By Justin Dawes – Reporter, Albany Business Review
Nov 19, 2020, 2:53pm EST
The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region had dispersed about $10 million in grants this year as of late October. Last year, the foundation dispersed $6 million total. The foundation has also played a part in raising over $1 million for human services nonprofits struggling during the pandemic.
“With Covid, we’ve seen people just step up and give above and beyond what they’ve done in the past,” said John Eberle, the foundation’s president and CEO. “It’s really heartening to see what’s going on.”
How did you get involved in this field? My early career was in construction and raising a family. And then something happened that gave me a vision of the plight of homeless individuals and different people in underrepresented communities. It broke my heart, and I wanted to be a part of the solution. I was on a study tour overseas in a beautiful, amazing city that is supposed to be the seat of history and innovation. It was evening. It was cold. It was wintertime. We came across a homeless woman in a doorway, and it just kind of hit me. We went back to the traveling companions and asked everybody to give me some money to see if we could help this person. As we were speaking with her, there was movement at her feet and a little head popped up. That was her infant child. And it just kind of stuck with me. And I thought, we as a world, we as a country, have a long way to go in taking care of each other.
How has your experience been raising and dispersing money during this time? We’ve been breaking all records. That’s a testament to not only the team at the Community Foundation, but it also speaks to the generosity of many of our partners.
We quickly partnered with United Way of the Greater Capital Region and many other partners to create the Capital Region Community COVID-19 Response Fund. Every single dollar raised went right out to nonprofits to address specifically those who were disproportionately impacted by the health and economic impacts of Covid. At last count, we were right at about $1.1 million that was raised and dispersed.
How did some of the Community Foundation team step up during this time? The grants and initiatives team really started focusing on Covid and how to best adapt. We went to a number of grant funds that have committees and said we need to simplify our grant-making and give to operations. This was not the time, necessarily, to do special project funding. It was the time to do operational grants and just simply support nonprofits. They all were flexible and made their grant-making easier and more supportive of operations. I think we want to look at the lessons learned from Covid and hopefully adapt our grant-making to make it easier for nonprofits to access funding in the future.
Do you think local nonprofits will be able to survive this era? I think that the smaller ones, or even the midsize ones, can’t endure a 25% to 50% cut in revenue. If New York State’s 20+% cuts are extended to nonprofits, some can weather that — they may have a surplus, or they may be able to do some strategic restructuring to handle that. But many, unless they quickly come up with a partnership, maybe with another nonprofit, some sort of affiliation or service sharing or even a merger, they may not be able to survive.
What’s been your experience working with vulnerable communities this year? Many of our communities that were suffering injustice and health disparities and other disparities — those issues compounded and were exacerbated during Covid. That is a lesson learned for our community and for our nation. And we’re taking a hard look at it. We’ve been working for many years on trying to address the lack of equity and inclusion in nonprofits, in their leadership structures and boards. We’re launching a catalyst for change initiative that will specifically address that and help existing boards become more inclusive and thoughtful and welcoming and willing to change. We’re also creating a pipeline for the diverse communities to get more engaged and potentially serve on boards.
What’s another one of your main takeaways from during this time? I learned that the power of making friends and widening our circles and collaborating is the only way forward. I’m so happy with the new relationships we’ve made with many individuals and foundations and organizations. We’re talking about different ways we can collaborate in the future. This is exactly what we should be doing.
We’re a regional entity, and there are many small cities and towns in the Capital Region, but I think this is the time to collaborate across every man-made line and division. If we just focus on our little towns or our little cities alone and just take care of ourselves, I don’t think that’s sustainable in the long haul. We’re going to have to be innovative and think bigger.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Title: President and CEO
Organization: Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region
Born/grew up: Syracuse
Resides: North Greenbush
Education: B.A., Columbia International University; M.A., public administration, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Family: Wife, Pamela; grown children, Joshua, Katie, Sam and Andrew