National grantmakers create connections in Alaska

The 23rd Annual Grantmakers Tour of Alaska just wrapped up, full of richness and wonder creating strong memories and connections to Alaska.  We brought up nine guests — seven grantmakers and two spouses — and showed them the needs, challenges and successes of nonprofit and tribal organizations. The tour provides a framework for more lasting relationships and, we hope, investment and partnerships to help us Alaskans live our best lives.

On the ground in Sitka, National Endowment for the Arts Chair Mary Anne Carter met Tommy Joseph, the master carver who created the NEA-funded Tlingit totem pole on the grounds of one of our grantees, Sitka Sound Science Center. On the Chukchi Sea coast in Shishmaref, our guests sat with local leaders, saw first-hand how telemedicine is making a difference and stood on the community’s seawall. There it became clear that erosion was too mild a word to describe the way coastline is being gobbled up in historic storms. At Arctic Slope Regional Corp. in Utqiaġvik, the importance of living one’s values was underscored by a glass conference table that encases a traditional whaling skin boat. In the Far North, the message is, we can do great things — big things — when we do them together. In Anchorage, Katherine Gottlieb, president and CEO of Southcentral Foundation explained innovative health strategies that are getting national and worldwide attention including the relationship-rooted Nuka System of Care and the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative that addresses domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

At every stop, the group was met by extraordinary Alaska leaders.

“One of the things I was most impressed by is the power and strength of these young leaders and how Alaska Natives are leading with their values. And they are leading with the opportunity for collaborative and collective action,”  said Jennifer Preston, another tour participant and vice president of journalism for John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Because we all know in philanthropy, that’s where you get the greatest impact.”

The annual tour takes months of planning. It is an exploration of Alaska’s far stretches and inner offices, political landscapes and spectacular scenery. Conversations and learning begin at breakfasts with political, business, nonprofit and tribal leaders and end late at night with more frank talk on what is working, and what isn’t. The itinerary included multiple remote stops, a train ride with Alaska nonprofit organizations, and a trip across Cook Inlet which this year happened despite an envelop of wildfire smoke. We couldn’t do it without our whole team or the many businesses and organizations that support the tour. This year key supporters were: Alaska Airlines, The Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Alaska Railroad Corp., Alyeska Pipeline, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Bering Straits Native Corp., ConocoPhillips Alaska, Cook Inlet Region Inc., ExxonMobil, GCI, Hotel Captain Cook, Mat-Su Health Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Southcentral Foundation and Wells Fargo.

Grantmakers on this year’s tour, in addition to Carter and Preston, were: Aaron Merki of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Carla Thompson of W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Diana Birkett Rakow of Alaska Airlines; Orin Levine of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Walter Panzirer of Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.