Posted by Jordan Marshall, Initiatives and Special Projects Manager and Cassandra Stalzer, Communications Manager
Here’s an Alaska-sized and hearty THANK YOU to everyone who made the 15th Annual Educational Tour of Alaska for Grantmakers a resounding success.
First reports back from this year’s participants suggest they thoroughly enjoyed their visit and appreciated the opportunity to meet so many amazing Alaskans. (Read National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman’s blog post about the tour here.)
We at Rasmuson Foundation want to be absolutely clear: Credit is due to a huge cast of characters and partner funders. So, without further ado…
**Every attempt was made to include absolutely everyone. If we failed, please accept both our apologies and our thanks.
Today we are thrilled that leaders of some of the nation’s most prominent philanthropies are arriving in Alaska for the annual, week-long Educational Tour of Alaska for Grantmakers.
We initiated the tour in 1997 to introduce Outside funders to the unique challenges and pioneering solutions found in Alaska. Today the Tour is regarded as a national model for raising awareness within the philanthropic community about issues facing rural America.
While technology may make the planet seem smaller, Alaska is, in reality, still very far away. Without seeing Alaska firsthand, it’s hard to understand just the size and scale of our state, not to mention its issues and opportunities. Bringing these funders to Alaska gives our nonprofits a chance to show off the innovative programs they are deploying to improve life here in our state.
And the Tour provides our nonprofit organizations an opportunity to establish partnerships and build lasting relationships. Such partnerships are a key component for the success of Alaska’s nonprofit community.
As we work our way through the state, please follow our progress on Twitter (#AKTour11). We welcome you to add to the stream, snap photos, share stories about the nonprofits and communities we will be visiting.
The 14th annual Educational Tour of Alaska for Grantmakers kicked off today with a 7 a.m. departure from Seattle, Washington. First stop: Bethel, Alaska. Each year, the Foundation invites a small group of grant makers from the South 48 to visit Alaska. The goal is to provide an opportunity for our peers from Outside to gain knowledge about Alaska and about philanthropic opportunities throughout the state.
The Ed Tour takes place the same week as the funeral for former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens who, along with four others, died tragically in an airplane crash near Dillingham one week ago. Although many of the people the Tour is scheduled to meet changed their plans to attend his funeral in Anchorage midweek, in Bethel today a good number of the people we hoped to meet were still available today.
We saw the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) Pre-Maternal facilities, the Yuut Elitnaurviat “People’s Learning Center” and its new dental health aide therapist center, we toured the Tundra Women’s Coalition shelter and the Association of Village Council Presidents’ Yuut Yaqunviat “Where People Earn Their Wings.” In Napaskiak we saw the community’s K-12 public school (“Home of the Hawks”), the health clinic, and the Head Start building.
Among our tour guides today was Gene Peltola, president and CEO the YKHC. He shared a story with the group that epitomizes the recollections many Alaskans are experiencing this week. “In 1998, Senator Stevens spoke with me,” recalls Peltola. “He said: ‘Gene, how can we avoid having to seek fisheries disaster relief each year?’ and he asked for a comprehensive training plan for the region. We gathered the elders and local leaders and came up with the concept for the Yuut People’s Learning Center.
“Another example is when Senator Stevens said he could help with a residential health treatment center. And, again, in consultation with local leaders and elders, the Denali Commission was born.
“The way I see it,” concluded Peltola, “everybody in Alaska is indebted to Senator Stevens – especially in rural Alaska.”
As mid-August rapidly approaches, we and our partners are busily putting finishing touches on the foundation’s 14th Annual Educational Tour of Alaska for Grantmakers. This is a special time of year for Alaska philanthropy because we proudly showcase the great work being done by our state’s innovative nonprofit sector. It is also a strategic time for us because we introduce Outside funders to people and projects that match their particular programmatic interests.
