Why board giving matters

Jeff Baird, Senior Program Associate

Prospective grant applicants frequently ask about our board giving policy. To summarize, the Foundation expects that nonprofit board members make meaningful cash gifts to their organization at least once a year.

We believe one of the primary responsibilities of a board is to ensure the nonprofit they lead is on sound financial footing. When board members make cash gifts to their organization, they show their understanding that raising funds is essential to the financial stability of their organization. Rasmuson Foundation recognizes that volunteering is extremely valuable. But dollars and services are not interchangeable. Volunteerism can’t do it all. Operating a nonprofit takes money, and we believe at least some of it should come from the people charged with leading the organization.

This policy has its roots in the banking principles of Elmer Rasmuson. He believed those seeking investment should demonstrate their commitment by having “skin in the game” – before they ask others for financial support.

But what constitutes a “meaningful” donation? This is a measure that is specific to each individual. For one grantee, a board member who was homeless gave $1. For others on the same board, the giving ability was much higher.

While we leave it up to the organization and its board members to decide, this is a fair question for us to raise in the review process. If you’re seeking a grant,  be prepared to discuss it.

Among other questions we often hear on board giving:

New CEOs share challenges and ideas

Sammye Pokryfki, Vice President of Programs
girdwood CEO retreat 2014

From left to right: Melanie Bahnke, Alisha Drabek, Michelle DeWitt, Liz Medicine Crow, Chelsea Gulling, Hillary Morgan, Sue Perles, Nina Kemppel, Julie Decker, Sammye Pokryfki, Diane Kaplan

In June Diane Kaplan and I convened a retreat in Girdwood of chief executives to discuss the joys and challenges of being a new CEO. The CEOs shared stories and solutions on issues such as work / life balance, board relations, staff management and even health insurance coverage. Several weeks later, we chased down some of the participants to ask what they took from the retreat. Here’s what they told us:

Sue Perles, executive director, Girl Scouts of Alaska
“The takeaways were on different levels. Friendships, good company. We were all relatively new CEOs. We had some interesting professional discussions. We now know other people to talk to.
“Two areas that resonated for me were one, how to work with a board of directors and help them be strong and effective, and two, managing people. It was interesting to hear what other people were doing and how they make decisions. People had interesting ways of dealing with personnel challenges.
“One of the most fun parts

Finding balance through sabbatical

Rasmuson Foundation
Biking the Aran Islands. Photo courtesy Peggy Brown.

Biking the Aran Islands. Photo courtesy Peggy Brown.

What would YOU do with a paid sabbatical?

African safari? Visit your home country? Tap into your ancestral roots? Take time with family? That’s the very real – and sometimes daunting – question executives face every year when they’re picked for the Foundation’s Sabbatical Program.  Now in its 11th year, the program for nonprofit and tribal executives offers sabbaticals of two to six months. October 1 is the deadline to apply for a sabbatical in 2015.

Research shows that organizations benefit when nonprofit leaders engage in well-planned sabbaticals. An extended leave can lead to new perspectives for the leader, the board and staff, and often energizes organizational innovation. Stories and anecdotes from recent sabbatical returnees bear that out.

Peggy Brown, executive director, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, spent two months of her three-month sabbatical in Western Europe.

Who doesn’t love libraries

Diane Kaplan, President and CEO
Many in Soldotna came to celebrate the opening of the new library. In this photo, Senator Micciche makes opening remarks.

Many in Soldotna came to celebrate the opening of the new library. In this photo, Senator Micciche makes opening remarks.

Who doesn’t love the library? Apparently, not many of us, according to a recent report from the Pew Trust, which classified people by their degree of engagement with libraries. It found that 69 percent of the population are actively engaged while just 14 percent of the population aren’t engaged at all. Count us among the highly engaged.

I practically grew up inside my local library in Brooklyn, New York, as did my husband in his in Seward. One recent day it seemed everywhere I looked there was news about public libraries. Browsing on the net, I stumbled on a wonderful video, Why Libraries Matter: A day in the life of New York City’s public libraries. Later that morning, the local paper carried a small announcement about the opening of the new library in Togiak, a project funded in part by a grant from the Foundation.

