By Eman Quotah

September 18, 2008

In their efforts to recruit more Hispanic volunteers, charities that serve young people have experimented with many approaches. Several of the groups have received money to expand the number of Hispanics and other minorities who volunteer.

For example, Junior Achievement, whose affiliates provide business education to high-school and middle-school students, has been testing ways to recruit Hispanic volunteers and examining the effect such volunteers have on teenagers’ attitudes toward school, according to David Arrambide, director of the group’s Hispanic Initiative.

The three-year study, conducted in seven cities, is about to wrap up. It has been supported by nearly $2.4-million in grants from the Goizueta Foundation, in Atlanta, which also awards grants to other youth charities’ efforts to reach out to Hispanic families and potential volunteers.

Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia, in Alexandria, received $25,000 from the Vicky Collins Charitable Foundation, in Arlington, to recruit more black and Hispanic volunteers for its Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which goes by the name CASA, says Carrie Cannon, the program’s director. CASA volunteers represent children in court cases alleging abuse and neglect.

Since the Collins foundation made the grant in March 2007, Ms. Cannon says, the number of Hispanic volunteers in her program went from zero to six. “It’s a start for us,” she says. “We only train about 30 volunteers a year.”

Here are some of the approaches that Junior Achievement, CASA, and other charities that work with children and teenagers have used to increase the number of Hispanic-Americans among their volunteers:

Tailor the message. “The worst thing we could do is just take all our English-language materials and translate them into Spanish and think that they’ll work,” says Jim Clune, chief communications officer at the National CASA Association, in Seattle.

Many Hispanics respond to a direct and personal approach, he says. As a result, a video that National CASA recently produced to recruit Hispanics, he says, features Hispanic volunteers talking about their work for the organization, and why it is important for people of Hispanic descent to help children in need. By contrast, its videos intended for the general public might show a homeless child and a typical day faced by such a youngster.

Enlist ambassadors.” What that means is you have to have other Latinos, other Hispanics in the community to talk about why this is important,” says Valarie De La Garza, a Los Angeles marketing consultant who has designed campaigns for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the National CASA Association. Ambassadors, she says, could be staff members, board members, or members of a committee formed specifically to advise a charity about how to tailor its efforts to recruit Hispanic volunteers and serve Hispanic youngsters.

Both Junior Achievement and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America have created national and local committees of this sort. The advisory groups, representatives of those charities say, are made up mostly of influential Hispanic business managers, who often can reach potential volunteers through their jobs and professional networks.

Sandra Delgado Searl, director of the Hispanic mentor program at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, in Philadelphia, says her organization’s national Hispanic Advisory Council proposed research the charity recently conducted on Hispanic-Americans’ perceptions of the nonprofit group and of volunteering.

It helps if staff members assigned to recruit Hispanic volunteers are either Hispanic or have lived in Latin America and know the language and culture, says Beverly Hobbs, a professor of education at Oregon State University and director of a project to involve more Hispanic children and families in 4-H youth-development programs in her state. “When you’re working with Latinos, relationships underscore everything.”

“If you don’t have relationships with people and they don’t trust you, you’re going to get a lot of yeses but no action,” she says.

The National CASA Association has also enlisted celebrities to tout its programs. In May, the actor Danny Pino, of the television show Cold Case, took part in a five-day publicity campaign for CASA. His interviews discussing the need for more Hispanic volunteers ran on more than 100 television stations, including Spanish-language stations, and increased traffic to the charity’s Web site by 60 percent, Mr. Clune says.

Tap large employers, colleges, and professional associations. Katiuska Delgado, vice president of education operations at Junior Achievement of Georgia, in Atlanta, says that in that city she has simply refined Junior Achievement’s model of working with large employers to recruit volunteers, by forging relationships with Hispanic employee networks at Atlanta companies like BellSouth and GE Energy.

When Junior Achievement of Georgia, which received a three-year grant from the Goizueta Foundation from 2002 to 2005 for its Hispanic Initiative, expanded its focus in the second year of the grant from Atlanta to the more rural cities of Gainesville and Dalton, it found a shortage of large corporations from which to cull volunteers.

So Ms. Delgado looked to the cities’ community colleges, both of which had received Goizueta grants for scholarships to increase their number of Hispanic students. A component of the scholarships was community service, so the students were invited to volunteer for Junior Achievement.

Other recruiters of volunteers have worked with large government agencies, whose employee demographics, they say, tend to reflect their cities. Margarita Rodriguez-Corriere directs the Hispanic Initiative at Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain, in Denver, an effort by the youth charity to recruit Hispanic volunteers. She has collaborated with the Denver mayor’s office, which allows employees eight hours a year of paid time off to volunteer, to look for people willing to give their time.

Be a Mentor, a Hayward, Calif., organization that runs mentor programs for youths from needy families, primarily in the San Francisco Bay area, enlisted the Alameda County, Calif., government to tout volunteering for the charity by sending staffwide e-mail messages and inserting promotional slips in employees’ pay envelopes, says Bob Goetsch, Be a Mentor’s executive director.

Mr. Goetsch, Ms. Delgado, and others say they have found Hispanic chambers of commerce and business roundtables to be good sources of potential volunteers and avenues for spreading the word about their causes, especially to smaller Hispanic-owned businesses.

Collaborate with local volunteer centers. When Ms. Cannon’s CASA program began investigating ways to recruit black and Hispanic volunteers, the charity asked other Northern Virginia organizations for tips. “We found that everyone had the same problem,” she says.

Together with volunteer bureaus and government agencies from a number of Northern Virginia cities and counties, Ms. Cannon’s group hosted a series of what amounted to volunteer “career fairs,” including events at a Mexican restaurant in Alexandria and a Latin American club in Arlington. Aimed specifically at Hispanic adults in the region, the two mixers drew a total of 100 people and garnered three applications for volunteers to CASA.

That number might seem small, she says, but it doesn’t take into account the number of volunteers recruited by the other organizations that co-hosted the events.

Give volunteers roles that use their skills and passions. Ms. Hobbs says she has no difficulty finding Hispanic parents who are willing to coach soccer or teach Latin American dance for 4-H. In particular, she says, “Using soccer has been a great way for us to connect with the community and a great way to get dads involved as volunteers.”

Although she would like to recruit Hispanic parents to teach nature and science to children, they often tell her they don’t think they know enough to do so, she says.

Milagros Mateu, a retired NASA program administrator and CASA volunteer in Alexandria, Va., cautions organizations not to underestimate the contributions Hispanic volunteers can make. Charities should channel volunteers’ passions, rather than just their ability to speak Spanish, she says.

She recalls volunteering for a homeless shelter many years ago. She wanted to work directly with residents of the shelter, but staff members assigned her to teach Spanish to other volunteers.

She says, “That for me was not as satisfying as working with the people who went to the shelter.”

Read the article on the Chronicle of Philanthropy here.