Letitia Henderson learned the value of giving back to her community at a young age. She grew up in West Oakland, where her grandmothers and other elders in the community instilled the importance of being of service to others.
“My grandmothers were always givers,” Letitia told East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF) in an interview last December. “They imprinted in me the idea that no matter what station or what I am doing in life, I always have to give back.”
Today, Letitia is deeply involved in the community, having built her career on those values. She is the founder and principal consultant of Exceptional Community Connections, LLC, a management consulting firm that helps public agencies and funders authentically partner with historically marginalized communities. Letitia advises leaders of organizations and initiatives on program design, evaluation, community engagement strategy, and maximizing relationships between people and systems.
As a Social Worker and doctoral student in Organizational Development and Leadership, she applies her macro-practice skills and ethics to managing the firm and consulting projects. In her view, helping nonprofits at the individual level (in ways like making donations) is only one part of the equation. Funders must also be aware of the organizational challenges grassroots service providers experience and seek partners to help work toward large-scale systemic change.
“For me, it’s about serving as a bridge builder between grassroots providers—who continue to serve and meet the basic needs of community members—and multisector partners who are committed to equity, innovation, and social justice. We provide solutions that increase the capacity and resilience of historically marginalized organizations to better respond to community needs,” Letitia explains.
In February 2022, Exceptional Community Connections, LLC, received a contract from the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency (HSCA) to provide consultation and capacity-enhancement support to nonprofit organizations in West Oakland over two years. The Capacity for Equity and Success (C4ES) project—championed by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and funded by Alameda County’s Enhancing Vision 2026 Fund—aims to help nonprofits build the infrastructure and capacity needed to qualify and apply for government funding. Access to funding would allow an increased capacity of services for West Oakland residents.
Letitia understands how important it is for nonprofits to have access to unrestricted funds to cover the general operating costs that may seem less exciting to other donors, like acquiring insurance, nonprofit filing and compliance fees, accounting software, establishing bylaws, new computers, and additional administrative costs. She also recognizes the importance of honoring organizations for their participation in the program and the discontinuity between government funding restrictions and organizations with little to no capacity.
Letitia contacted EBCF at the beginning of the contract because of the project’s similarities to the ASCEND: BLO Accelerator, a six-month intensive capacity-building program designed to bolster emerging, innovative Black-led organizations (BLOs). The ASCEND: BLO Accelerator is a component of ASCEND: BLO, an initiative EBCF helped found in 2017 to support the growth, sustainability, impact, and sense of community among Black-led organizations in the Bay Area.
After consultation with EBCF Senior Program Director Byron Johnson, and Lead Institutional Partnerships Officer Son Chau, Letitia decided to establish a donor-advised fund (DAF) at EBCF to support the capacity-building needs of nonprofit organizations.
“Letitia is truly committed to uplifting nonprofits in her community,” recalls Chau. “As part of the program she designed in partnership with the county, she wanted to provide incentives for nonprofits. But she quickly realized that to facilitate moving funds to nonprofits and to maintain tax accountability and compliance, she needed a partner to administer and manage the funds on her behalf,” Chau continues. “Letitia chose EBCF as her partner because she wanted to work with someone that shared her racial justice and racial equity values and had expertise working with grassroots nonprofits in her community.”
EBCF has operated in the East Bay for nearly 100 years and is committed to making the East Bay fair and inclusive for everyone—a commitment Letitia shares. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, EBCF managed nearly 600 funds, collectively granting $182 million to nonprofit organizations across Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Additionally, EBCF’s hate-free grantmaking clause and inactive funds policy provide accountability across all funds by ensuring that no donor-advised grants support organizations engaging in hateful activities and that fund advisors actively use their funds to create community impact.
In 2022, Letitia’s fund, Capacity for Equity and Success, provided general operating mini-grants to multiple nonprofit organizations in West Oakland. Her fund has supported JTF Feed My Sheep, The Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence, Change to Come, Marcus Foster Education Institute, The Chinue X Project, Inc., and the Black Female Project.
“While what we’re providing is more aligned with a mini-grant, it’s a small token to say ‘we see you, and we acknowledge you,’” explains Letitia when describing the unrestricted general operating support her fund has directed to nonprofit organizations. She noted that in many cases, these mini-grants help build the nonprofits’ compliance infrastructure required to pursue considerable funding opportunities from government grants and private foundations.
As Letitia follows her grandmothers’ values of helping others, she is committed to using her connections to rally support for the 14+ organizations she works with. She hopes that other fund advisors at EBCF will be able to contribute to the C4ES fund or find the organizations she supports in EBCF’s donor portal and make direct gifts to the nonprofits, many of which are genuinely grassroots initiatives in their early stages.
“Looking at the entire environment, nonprofits are essential to our ecosystem,” says Letitia. “I firmly believe that nonprofit organizations are the lifeline to our larger public and private systems who desire to directly and positively impact everyday people. Our C4ES cohort of leaders are the folks with the relationships and institutional knowledge of the community. They’re serving the community as we speak. They just need additional support to broaden their reach and sustain their mission-driven work.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT DONOR-ADVISED FUNDS AT EBCF
A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a giving vehicle that provides immediate tax benefits and the ability to support nonprofits you care about most. DAFs are one of the most efficient, flexible, and cost-effective alternatives to private or family foundations. At EBCF, individuals, families, foundations, corporations, social enterprises, and government entities can open a DAF.