Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

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from Dennis McMillian's December letter...

We want to let a secret out of the bag. Raising money is simple. All you need is to find the best person to ask a prospect face-to-face for a specific amount of money – and you will raise money more times than not. Now let’s outline the complexity in that overly simple solution.

First, we want to address a few common myths about raising money:

  • As soon as you get your 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, money falls from heaven.
  • If Willy Horton robbed banks because that’s where the money was – then it’s logical that if you want to raise money you should ask rich people, right?
  • Institutional donors like corporations and foundations have the most money to give.
  • The more choices people have, the more they give.
  • Advertising is all you need to get people to give money.
  • “If people only knew how good our mission is, they would give.”
  • “If people knew how much we need their help, they would give.”
  • There is only so much money to go around – if I get mine, you won’t get yours.
  • Professional fundraisers ask for money.

These fundraising myths run rampant. In Alaska and around the country, fundraising or development professionals confront these myths every day. Capacity building organizations like The Foraker Group fill fundraising classes with eager volunteers and staff wanting to find the silver bullet that will help them raise more money. Many leave disappointed because regardless of whether they ask us, or the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), or consultants from around the country, the answer is the same, there is no silver bullet.

Read the entire letter.

What is your best advice for securing individual contributions?

Food Bank of Alaska received $28,000 from donations made through the PFD Charitable Contributions Program. That means that thousands of Alaskans picked the Food Bank, clicked on their listing when applying for their PFD online last January, and gave to them.

Food Bank Truck

But what does this REALLY mean to the organization? We had the opportunity to interview the folks at Food Bank of Alaska about Pick. Click. Give. 2009.

Name: Marleah LaBelle
Title: Communications Manager
Organization: Food Bank of Alaska
Org Facebook:

What did Food Bank of Alaska received through the 2009 PFD Charitable Contributions Program and what are those funds going to?

What does $28,000 mean to Food Bank of Alaska?

  • We could purchase 2,800 turkeys. (Food Bank of Alaska purchases 16,000 turkeys for holiday food distributions that occur in Anchorage and across the state);
  • It would allow us to pay for shipping costs of U.S.D.A. commodities to rural Alaska for one month;
  • It will help us keep our four trucks running smoothly on the road for three months (includes fuel, maintenance and insurance).

Why is a program like Pick. Click. Give. important for Alaska nonprofits?

Pick. Click. Give. is important for Alaska nonprofits because it provides much needed funding and diversifies sources of funding. It also allows Alaskans to support their favorite nonprofits easily.

What is the actual impact of individual donors to an Alaska nonprofit and to the Food Bank?

The impact an individual donor has on Food Bank of Alaska is to help us achieve our mission and our belief that “No one deserves to be hungry.” For every dollar donated, Food Bank of Alaska can access 5 pounds of food.

What is the Food Bank of Alaska doing this year to incorporate Pick. Click. Give. into their outreach?

Food Bank of Alaska will make the information available on our website and through our Facebook Fan page. We will also include the information in our monthly Volunteer newsletter and our Advocacy Alerts.

What other tips would you give to Alaska nonprofits in terms of leveraging Pick. Click. Give. for their organization?

Communicate clearly with your constituents the organizations’ mission and manage your brand closely. Communicate with donors and media regularly to capitalize on awareness.

What would you say to Alaskans about the importance of individual philanthropy and how Pick. Click. Give. can help?

Individual philanthropy shows us how strong a community is – how much neighbors care about the community and about one another. Donations can help feed hungry Alaskans, or help a senior with heating assistance, or provide books for children from low income families. They are all gifts that make life a little better for our neighbors, and in turn, our community.

Have you Picked YOUR Click for January 2010?

Foraker president Dennis McMillian recently wrote about the "new reality" faced by us all - including Alaska nonprofits. He also highlighted several of his past letters over the last year, summarizing points made back then in context of where we are today.

