East Bay Community Foundation: Convener, Capacity Builder, Matchmaker

A story of community resilience. How community foundations can play a key role in organizing local leaders to solve local problems.

In December 2014, Chris Iglesias was a worried CEO of a 50 year-old neighborhood organization in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. The organization was providing social services to some 12,000 residents a year, yet funding had not kept pace with the burgeoning demand. Chris had reduced programs and staff, but budget numbers were still not good, and he faced the possibility of having to make cuts to vital services for hundreds of children and families. It was clear that the organization needed to make prompt and strategic decisions. In a bold move, Chris reached out to philanthropic and business leaders who might be able to support the organization through its difficult time. In the thick of the holiday season, he sent an urgent request to a handful of philanthropic leaders. Among them was James Head, the newly appointed President and CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF).

Having been familiar with The Unity Council’s important work, James didn’t hesitate when he received Chris’s letter. He knew The Unity Council (TUC) plays an integral role in the life of the community, and carries a large share of the front-line burden of improving neighborhoods. Following an initial conversation with Chris, he reached out to fellow philanthropic and business leaders and rallied leaders from five other foundations to attend a meeting at EBCF to evaluate the situation.

After this first meeting, leaders from Y&H Soda Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Insight Center for Community Economic Development, Beneficial State Bank, Bay Area Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and JP Morgan Chase banded together to form an advisory group. With James’s leadership the group held monthly meetings with Chris and TUC’s Board to assess organizational needs and plan for the future. Reflecting back on this time, Chris told us, “Under James’ leadership, the Council was able to take a diagnostic look and regroup.” As a result of this swift and strategic action, Chris and the group were able to leverage over $3 million in funding. This support allowed TUC to balance its budget, focus on financial stability, and build long-term capacity to continue to provide vital services to the community.

Thanks to James’ leadership, EBCF organized a collaborative effort that helped sustain an esteemed 50-year old community institution. The Unity Council’s story exemplifies the vital role philanthropy can play in cultivating strong, connected communities, and helping to create an environment for communities to thrive.

To find out more about The Unity Council and its important programs, visit their website.