RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An estimated $200,000 in donations has seemingly vanished following the dissolution of local nonprofit Enrichmond Foundation, leaving its more than 80 partner organizations searching for answers and funding.

As a result, impacted volunteers have been largely unable to perform the work that they set out to do, without access to their donated monies or Enrichmond’s official 501(c)(3) status.

What is the Enrichmond Foundation?

According to its own Partner Tool Kit, the Enrichmond Foundation was established in 1990, “with the assistance of the City of Richmond’s Recreation and Parks Citizen Advisory Board and the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks.” However, the foundation was “entirely independent” from local governments in the City of Richmond, and Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, its partnership overview noted. The nonprofit’s self-proclaimed mission was “to support and enhance parks, recreation, and cultural arts in the Richmond region through citizen involvement, fundraising and education.”

Part of that work involved partnering with more than 80 community groups and organizations “to enhance the quality of life in the Richmond region.” Through this partnership, the Enrichmond Foundation served as the umbrella organization for other groups, “overseeing partner activities while acting as a fiduciary agent,” as written in its Partner Tool Kit.

Friends of Pump House was one such organization. The volunteer group has been working to restore and reopen the historic Byrd Park Pump House, which was constructed in the early 1880s.

“A third of Richmond’s green space is managed by groups that were under Enrichmond’s 501(c)(3) status,” Friends of Pump House Secretary Mac Wood told 8News. “When Enrichmond, which was our umbrella group, dissolved, all of those groups lost their 501(c)(3) status, meaning they had to cease operations immediately. Additionally, all the money that was donated to these individual groups is no longer accessible.”

Wood said that the foundation functioned as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for local groups that didn’t have the resources to do so themselves.

“Enrichmond took a 5% cut of every donation that each individual group received, and, in exchange for that, they were basically our bank,” he said. “Part of that agreement was that Enrichmond was not to co-mingle the funds between these organizations. So, if $20 goes to Fulton Memorial Park, that money is to stay in Memorial Park’s fund, and not to be used, say, to pay executive salaries or buy real state.”

According to the Enrichmond Partner Tool Kit, the foundation provided “a high standard of security and protection” for all the accounts it managed, with “five levels of checks and balances.” This included the Board Treasurer, the Executive Director, the Partnership Coordinator, the online financial service manager and a contracted bookkeeper, with a separate individual performing each of these roles.

So, what happened?

On June 29, 2022, Enrichmond’s Board of Directors voted to dissolve the foundation.

“We appreciate the patience of our partners and other members of the community who are interested in Enrichmond and its pending dissolution,” an automated message said at the time. “We are a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of members who care deeply about the Foundation and its mission. The Board is currently working with counsel to evaluate next steps in the dissolution process.”

According to Tamara Jenkins with the City of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, the department was notified on July 5 of the foundation’s dissolution.

Enrichmond was being represented by Hirschler law firm. But, in February, attorney Andy Sherrod told 8News that “Hirschler’s representation of the Enrichmound Foundation Board of Directors has concluded.”

At last check, Wood said that Friends of Pump House had approximately $30,000 in its account with the foundation.

“The website was down, and that’s how we first found out that Enrichmond had dissolved,” he said. “That gives you an idea of how transparent the group was, that we didn’t know that they dissolved until after we tried to access our funds.”

According to Richmond City Council members, an estimated $200,000 is unaccounted for. But Wood is concerned it could be more.

“We were all shocked that an organization can just deny you your money and disappear,” Wood. “When we appeal to the City, when we appeal to the police, when we appeal to community groups, there is no response because, frankly, I don’t think the city infrastructure is set up to be able to handle when a nonprofit organization takes money from volunteer groups.”

Dozens of impacted groups

According to 1st District Richmond City Council Liaison Whitney Brown, Enrichmond’s dissolution has left 86 organizations without funding or fiscal agent services. In addition to Friends of Pump House, these include Friends of Barker Field, Friends of Chimborazo Playground, Friends of Riverview Park, Richmond Tree Stewards, Friends of Larus Park, The Giving Wall, and Fonticello Food Forest, among others.

Friends of East End Cemetery, formed to restore the historic Black burial grounds, was previously a partner organization with Enrichmond, until 2017.

“We applied for our 501(c)(3) status, registered with the proper authorities in the state of Virginia, and became a registered nonprofit,” Brian Palmer with the group said. “We lost no money to Enrichmond. We knew better than to put our money with them.”

But Palmer said that other community organizations had different relationships with the Enrichmond Foundation.

“They ceased to exist,” Wood said. “We went from being organizations with legitimate statues, to people in a room talking about making the city better. So, we need that structure of legitimacy in order to function, and when that’s gone and our money’s gone, we’re left completely without resources.”