"We are slowly climbing out of a very deep recession, but the end is still not in sight. As we expected, Alaska’s economic downturn started behind the rest of the country," says McMillian in his monthly President's Letter. "We did not begin to feel the recession’s impact until summer when we saw fewer tourists. The oil industry has been slow to make new investments in the state and the gas pipeline has again become a distant vision. In our sector, dedicated nonprofit staff and volunteers are coming to Foraker – reaching out to see what relief we can provide to help them weather the storm. However, unfortunately some are losing hope and may close their doors."

You can read the rest of Dennis' letter here.

Let us know your “new reality” – what have you been doing to cope with the economy one year after the downturn?

Because of the importance and impact of the economy on the nonprofit sector, The Foraker Group spends time each week to cull the most useful articles that we find in local, regional and national news and compile them into a list of links for you.

We now devote an entire section of Foraker web site to Economic Response. Our intention is to update this section of our site as new information is available so you can check back often and contact us directly if there is a service, course or information that would be helpful to you in your work.

You can find helpful links to resources here.

Check out the archive of News to Use which are the weekly updated links for the previous week of news.

And here's a link to the news items from the week of November 6th.

If you find something worth sharing, please let us know so we can review it and potentially include it in an upcoming list of links.

If you haven't been there yet, The Foraker Group now has a Facebook Page at If you are a member of Facebook, feel free to become a Fan of our Page. We're beginning to integrate social media into our communications to continue to provide timely and useful resources for our Partners and all Alaskans.

What is a Facebook Page?

Because The Foraker Group is an organization, we've set up a presence on Facebook - the most popular social network on the Internet - using a Facebook Page. A Page on Facebook is different from a Profile which you as an individual might have as a Facebook member. Pages are for companies, organizations, products, celebrities and other entities or individuals wanting a more professional presence on Facebook.

Some organizations - including many in Alaska - have set up Profiles instead of Pages. They may have done this a year or so ago when Pages weren't as prevalent, and they have probably built a large friends list over time. Unfortunately, if an organization has a Facebook Profile instead of a Facebook Page, they are at risk of losing the content and contacts they've accumulated because they are in violation of Faceboook's Terms of Service i.e. the fine print in your Facebook user agreement. Facebook regularly disables Facebook Profiles that they deem a violation of their rules.

You can immediately tell the difference between a Facebook Page and a Facebook Profile because Pages have Fans while Profiles have Friends.

An important difference between a Facebook Page and a Facebook Profile is that a Page is publicly accessible to people who are not members of Facebook so it becomes a powerful Web presence for your organization that shows up in Google Searches. Facebook Profiles are only accessible by your Facebook Friends which means someone must be a member of Facebook and then send you a Friend request (which you must accept) in order to interact with your organization through your Profie.

Benefits of Using Facebook Pages

How can your organization benefit from a Facebook Page? Many nonprofits are limited in budgets and resources for outreach to constituents, donors, the media and the public. While a web site can serve as an effective destination for an organization, many people these days consider web sites as places for background and archived information rather than an active and dynamic communications tool.

Also the money and time costs of designing, building and maintaining a web site can be a burden, particularly if an organization's site was not designed with an easy-to-use content management system. Many nonprofit organizations are saddled with outdated web sites where they are at the mercy of Web developers for even the most simple updates.

Other organizations use their web sites as repositories of information, for a list of services, to house a calendar of events, but when it comes to outreach, they are relying on an electronic newsletter - or even a print newsletter - to get the word out about their organization and important events. These days, a web site by nature is too static - and often too overloaded with information - to serve as a consistent outreach tool for shorter, more frequent messages.

While a blog is a useful tool to publish content more frequently, a blog can also be a burden on an organization's resources if they aren't equipped to publish content on a very regular basis.

A Facebook Page doesn't demand the same kind of content publishing and is instead a more conversational resource where shorter bits of information - usually with a link to additional information - is the norm.

Using a Facebook Page Effectively

At the very minimum, here are a few things you should do with your Facebook Page:

1. Connect your blog to Page. If you have one, add your blog's RSS feed URL to the Notes section of your Facebook Page so when you post to your blog, it automatically updates your Page.

