic advancement of the Latino community, with a focus on economic empowerment, education, strategic philanthropy, and public policy advocacy. Through the NAA’s strategic philanthropy, we are committed to harnessing our resources and giving back to both the Latino community and America.

NAA’s mission of economic empowerment comes with a philanthropic responsibility. We see the connection which exists between both and want our community to be in the driver’s seat. Economic empowerment without philanthropy does not benefit the Latino community.

Consequently, at our 7th Annual Wall Street Summit, the NAA announced the “American Dream Endowment Fund,” the first of its kind in the U.S., which our members “seeded” with one million dollars of their own money. The endowment represents our shining beacon of hope and our belief in the U.S. We wanted to make a statement – we are committed to our community and country, and we want to give back.

Through the endowment, we plan to fund programs to increase Latino participation in all aspects of American society, ensuring Latinos have full access to the “American Dream” – now. Many of our members represent this “American Dream” we want to perpetuate.

Villanueva is a sterling example of both the philanthropy mindset and “American Dream” we want to develop. Similarly to noted business leaders and philanthropists such as the Rockefellers and Carnegies, Villanueva exemplifies this success in both realms.

In 1996, Villanueva established the “Destino: The Hispanic Legacy Fund” dedicated to meeting the needs and creating philanthropic and leadership opportunities for Latinos in California’s Ventura County. The fund was created with a unique and equally important component – local residents and families, who “seeded” the fund, were instrumental in the creation, fundraising, and governance aspects. Latinos were in new roles as grantmakers.

The fund was Villanueva’s attempt to include previously excluded Hispanic families in the philanthropy process. “The fund stands as a monument to a quantum leap our community took,” Villanueva says. “We were encouraging families to roll their hands over – to come with their palms down giving.” Now, the one million dollar fund has become institutionalized and stands as a testament to philanthropy success.

Villanueva’s philanthropy is part of his family heritage and mindset. Despite his parents’ humble roots and limited financial resources, they instilled in him and his eleven siblings a commitment to serve. In his childhood, public service was embedded in Villanueva’s DNA. As the first Hispanic to play in the NFL as a place kicker for the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, philanthropy became a part of his career. In one year, he made more than 200 appearances in his crusade to involve parents in their children’s education.

Additionally, Villanueva has contributed extensively to his alma mater by establishing a scholarship endowment, which has surpassed a half of million dollars; and contributing $250,000 towards the university’s Stadium Annex project, which serves academic and athletic needs.

“By creating a culture of philanthropy, it gives us a sense of community. The greatness of a community is reflected in its willingness to help others less fortunate,” Villanueva says. “As a community, we have to learn to celebrate the successes and share in the agony – both of which involve philanthropy.”

Now, we want to take Villanueva’s philosophy and make it part of our community. When it comes to philanthropy, we have to acknowledge our community’s uniqueness, due to language and cultural nuances. Like Villanueva’s parents, many Latinos came to this country as economic refugees seeking better lives for their children. Consequently, the needs within our community are different and require more focus.

Thus, the NAA has taken a distinctive approach to creating a new model and philosophy for our community through the “American Dream Endowment Fund.” Not surprisingly our members understand the issues and needs of the Latino community, because many have experienced them firsthand. As Villanueva shares, “If we don’t start giving, we are going to start losing.”

We can make the difference in our own community. We have the capabilities and understand the responsibility. The endowment is NAA’s way of showing we believe in the “American Dream.” It’s our first step in creating a culture of philanthropy within the Latino community. Most importantly, we want to harness this newly developed philanthropy culture to positively impact Latinos and America.

The NAA has accepted and embraced this call to action. Now, we urge leaders in our community to do the same. As Villanueva’s mother shared with him, each one of us has to begin with “nuestro granito de arena” (our grain of sand). The NAA has made both the commitment and contribution, and we encourage all Latinos to do the same.