Functioning as a separate entity, though, Friends of East End has been able to continue its reclamation work at East End and Evergreen Cemeteries.

“The headstones are there,” Palmer said. “They’re inscribed with love, and that makes these places so essential to understanding Richmond; so essential to understanding the African American community, which was part of Richmond, an inextricable part of Richmond. They are us, and that’s why they should be reclaimed.”

But, according to Dr. Ryan Smith, a history professor at VCU who also serves as Co-Leader of the East End Cemetery Collaboratory, that work is facing time pressure.

“There is effectively no legal steward of those sites, and no plan for their disposition going forward. This affects tens of thousands of historic African American graves and their related families,” he said. “Volunteer efforts are hesitant to reengage, given the liability issues on the ground, and the human remains that had been exposed and recovered recently were taken to the Department of Historic Resources for safekeeping but without a plan for their reinternment. The growing season is about to begin, threatening to re-cover much of what volunteers had already cleared in the cemeteries.”

Friends of Historic Fulton Memorial Park has also been impacted by Enrichmond’s dissolution.

“[It] is a memorial park that for a neighborhood that was demolished to build a highway,” Wood said. “[The group] had $50,000 with Enrichmond so that they could create a memorial park for the neighborhood that was demolished, their families’ neighborhood. They’re not able to get the plaques and the park benches and the trash cans that they need for this memorial park, because Enrichmond does not have the will or the ability to give them that $50,000 that was donated to them.”

What’s next?

In the months since Enrichmond’s dissolution, volunteers — many of whom were from impacted organizations — formed the Enrichmond Accountability Project, with Wood at the helm.

“We’re all just trying to get our money back, basically, from Enrichmond,” he said. “Something’s wrong here, and why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?”

On Feb. 21, volunteers met with Richmond City Council members to discuss how to move forward, and what assistance the locality could provide.

“Our office has been working with the 4th District organizations that we are aware were involved with Enrichmond,” 4th District City Council Liaison Timmy Siverd said. “We are working directly with them to determine any funding lost and how we can ensure their continued success moving forward. For example, one of our 4th District organizations is the Forest View Cemetery and we are currently working to make that a City cemetery so we can ensure continued preservation of that property.”

Similar efforts are reportedly underway with the historic East End and Evergreen Cemeteries. According to Palmer, a proposal was made by City Council’s Governmental Operations Standing Committee to ask Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration to develop a plan and prepare the “necessary documents to acquire, preferably by gift, the properties.”

“It is a tremendous responsibility; one that is, I believe, beyond the capacity of the city to bear on its own,” he said. “They’ve got to talk, they’ve got to figure things out, and then move on from there. So, it leaves East End and Evergreen in the position they’ve been before, which is they’re not abandoned — because the Friends of East End continues to do what we can in East End Cemetery — but they’re in limbo, and that’s not a great place for them.”

According to Petula Burks with Richmond’s Office of Strategic Communications, “The city is reviewing all our options on how to proceed now that Enrichmond is fully dissolved. Additionally, the city is exploring how we may be able to assist organizations that lost funding.”

City Council President Mike Jones echoed that sentiment, calling for a proper accounting of the monies lost.

“This is an ongoing, complex process with many layers and potential legal implications,” Brown said. “But we can confidently say that action is being taken and people from both the city, city council and the community have stepped up in big ways to volunteer their time and energy into the Enrichmond accountability effort.”

2nd District Representative Katherine Jordan noted that the mayor’s office has also been involved in these efforts, “actively working on both assisting organizations that lost funds, and just as importantly, accountability for those lost funds.”

That could include legal action.

“Both RPD and I have attended meetings held by representatives of some of the affected groups,” Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin told 8News. “The groups were going to present detailed information to the police so that an investigation could be thoroughly conducted by law enforcement and then forwarded to my office to see if charges were appropriate.”

A Richmond Police Department spokesperson declined to provide an update on authorities’ investigation.

“Enrichmond was an organization that a lot of groups needed but didn’t want, and the way that the city is structured right now, it’s really difficult for these volunteer groups to do the work that they need to do,” Wood said. “I’m looking forward to starting a relationship with them and trying to figure out, how does Richmond work? Is there a precedent for this kind of thing? Is there even a chance that we’re going to get our money back?”

City Council members told 8News that they hoped to be able to provide an update “in the very near future.”

“We are still working and organizing. We’re a volunteer group of people who just want to make things right here,” Wood said. “We want to restore faith in donors in the City of Richmond to know that, when they give their money to a nonprofit group, that it’s going to be used for the things that they donated the money for.”