The Foundation has a long history of supporting public libraries. A search of our awards database came up with more than 100 awards totaling more than $15 million among 38 communities. Yes, Rasmuson Foundation loves libraries.

Last January, I attended the grand opening celebration of the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Soldotna Public Library. The Foundation had provided a direct grant of $395,000 and a challenge grant of $100,000. The whole project cost $6.9 million. The expansion and improvements include contemporary media and communication tools for youth, expanded computer and Internet access, enclosed study spaces and expanded community meeting spaces.

Two links struck me at the community celebration: one between philanthropy and freedom of speech; the other between a community and its library.

What is free speech without knowledge to inform it? To me, public libraries embody, celebrate and feed free speech. Public libraries offer full and open access to the wide world of thought, exploration, ideas, culture, entertainment – all forms of knowledge. And in this country, philanthropy historically has been an important player in the support and proliferation of public libraries.

The self-taught industrialist Andrew Carnegie had the biggest influence in financing libraries in the U.S. From 1900 to 1917, Carnegie’s foundation built nearly 1,700 libraries, on condition that local communities guarantee tax support to maintain them.

But you don’t have to be a Carnegie to be a library philanthropist. That was delightfully obvious in the deep and broad community support for the Carver Memorial Soldotna Public Library. Dave Carey, a former Soldotna mayor and former president of Friends of the Library, composed a poem for the occasion, prefaced by inspiring remarks. See them here.

“It’s very much a community library,” Carey said. “It’s part of our identity and humanizes who we are.”

Rasmuson Foundation is proud to support such a vital and vibrant community asset.

Mary Jo Torgeson says: June 24th, 2014 at 4:09 pm
I brag to librarians in other states about the role the Rasmuson Foundation has played in this state in improving libraries. You get it....you understand our role in the community, as well as understand how we are responsive to needs unfilled by other agencies. Thank you for your continued support of libraries around the state! READ MORE
Ann Myren says: June 24th, 2014 at 10:27 am
Thank you Diane for reminding us that libraries continue to be a valuable community hub and thank you to the Rasmuson Foundation for all the support given to libraries in Alaska. I know it has made a huge difference in Haines and in many other communities around the state. READ MORE
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Artist uses residency to push boundaries

Rasmuson Foundation

This week’s guest post is by Jeremy Pataky, coordinator of Rasmuson Foundation’s Artist Residency Program.

Gretchen Sagan shows her SFAI studio to visitors during the beginning of her residency.

Gretchen Sagan shows her SFAI studio to visitors during the beginning of her residency.

Gretchen Sagan recently returned home from a two-month residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). The residency was part of the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program, which sends Alaska artists to organizations in the Lower 48 and brings Lower 48 artists to Alaska. Sagan was the first of this first Alaska cohort to complete her residency.

The other three Alaska artists serving residencies Outside this year are artist and educator Jimmy Riordan; playwright, poet and director Arlitia Jones; and textile artist Maria Shell. Riordan recently began his residency at Zygote Press, Cleveland, Ohio. Jones will serve her residency in the fall at Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Woodside, CA. Shell’s residency, also to begin in the fall, will be at McColl Center for Visual Art, Charlotte, NC.

The Artist Residency Program is one element of the Foundation’s Arts and Culture Initiative, a major commitment to the arts in Alaska. The initiative, started in 2003, is designed to strengthen cultural institutions across the state, encourage the development of new work by creative artists, and increase public access to and participation in cultural experiences.

Planning for a 70,000 strong Alaska Maritime Workforce

Ian Dutton, Vice President

The maritime industry has an increasingly diverse and specialized workforce. It became abundantly clear several years ago that current education and training systems do not adequately support maritime industry requirements. That may be about to change.

