Alexandra Eaton: Leading with Compassion and Direction
Alexandra Eaton is having the most fun she’s ever had at a job—and that’s saying a lot. She’s worked as a project coordinator in San Francisco, spent nine years as a vice president at Goldman Sachs, was the COO at Aqueduct Capital Group and served as the CFO for the Girl Scouts of Utah.
In May, Eaton took on the role of executive director at the Community Foundation of Utah, which has become a vibrant force in the community by accumulating assets and creating initiatives that impact nonprofit entities in the state.
She describes the foundation’s function as “facilitating philanthropy,” matching charitable donors with nonprofit organizations and creating new avenues for Utahns to come together to make a difference in the lives of thousands.
While Eaton’s strong financial background made her a slam-dunk candidate for her new position, it was her experience with and love for nonprofit work that inspired her to accept the role.
In the mid-90s, Eaton and her husband, Craig Cooper, lived in Harare, Zimbabwe, where Cooper served as a financial manager for a platinum mine. Because of her ex-pat status, Eaton was not allowed to earn an income.
Instead, she got involved with the Epilepsy Support Foundation, an organization that assisted children with health problems. During the three years she worked there, she was struck by the lack of resources available for many of the people in Zimbabwe.
“Seeing that is life changing. You come to appreciate the opportunities we have as Americans … it helps you value what you have. There was no welfare system. If you didn’t have money for food, you didn’t eat. I see teenagers here with their smartphone and cars, when most people in Zimbabwe will never even own a car.”
Although she grew up in California and earned a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Eaton has lived in many places around the country including Texas and New York. While spending time in Utah during a temporary working assignment, she fell in the love with the mountains and the outdoor activities available in the region.
In 2008, she and Cooper moved to Utah, where she was eventually drawn back into the nonprofit world through the Girl Scouts. She loved the mission of the organization but after a couple of years was ready for a new challenge. That’s when she accepted the job with the Community Foundation of Utah.
The foundation was established in 2008 to provide an avenue to direct Utah’s philanthropic spirit by assisting groups who wanted to create or invest in charitable groups. Donations are managed through the foundation and applied to many purposes including grants, scholarships, awards and competitions.
Under the direction of former executive director, Fraser Nelson, the foundation accrued nearly $45 50 million in charitable assets. More than 200 funds have benefited organizations have benefited from the foundation’s gifts of $23 million in grants since 2009. Its annual Love UT Give UT day has grown in popularity each year, raising $2.8 millionhundreds of thousands of dollars for more almost 500 than 350 organizations, schools and universities.
The combination of a job that offers financial complexity while promoting good causes was just the mix Eaton wanted. After spending 15 years in the finance industry, she wanted to spend the next 15 making a difference in the world.
“I got to a point that I wanted a return to my life that wasn’t a number. I wanted to use my time for something that was meaningful.”
Now as executive director, Eaton and her five-person staff helps provide guidance and implementation for people, families, corporations or groups who want to donate in a tax effective and legal way. Whether it’s narrowing down priorities, putting together a donation agreement or creating criteria for scholarship applications, the foundation handles the processes necessary for success.
Eaton says people come to the foundation with an idea but often don’t know how to accomplish their goal. She talks to them about the skills they have, how much time or money they’d like to donate and if they have a cause they want to fund, like cancer research or helping single mothers. The foundation matches them up with the resources, contacts and information necessary to get their idea off the ground.
“It’s about collaborating and conversing with community leaders and using funds to facilitate a rising of the tide in Utah,” she says.
“I love to partner with my team. They all have different skill sets and bring different strengths. I love to see people succeed and encourage them to know it’s not really about them, it’s about the organization.”
With more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations in Utah, the foundation provides an easy and flexible way to give. Eaton was told by an a 70-year-old donor, ‘It’s better to give while you’re alive than when you’re dead.”
Eaton truly believes that, which is why she’s having so much fun. Whether she’s hiking with her husband and two Labradors, traveling to far-off places, delving into a good book or skiing in the beautiful powder of the Wasatch Mountains, Eaton feels she’s right where she needs to be.
“You need to laugh and enjoy your time here. Life’s so short, you need to live in the moment. Giving back is one of the best things you can give yourself. When you do for others, it’s a gift for them—and for you.”
For more information about the Community Foundation of Utah, visit www.utahcf.org.