“Work to make a living; serve to make a life.” So observed renowned adventurer, author, actor, pundit and philanthropist Will Rogers, who, along with pilot Wiley Post, tragically lost his life in 1935 here in Alaska attempting the world’s first trans-polar flight to Moscow. While philosophers have extolled the virtues of service above self since the beginning of time, this practical observation by Rogers serves as a particularly meaningful lens through which to view the Rasmuson Foundation. A legacy of individual commitment to service to strengthen Alaska’s quality of life inspired the Foundation’s creation forty-eight years ago. This commitment to Alaska continues to set its direction today. On behalf of the Board of Directors, it is my pleasure to present the Rasmuson Foundation’s first annual letter to Alaskans.
Guided by my father, Elmer Rasmuson’s vision of “supporting projects of lasting impact for the public benefit of all Alaskans”, the Foundation invests in nonprofit organizations and projects in Alaska. Since 1955, the Foundation has awarded approximately $64 million for over 1,000 projects across the state, in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, organizational capacity- building, economic development, and education. In 2003 alone, we awarded $36,456,000 for 171 grants, paying out $17,153,502 to well-managed nonprofit organizations providing unique public services to Alaskans.
Of note, the recent growth of Foundation resources allowed us to announce a new 10-year, $20 million Arts & Culture Initiative that addresses the broad cultural community. We asked both foundation staff and people from the state’s arts community to help us generate this initiative, which will be introduced in stages in 2004. We continue to take great pride in awarding small capital grants to organizations such as the Ester Volunteer Fire Department for Jaws of Life equipment, the Nome Preschool Association for preschool equipment and furnishings, the Petersburg Youth Program for furnishings, equipment and computers, the Senior Citizens of Kodiak for computer equipment, and Valley Community Recycling for a forklift. Our admiration runs deep for our grantees and the good work they do in all corners of our state.
In addition to investing through our grantmaking, we play a catalyst role in other important ways:
Convener: Our Board and staff travel extensively within the state, engaging communities in discussions about projects that are felt to be of the highest priority. Additionally, we regularly convene groups from across the state for informational discussions or to provide guidance in our areas of interest. We respect the collective expertise of our grantees and other practitioners, and use these opportunities both to ensure that our approach is responsive to needs and to improve our processes.
Motivator: We are committed to structuring awards in the form of a challenge that requires a given community and its citizens, or an organization and its supporters, to meaningfully contribute to the financial success of projects they identify as strategically important. In doing so, the community or organization invests in its own success.
Networker: Our staff regularly works with applicants to identify other funders who might be interested in a project, regardless of whether or not we ultimately invest. Additionally, each summer, we host noted Outside foundations for an intensive week of learning about the unique philanthropic opportunities here in Alaska. The week is structured to allow Alaskan nonprofit and civic leaders to meet with these national funders.
Collaborator: My father observed that “Helping others is an Alaskan tradition.” In short, no one can go it alone, and the Foundation is no exception. The process of collaborating takes more time, but yields more effective and sustainable outcomes than might be possible by working alone. In 2003, we partnered with grantees, communities, private, public, and philanthropic peers on a majority of our awards.
Our ability to both continue and strengthen our commitment to Alaska relies on well-managed resources. Since my grandmother Jenny Rasmuson and my father Elmer established the Foundation with a $3,000 commitment, its resources have grown in ways that could not have been imagined. In 2003, our assets grew to approximately $428 million. The main objective of the endowment, which is managed according to a percent of market value (POMV) approach, is to enhance its real value in perpetuity. The Foundation continues to diversify its equity-oriented portfolio which, as benchmarked against a foundation peer group index, produced a strong 24% return last year. Our investment strategy, which balances growth with risk minimization, lays the groundwork for stable, long-term growth consistent with our planned grantmaking activities.
In 1964, my father remarked, “All my interests, material and emotional, are in Alaska.” We worked to build a business, National Bank of Alaska, that helped to build Alaska. He formalized the Rasmuson family commitment to service by creating the Rasmuson Foundation. We know that while Alaska today is a different place than Alaska of territorial days, many of the same social and cultural issues remain unresolved. At the same time, as a result of innovative leadership in our communities, new opportunity for positive change in these areas presents itself each day. We remain inspired by and committed to working with the many nonprofit organizations in our state, who are dedicated to improving the quality of Alaskan’s lives. In the tradition of Alaskans, the Rasmuson Foundation is glad to lend a hand.
Edward B. Rasmuson
May 7, 2004