The most visible event during the perennial week-long, whirlwind tour is the “funders’ train,” an event that provides about 120 local nonprofit, corporate, and public sector leaders with a couple primetime hours to hobnob on the Alaska Railroad with our visitors from the Lower 48. We know that board members and CEOs consider the funders’ train a chance to positively advance the mission of one’s organization. We also know that there are people who look forward to receiving an invitation.
As the end of 2009 draws to a close and 2010 hovers on the horizon, we’d like to take a moment to reflect back on a tumultuous but important year. I skimmed a year’s worth of blog posts that are available on our website. Here are the top 10 themes that reflect what’s happened at Rasmuson Foundation this year. Enjoy!
1.) Economic downturn effects Foundation grant-making
The worst economic downturn in a generation impacted all Alaskans and emerged as an important topic of conversation throughout the nonprofit community. The Foundation’s assets were effected and the Foundation acted quickly by reducing overall grant-making activities in 2009. In February 2009, Foundation CEO and President Diane Kaplan hit the road to talk with the nonprofit community about the new world order in the philanthropic sector as a whole and at the Foundation. With reductions in institution giving, we urged nonprofits to prioritize donations from individual donors, starting with the board of directors.
March 2009 had the Foundation carefully studying the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the “economic stimulus package,” for potential funding streams for Alaskan organizations. Denali Commission announced the formation of a clearinghouse so Alaskan organizations would be prepared to take advantage of ARRA funds. The Alaska Clearinghouse was comprised of staff members from the Denali Commission, Alaska State Legislature, Rasmuson Foundation and other Federal Agencies with people on hand to answer questions from nonprofit organizations and tribal entities.
For all but a small number of people in our country, the Arctic Slope of Alaska is unknown and unknowable. Most will not have the incredible opportunity, as we did Wednesday, to meet a whaling captain and learn about the community effort that goes into hunting a whale. Or to meet a whaling captain’s wife and learn about the responsibility of outfitting crews and processing the meat so that everyone eats.
Participants of the 13th Annual Educational Tour of Alaska went to Prudhoe Bay and Barrow to listen, to learn and to see first-hand what life is like in a place unknown to them.
We visited an alternative high school that helps students achieve graduation; a tribal college preparing youth for the jobs of today and the challenges of tomorrow; a dental clinic that is changing caries statistics for local children; a library with a vibrant program for young readers; and a cultural center that shares a unique way of life. We met people passionate about preserving the past, enhancing the present, and grabbing the opportunities the future will present.
We all walked away knowing a little more, and feeling a lot richer from the experience.
The Philanthropy Express is a work of logistics art made possible by the Alaska Railroad, Wells Fargo Bank Alaska and some pretty dedicated event planners. The idea is simple: create a unique opportunity for each guest, with their specific funding interests and a small amount of time here in state, to meet the many organizations doing great work while celebrating Alaska’s beauty. What’s more Alaskan than an evening on the Alaska Railroad cruising along Turnagain Arm?
Note: the 13th Annual Ed Tour is visiting Bethel today. Last week, Bethel was a hub of activity, with the Yuut celebration and the visit by members of the President’s cabinet.
When I landed in Bethel, I was greeted by Valerie Davidson. A product of Bethel Head Start, Valerie now manages government relations for the statewide Anchorage-based Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She’s giddy with the news that Senator Murkowski has secured $2MM in next year’s budget for the Dental Health Aide Therapist program, but giddier still, because she’s back home in Bethel for a few days. We bump along to her beautiful Kuskokwim riverside home and munch on some salmon strips, cheese and grapes. READ MORE
Six months of planning and coordination have brought us to today – Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan and I are en-route to Alaska with nine philanthropy executives who have each agreed to participate in a week-long rigorous trip around our state. It is the 13th such annual trip the Foundation has orchestrated. You can read a little about this year’s guests here.
Relationships and familiarity help grant makers make prudent decisions about their social investments. Years ago Diane and other Alaska nonprofit leaders realized that the primary obstacles in attracting outside investment were that most decision makers were thousands of miles away, had few relationships with our nonprofits, and had a difficult time understanding some of the social, economic, political, geographic and environmental dynamics that shape Alaska.