It is an honor to join the high-functioning team of Trellis Foundation as Chief of Staff. As a fourth-generation Mexican-American from a family of hard-working migrant farm and ranch workers and a first-generation college graduate, I’ve personally been a beneficiary of education-based opportunities, and I’ve dedicated my career to supporting funders who are committed to investing and elevating educational systems that are just and equitable. Upon reflecting on my own higher education experience, this achievement was a shared vision across multiple generations of my family, and I am proud to share that although I was the first college graduate in my family, I’m certainly not the last.

With this history and experience, I’m incredibly motivated by Trellis Foundation’s mission and commitment to equity work, as I firmly believe access to quality education is a civil and human rights issue of our time. I look forward to bringing my expertise in organizational development to the Foundation as it grows, contributing to its innovative approaches, and co-creating a culture that leads to higher education success for all students and families in my home state.

Before joining Trellis Foundation, I founded and led CivicAIM, a philanthropic advisory practice helping philanthropists uncover their passion and their power to lead and transform our world. For more than a decade, I’ve had the good fortune of working with a diverse group of clients – family and private foundations and funder collaboratives – to strengthen their grantmaking, governance, and impact. I’ve guided grantmakers as they developed, evaluated, and refined their giving strategies, and I’ve engaged in every stage of a foundation’s life cycle, from launching to setting strategy, evaluation to sunsetting.

Prior to this, I served as a program officer at a Central Texas family foundation, helping facilitate and activate its theory of change and operationalize its high-engagement grantmaking approach. In many ways, the family foundation team sought to punch above its weight, so to speak, as a regional funder with a lean staff. Believing that every person has the right to obtain an excellent education, we employed financial, human, and social capital to advance that mission.

A throughline for me in my career arc has been in capacity building—as I’ve helped build teams, policies, and processes so that organizations can be most effective in service to their communities. I am excited to carry forward this experience into my new role at Trellis Foundation.

Education is as transformative as it is dynamic in changing an individual’s life and the trajectory of their family and community for generations to come. With great pride, I look forward to serving alongside Trellis Foundation and its larger community of partners committed to inspiring, facilitating, and investing in equity-centered educational outcomes, especially for students and families who are traditionally underserved. I appreciate the power and role of philanthropy to support drivers of change and innovation in education, and I stand excited to contribute wholeheartedly to the vision of systems-level educational change.

About the Author

Erica Ekwurzel joined Trellis Foundation in 2023 with more than two decades in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, most recently as founder and principal of CivicAIM. This philanthropic advisory firm strengthened foundation governance, grantmaking, and social impact in Texas and beyond. She has also served as a frontline fundraiser connecting resources to opportunities and a foundation program officer at an education-focused Central Texas family foundation. As chief of staff, she builds a strong organizational culture, engages the Foundation board, and leads initiatives that contribute to the organization’s long-term success in supporting the students and families of Texas as they pursue their education and career potential. 

Erica has earned professional designations of Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) from The American College of Financial Services; 21/64 Certified Philanthropy Trainer & Facilitator; and Certified Fund Raising Executive. She also serves on the leadership boards of Todos Juntos Learning Center, Austin Together, and Austin Ed Fund. 

Erica is a graduate of Austin College and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her master’s degree in public affairs with a concentration in nonprofit management and philanthropic studies.