Ed Rasmuson

 “With life-threatening winds blowing and huge waves breaking across the Bear’s wooden deck and hull, [Captain Micheal] Healy would have to… send men high into the riggings to break loose ice, or adjust sail, while others had to clear ice from the decks if the ship was to stay on course and remain seaworthy. And, staying the course was essential to successful Alaskan operations.”

— From “Captain ‘Hell-Roaring’ Michael A. Healy, U.S.R.C.S.” by James O’Dell

My father, Elmer Rasmuson, was occasionally fond of sailing analogies, and might have likened Rasmuson Foundation’s adaptation to ever-changing economic conditions to that of a captain’s vigilance at righting a ship’s course, even under the most adverse conditions. As Terrance Cole, author of “History of Rasmuson Foundation” wrote, dad understood the importance of “adjusting sails and tacking against the wind in order to remain on the true heading.”

The USCG Healy (right) breaks ice around the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 6, 2012. The Healy is the Coast Guard's only currently operating polar icebreaker. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis, U.S. Coast Guard.

Although it’s safe to say neither my father nor the Foundation were literally challenged to “brave high seas, strong, bitter, piercing winds, ice floes and Arctic cold,” as did the storied Michael Healy, namesake of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker which aided in last winter’s emergency fuel delivery to Nome, one is tempted to apply the sailing analogy to the many careful and deliberate adjustments we made last year to keep our ship on course and true to mission.

Our ability to continue and strengthen our commitment to Alaska relies on well-managed resources. The Foundation continues to navigate the turbulent global economy in the wake of the 2007-08 global financial crisis so as to enhance its real value in perpetuity. In 2011 our assets grew to $484 million, still below their market peak in 2007. Our investment strategy, which balances growth with risk minimization, lays the groundwork for stable, long-term growth consistent with our planned grantmaking activities.

The relative market stability of 2011, as compared to turmoil of the recent past, offered the Foundation an opportunity to tack towards providing a more normal program of grantmaking across the board. All told, Rasmuson Foundation expended $16.6 million for charitable activities across the state last year.

In 2011, the Foundation Board made 32 Tier 2 grant awards, all with a strategic emphasis on leveraging our dollars to achieve the greatest impact. Examples of our emphasis on leverage include support for library construction in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Togiak, and Skagway; and construction and programming at health facilities in Dillingham, Fairbanks, Hoonah, Seldovia, Talkeetna, and Anchorage. In each case, Foundation support is pooled with other public, private, and individual funds to make a bigger difference than any of us could achieve alone.

Last year, Rasmuson Foundation expanded the Tier 1 grant program, which formerly supported only small capital requests, to include support for technology updates, capacity building, program expansion, and creative works. The 91 Tier 1 awards made in 2011 represent a cross-section of Foundation programming and were disbursed across a wide geographic footprint.

The Foundation continued its support for arts and culture through its Individual Artist Award program with 31 grants to artists; the 2011 Distinguished Artist Award, which honors the merit and significance of a life dedicated to serious artistic exploration and growth, was awarded to Ray Troll in recognition of his history of creative excellence and accomplishment in the arts.

Also in 2011, the Foundation’s Sabbatical program provided 7 awards; this program recognizes the value the Foundation places on high-performing and accomplished organization leaders.

A good portion of our work, it should be noted, focused on making our grantmaking processes more efficient and user-friendly. We reflected on, and evaluated how, the pursuit of our mission is supported through the design of our grantmaking processes and programs. As a result, we changed some grant programs to make them less complicated, and implemented a number of process changes that will make applying, managing and reporting on grants easier. Our website articulates these changes, and our updated FAQs provide additional information about criteria and eligibility. Our hope is that these changes will allow all of us to spend more time on mission-critical activities and less time on paperwork. Read more about the evaluation and the entire program and process streamlining effort on our blog here.

Since 1955, the Foundation has awarded approximately $230 million for over 2,858 projects across the state, in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, organizational capacity-building, community and economic development, and education. Our commitment to be a catalyst for a better life for Alaskans is due to a vigilance instilled by my father. Rasmuson Foundation staff and Board work to ensure the ship maintains its bearing to successfully navigate our course as we enter new and often unchartered waters.

2011 awards