The workforce needs of the maritime industry were the focus of a summit in December 2011 convened by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, University of Alaska President Pat Gamble, and Rasmuson Foundation Chair Ed Rasmuson. The summit was an opportunity for business leaders in the fisheries, seafood and maritime sectors to inform the University, State of Alaska and Rasmuson Foundation about their workforce development challenges and needs. It was time to figure out how to build a pipeline for the 70,000 jobs fundamental to every aspect of the Alaska economy – from the seafood industry that contributes nearly $7 billion of total economic output, to the many communities that depend on the Alaska Marine Highway system.Maritime workforce plan cover


Honor veterans at Park Strip

Rasmuson Foundation

Veterans Memorial Panels with flag May 2014
Join us for the rededication of the Anchorage Veterans Memorial on the Delaney Park Strip this morning. The ceremony, 9:30 to 11 am, will honor 184 fallen Alaskans. The memorial is between 9th and 10th avenues and I and L streets. Rasmuson Foundation is proud to have supported the renovation project, which includes two new pieces, large art panels designed and created by Alaska artists Jim Dault and Shala Dobson. The Anchorage Park Foundation partnered with the Veterans Committee to raise funds to revitalize the memorial.


Project narrative secrets

Jeff Baird, Senior Program Associate

One of my favorite duties is fielding inquiries from nonprofit partners and helping weigh the pros and cons of a potential Tier 1 request. A question that commonly comes up during these discussions is what to include in the project narrative.

The online application has two sections dedicated to discussing the request: the “project description” and “needs and status” sections. Both parts can be brief (500 words or less). The former asks what you plan to do, and the latter asks for a description of the current situation and how this request will improve it. While there is no single correct way to write a project narrative, we do look for specific information when reviewing applications. Below are some tips to consider when drafting these sections, particularly for capital, and capacity building requests.

Peggy Shumaker: 2014 Distinguished Artist

Jayson Smart, Program Officer

Yesterday Rasmuson Foundation awarded its 11th round of Individual Artist Awards. The awards are part of an initiative to support the culture of Alaska, the vibrancy of our communities, and art itself.

Over time the program has awarded 338 grants totaling more than $2.7 million dollars, all going directly to Alaska artists. This year 274 applications were reviewed by a highly regarded national panel of artists and arts leaders. These panelists were duly impressed with not only the high standards of the 36 chosen artists, but also by the diversity and distinct voice of Alaska’s artists this body of work represents.


Carla Beam says: May 26th, 2014 at 9:26 pm
Great choice!!! Peggy is so much more than a brilliant writer. She is a teacher and, with her husband Joe, a generous contributor to those programs and projects that expand opportunity for others. To have a gift such as hers is exceptional. To share it so joyfully and generously with others is rare. READ MORE
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Success means looking upstream

Edward Rasmuson, Chairman
Board members Ed Rasmuson, Cathy Rasmuson and Anthony Mallott at last Spring's re-dedication of the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell.

Board members Ed Rasmuson, Cathy Rasmuson and Anthony Mallott at last Spring’s re-dedication of the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell.

Benjamin Franklin once famously remarked that, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Truer words are hard to come by. Preparation is critical to meet the future with any measure of confidence, so this year we cast a spotlight on ways the Foundation and its partners plan for Alaska’s future.

The origins of charity in this country, “to bear one another’s burdens” as Massachusetts Bay Colony leader John Winthrop wrote in 1630, stem from both the religious beliefs of the colonists and the sharing values of America’s indigenous people. We can, by voluntarily working together, relieve suffering by sharing our assets. Many early foundations in this country not only practiced charity, but also created institutions for long-term benefit, like schools and hospitals and libraries. Franklin left his own fortune in a trust designed to gather interest for 200 years before being disbursed for education in his native Boston and adopted Philadelphia.

The challenge for Rasmuson Foundation, as Alaska’s largest philanthropy in one of the country’s youngest states, is to do both; we must remain responsive to Alaska’s immediate needs and look upstream to change systems if we want to create opportunities for a better quality of life.

John Castles says: May 12th, 2014 at 1:20 pm
Outstanding summary -- keep up the great work in Alaska! READ MORE