2. Add Facebook Events. If you hold events, particularly regularly occuring events, you can use the Facebook Events feature to augment your Page. The Events tool integrates with your Page, and you can use it to spread the word about classes, meetings, etc. using a tool that makes it easy for others to invite their own Facebook friends to your event.

3. Link to Resources. While Status Updates can be intimidating for some people, updating your Facebook Page doesn't have to be hard. Connecting your blog updates your Page status as does adding new events. You can also post links to relevant resources including those on your organization's web site as well as others on the Web.

4. Respond to Comments. As you gather more Fans on your Page, people may start commenting on your Status Updates. A quick response is always appreciated and helps strengthen relationships. Your response doesn't have to be long - just an answer to a question or acknowledgement of what they've said. While it is important to interact with your Page Fans, don't feel obligated to respond to every single comment, but don't ignore them all either.

Facebook Pages are easy to set up and easier to maintain than a web site or blog. They also give you a direct communications channel to the people who you serve or who you want to reach with important messages about your organization. And when one person interacts with your Facebook Page, that action can be seen by dozens or even hundreds of their Facebook Friends giving your organization an instant and exponential reach beyond your own contacts.

Does your organization have a Facebook Page? If so, please include a link to it here so we can visit it!

The Alaska Department of Revenue has accepted 365 nonprofit organizations and all the campuses of the University of Alaska as eligible for the second PFD Charitable Contributions Program – or Pick.Click.Give. 

The goal of Pick.Click.Give. is to increase the number of people who give to Alaska nonprofits, as well as the total amount of charitable dollars that are donated.  The program became law last year and allows Alaskans who file on-line for their PFD to donate all or part of it to eligible charitable, educational and nonprofit organizations, including the University of Alaska and community foundations. The costs for the program are being paid by Rasmuson Foundation to encourage the growth of philanthropy in Alaska.

The organizations that qualified for the 2010 PFD application represent the diversity of nonprofits around the state.  The list of qualifying organizations is available at  The list can be searched alphabetically by organizations, or by services and geographic area.  Also available at the site is information on the program, including answers to those questions most frequently asked by Alaskans. 

Promotion of Pick.Click.Give. is made possible through financial support from Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, ConocoPhillips, BP and the Mat-Su Health Foundation.  The Alaska Giving Coalition, The Foraker Group and the United Way of Anchorage are working with the Rasmuson Foundation and the Department of Revenue to implement the program.

See a list of the qualifying organizations


In this month's President's Letter, Dennis McMillian talks about strategic plans for organizations and tells this anecdote about the wrong approach to strategic planning:

"Early in my nonprofit management career (30 years ago), I participated in developing a strategic plan.  It was done the wrong way.  I, along with my staff colleagues, developed it. We used the Management by Objectives and Results (MBOR) framework. When MBOR was introduced, it created a revolution in planning.  Not only did organizations develop or re-affirm a mission (including the painful debate for the best words to describe who we were and what we did), they began to use something called a vision.  A vision was described as a grand expectation that would inspire us to leap tall buildings even though most of the time we rarely believed we ever could.  Visions read like “world peace,” “no one will go hungry again,” or Garrison Kieler’s “Lake Wobegone – where all the children are above average.” 

In addition to mission and vision, MBOR made goals, objectives and action steps insufficient.  With MBOR we now had to also focus on results – the forerunner of what we now call outcomes.  Certainly MBOR was a planning wonk’s dream come true.  One small problem with that model, though, was to do it right took time.  And while staff gets paid for their time, making it less a factor for them, most board members do not.  Either a few dedicated board members would heroically volunteer for the Strategic Planning Committee and spend six months or more with staff developing a plan – or the staff reverted to the path of least resistance and did a plan without much board participation.  Neither of those approaches was a good option.  We needed a better way to plan."

Read Dennis' entire letter here.

