By Luis VergaraMonday, February 13th, 2012
For years, nonprofits, for-profit corporations, and even the government have discussed how to better reach the Latino, Spanish-speaking community. Still, there are a lot of organizations that get it wrong or are unable to serve this population effectively. A key issue I have found when working with organizations seeking ways to reach the Latino community is that they think translating materials and hiring Spanish-speaking staff is enough. But it is not. What most organizations are missing is a concrete strategy for serving this community long-term.
I don’t doubt that the intent to serve the Latino community is there. And with good reason: the U.S. has the fifth largest population of native Spanish speakers in the world, and trails only Mexico for the largest number of Latinos. I see organizations putting out strong efforts, but many are still missing the mark. The key issue is that many organizations tend to view this market as homogenous, failing to see how diverse it is, not just based on country of origin, but also acculturation and educational levels. Targeting a community this large and diverse takes a strategic effort.
The Latino population in the U.S. was 50.5 million strong as of 2010, and it continues to grow. So what can we do to better target the market and ensure that Latinos are getting the services they need? Here are four areas that nonprofits that are struggling with serving the Latino population need to consider.
Understand your market — Latinos are not all the same: It’s important to understand that the U.S. Latino population is incredibly diverse. Within the community there are significant variances in culture, preferences, customs, and habits based upon country of origin, education, and acculturation levels. There are also important differences in serving a transitory population, a family unit versus an individual, or those without legal documentation. Organizations need to clearly identify the factors that influence each specific community, to ensure their services and message appeal to the target market.
Go beyond the message — consider culture and education: The ability of organizations to identify and recognize important cultural connectors for each Latino community will help them better communicate with that community. I have found that many services offered to the Latino market are not always well received, not because they are not needed, but because either there is lack of education on the subject or community members have never been exposed to such services. This is especially true of services not often offered in their country of origin (free health care for kids, emergency food provisions, assistance to those who have hearing or vision needs, etc.). Organizations must have a solid understanding of who is in their community and what level of information they need.
Establish relationships — families and friends: Latinos are an incredibly loyal community, and loyalty starts with family and friends. Working with the Latino community, two things prove true over and over:
- Word of mouth is one of the strongest “promotional” tools. Thus, ensuring that you develop strong relationships with current clients is important. Suspicion runs high in the Latino community, too, and personal references go a long way.
- It is not uncommon that in a Latino household several generations live together. Establishing relationships with family members, not just those targeted for service, is important. When you are speaking to the recipient of services, you are in essence speaking to the entire family.
Create a Latino strategy — determine what you are doing: It’s understandable that organizations want to rush into providing services to the Latino community because the need is high. However, it’s critical that organizations consider how they will work with the community to create a long-term relationship. To do this well, organizations need a strategy to serve the Latino community. Remember that the U.S. is the second largest Latino country in the world based on population, and you wouldn’t start providing services in Mexico without a strategy, right?
For many, this is nothing new. We have talked about it for years, we just have not done enough. We must elevate our thinking about the sleeping giant that is the Latino population. Just because we might provide the services Latinos need, it does not mean they will come and get them. Organizations need to create lasting strategies to build relationships that will allow the Latino community to access and benefit from the services it requires. The time is now to get beyond translation!