20 for 20: John Eberle of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region


Say hi to John, the President and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region. Learn how the Community Foundation helped to launch Sponsor-A-Scholar, and how our partnership has continued to this day.

What is a Community Foundation? What does it do?

The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region (CFGCR) strengthens our region by bringing together donors, nonprofits, and other partners to address issues of shared importance to our community. CFGCR awards more than $4 million each year in grants to nonprofit organizations and scholarships to local students.

But what does that really mean? We like to describe community foundations as the region’s savings account. Our goal is to help our community through grants, scholarships, and leadership now, while slowly growing a pool of funds that can benefit our region far into the future. While we can’t know what issues our region might encounter in 10, 50, even 100 years, the Community Foundation will be ready to respond through leadership and financial support for nonprofit organizations and local students.

When did the Community Foundation become involved with Sponsor-A-Scholar?

The Community Foundation has been involved with Sponsor-a-Scholar from the very beginning. The two founders of Sponsor-A-Scholar, Charles Buchanan and William Barnet, are also longtime supporters of the Community Foundation. Since 1997, the Community Foundation has awarded more than $550,000 in grants to support the good work done by Sponsor-A-Scholar.

In recent years, the Foundation has worked directly with the young adults involved with Sponsor-A-Scholar through hands-on coaching with our online grant application system. Robin Christenson, Sponsor-A-Scholar’s Executive Director, has also attended free Capacity Building Program training sessions for local nonprofit executive directors and board members, which the Community Foundation coordinates with our partners in the local Funder’s Network.

How has the Community Foundation’s relationship with Sponsor-A-Scholar changed over time?

In 1996, Carol Barnet Fuchs asked her father Bill Barnet if we had a Sponsor-A-Scholar in the Capital District. When she found out that we didn’t, she encouraged her dad to start one in our region. 

Bill Barnet and Charlie Buchanan worked with Judy Lyons, the Community Foundation’s Executive Director, to start Sponsor-A-Scholar. The Community Foundation was the fiscal sponsor. Less than three years after its inception, the Sponsor-A-Scholar program achieved the necessary success to stand on its own, as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization independent of the Community Foundation. In 2000, all of the assets were transferred to the new organization, and they have been successful ever since. 

How does Sponsor-A-Scholar align with the Community Foundation’s values?

Access to education and support for academic success for all students, regardless of economic, social, or geographic barriers, are essential building blocks for a strong community.

Both Sponsor-A-Scholar and the Community Foundation strengthen our region by helping students succeed in school. The Foundation accomplishes this by awarding scholarships to local students; Sponsor-A-Scholar supports students directly through tutoring, mentorship, and much more.

Have you introduced donors to Sponsor-A-Scholar? Why and how?

We have. Our donors are impressed with how Sponsor-A-Scholar connects students to mentors and then gives them the resources to prepare for college.  More than 200 Scholars in Albany, Schenectady and Troy have earned a college degree. We also know that the organization has an excellent board and staff.

What is the most important piece of advice you (personally) would share with our Scholars?

One of the most important things you can do is to surround yourself with people who will encourage you and help you achieve your goals. Don’t let yourself be discouraged by how big or challenging each class may be. Break it down into day-by-day assignments and just keep doing the next thing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or ask for help. Finally, take care of yourself (you know what things fill your tank or deplete it). Be wise with your time.

What is your wish for our Scholars as they graduate from college and begin their careers?

That they pay it forward and encourage other young adults to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way.

None of us is an island; whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been helped along the way by someone. The young adults who have benefited from Sponsor-A-Scholar will have many chances to encourage other young adults to take advantage of opportunities like those presented through Sponsor-A-Scholar. By being vocal advocates for organizations like Sponsor-a-Scholar, alumni can help others grow and succeed through these great programs.

Did you have a mentor in high school, college or early on in your professional career? (This could be a formal mentor, or a teacher or other non-related adult who helped you)

Yes, and this has been very important throughout my life.

Who was this person, what did they do or say that was meaningful to you?

There have been many, but I’ll mention just one. In grad school I had a teacher/mentor (university staff member, but not a professor) who taught grad students about leadership. She was actually a better instructor than most of the professors! She became a mentor and friend who always gave an encouraging word or offered helpful insights as I balanced my coursework, full-time job and being a good husband and father. She told me that I was smart (even though she and I knew there were many smarter people) and that I should not give up. She always reminded me about the attributes of the best leaders (servant leadership, love for community, doing your best, operating with integrity, etc.)

What would you say to someone who is considering making their first gift to Sponsor-A-Scholar?

We always encourage donors to do their research and think about their philanthropic goals before making gifts. There are many ways to research organizations online, through websites such as GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau. We also encourage donors to get to know organizations by reading their annual reports, looking at their websites, and attending their events. Most importantly, we would encourage a potential donor to meet a Scholar and/or other supporters.

Supporting nonprofit organizations should be a good experience for donors, so making sure an organization is managed well, operates efficiently, and produces positive results will help donors feel good about their investment in the organization, and about its impact in the community.

Thank you, John! We are so pleased to have your continued partnership and support!