What have been your organization's experiences with strategic planning?

by Stephen Issacs and Paul Jellinek

Recently two consultants who have helped with our group benefit plan -- Stephen Isaacs and Paul Jellinek -- provided an analysis of how the current debate could affect us.  Their report follows and originally appeared in the Foraker Group September newsletter.

When they return from summer vacation, members of the House of Representatives will consider a bill, known as the Tri-Committee Plan or Tri-Committee Bill, that represents the thinking of the three House committees with jurisdiction over the issue (Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce—which has issued a number of amendments to the Tri-Committee Plan to satisfy Blue Dog Democrats) and members of the Senate will consider a bill proposed by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy. Still to come is the bill of the Senate Finance Committee, though many of its views are known from its policy statements and interviews with the committee’s chairman, Senator Max Baucus.

Some of the elements of the pending bills pertinent to the Foraker Group Benefit Plan are outlined below.

Individual mandate. Both the Senate HELP and the House bills require individuals to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Those falling below certain income levels will be eligible for premium subsidies. The Senate Finance Committee is likely to issue a bill with a similar provision.

Employer mandate. Similarly, the Senate HELP and the House bills require all businesses above a certain size (Senate HELP bill: 25 employees; House bill: depends on payroll) to contribute a significant percentage toward premiums or pay a penalty. Some small businesses (based on number of employees and average wages) will be eligible for a tax credit. The Senate Finance Committee has indicated that its bill, too, will contain an employer mandate.

Central insurance pooling body. The two plans on the table include establishment of a central body—called the Gateway in the Senate HELP bill and the Exchange in the House bill—to serve as an intermediary, pooling those who need premium subsidies and linking them with certified health insurance plans. In both plans, states would be permitted to create their own insurance pooling body. The Senate Finance Committee is likely to adopt a similar provision.

The Public Option. Both the House and Senate HELP bills propose creation of a new public health insurance option to be offered through the Gateway or Exchange. The Senate Finance Committee has been cool toward a public option, preferring, according to press reports, the creation of very large purchasing cooperatives.

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Both the Senate HELP and the House proposals would raise eligibility levels for these two programs.

Benefits. The benefits are not specified in either of the two bills that have been reported out of committee; each calls for a “comprehensive” package. The Senate HELP bill proposes a temporary, independent commission to advise the HHS Secretary on the essential benefit package. The House bill suggests creation of a Health Benefits Advisory Council to make recommendations on the benefit package and cost-sharing levels.

Insurance exclusions. Both bills require guaranteed issue and renewability, prohibit denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and allow rating variability based on limited factors (The Senate HELP bill states that variability can be based only on family structure, geography, the actuarial value of the plan benefit, tobacco, and age. The House bill restricts variability to age, premium rating area, and family enrollment).

Prevention and wellness. Both plans emphasize prevention and wellness and encourage insurers to follow suit. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to report out a bill with similar emphases. The House plan proposes eliminating cost-sharing for proven preventive services in Medicare and increasing payments for certain [unspecified] preventive services. The Senate HELP bill proposes increasing the allowable premium discount to employees participating in wellness programs.

Quality of care. Both plans propose a variety of measures to improve the quality of patient care, including establishing a federal center to evaluate comparative effectiveness, testing different approaches to improving quality, and increasing public reporting.

Cost containment. The Senate HELP proposal does not really deal with cost containment, perhaps because that lies largely within the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee. The House bill contains a number of recommendations, including simplifying health insurance administration, testing ideas such as medical homes and accountable care organizations, encouraging health information technology, bundling acute and post-acute payments, reducing payments for unnecessary hospital readmissions, and reducing Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital payments (though not until 2019).

Commentary. This commentary must be preceded by a mild disclaimer. Since nobody knows what the final bill will look like when it emerges from a House-Senate Conference Committee (or, given strong Republican opposition and conservative Democrat doubts, whether any bill at all will emerge from Congress), the comments below are speculation, albeit informed speculation.

The overall direction that health reform is likely to take is known from the plans already on the table and the papers issued by the Senate Finance Committee. Essentially whatever is passed (if something is passed) will look a lot like the Massachusetts plan, with individual and employer mandates and an outside authority to pool buyers and link them with health plans, plus a strong emphasis on prevention/wellness and cost containment. Important details and key elements—such as whether to have a public plan and how to pay for insuring an additional 46 million individuals—are still to be worked out and will depend as much on politics as on sound policy making.

Though it may be premature for the Foraker Group to make plans around what might transpire, it might keep in mind the following: (a) there will probably be a large number of previously uninsured people who will now need to buy health insurance; (b) a lot of employers will be looking to sign up for a health plan; (c) wellness, which the Foraker Group is already encouraging, will be heavily promoted. If the Foraker Group can offer competitive rates, it might have a leg up in the new health care marketplace.

Dennis McMillian discusses pursuing an affordable health insurance product for nonprofits for the past 25 years, and "a gradual, thoughtful process that allows nonprofit employers to provide adequate coverage for their employees."

Says Dennis, "Regardless of the current debate, I expect certain trends to emerge as a national plan evolves.  Employers and employees will likely be asked to do more to provide insurance coverage.  Today we can’t drive in most states without car insurance.  In the future, not having some form of health insurance won’t be an option, either.  Clearly, government will be part of a new health care system.  Already we have government-managed systems for senior citizens and people who can’t afford to pay for their care – Medicare and Medicaid – although both need revisions to become more effective.  And the concept of promoting wellness has universal appeal and will be a part of any solution."

The Foraker Group offers two “off-the-shelf” health insurance plans with the vision to shift to a true association plan when the numbers are right. Here are some of the recent highlights of Foraker's health initiative:

  • 318 employee lives are currently enrolled (as of 08/21/09).
  • 26 groups are enrolled.
  • Four groups with the potential to bring on 11 additional employee lives have inquired about the plan (as of 08/21/09).
  • In January 2009, approximately 130 employees were enrolled in the benefit plan.  The plan more than doubled that number in 7 months.   
  • In spring 2009, eight briefing sessions were held to provide updates to Partners and brokers.  
  • Two of our largest groups joined during June open enrollment – one group with over 70 employees and another with over 30.
  • Almost half our members have completed the online health assessment.  This is the highest rate of all Premera groups in Alaska, Washington and Oregon.  
  • To date, two wellness workshops have been held in Anchorage, the next wellness workshop will be held in Juneau in September.  Recently, interest surfaced in Fairbanks for a wellness workshop.
  • The requirement of funding dependent coverage has been lifted.
  • Waiting periods to enter the plan have been waived, although participants must still be Foraker Partners.
  • A group of preferred brokers has been identified.  These brokers are familiar with the plan and have sold and/or consistently promoted it.  Partners will be referred to preferred brokers. 

Read the entire Letter from the President.

If you have questions about The Foraker Benefit Plan, please contact Rebecca Savidis by phone at 907-743-1200, or by email at

How are you getting your health insurance coverage? How is your nonprofit handling health insurance?



In the old days, a blog was a place to post a list of links to other web sites, sometimes with commentary to give some context to the list, hence the term Web Logs or Blogs. Today, a blog can be the hub to your entire social media efforts, a place where you can link to your pages on social networking sites and accounts with other social networking tools.

While The Foraker Group dips a toe into the social media waters, we're using our blog as

  • a place to draw attention toward important articles and resources on The Foraker Group web site;
  • a place to comment on and link to interesting news stories regarding nonprofit issues;
  • a place to provide perspectives on the use of social media tools by nonprofits;
  • a place where we can hear from you to learn about your opinions on issues we blog about or on ones that you're facing.

It's the last objective where we need your help and participation. A blog can be an incredible community-builder, however, someone needs to be brave enough to come out from the shadows and not just read but respond. We know you're out there (our blog stats show an average of 100 readers per blog post).

Now's the time to introduce yourself. We'd like to turn this blog into a powerful community where we each have the opportunity to voice our opinions and tell our stories. This is not a broadcast medium.

What's on your mind as someone working with or within a nonprofit organization?

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