Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

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Dennis McMillian's opinion piece appeared in the Daily News-Miner on May 3rd. He discusses the risks of taking--and relying on--stimulus funds for any Alaska nonprofit. Below is an excerpt of when not to take funding when funding:

 • Requires the organization to start a new program that has not been planned.

• Overextends the capacity of the organization.

• Causes the organization to stray from its mission.

• Provides a short-term band-aid for an organization with systemic funding problems.

McMillian goes on to say that if an organization does not have systems in place to transparently manage and report on the use of stimulus funds — ensuring that taxpayer money is wisely invested — it also should not apply.

Read the entire opinion piece.




The Foraker Group has announced the addition of a third option to its innovative health benefit plan. Foraker, along with the Rasmuson Foundation, unveiled the program in October 2008, which is designed to create a healthier nonprofit sector in Alaska.

Originally the program offered two options to help expand coverage to underinsured individuals and families, or those who currently have no insurance – a high deductible plan ($1,500 deductible) with a Health Savings Account (HSA), or a catastrophic standard plan ($2,500 deductible). Both plans offer options for preventive care.

The new option, a high deductible health plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA), allows for greater cost savings in the monthly premiums. The new $3,000 deductible HDHP with HSA will become effective July 1, 2009. It also offers options for preventive care. All three options are available through Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska.

Enrollment in The Foraker Group Benefit Plan has steadily increased since it began six months ago. According to Barbara Dubovich, executive director of Camp Fire USA Alaska Council, the program "is a proactive health management plan that provides more control to each employee and will, we believe, result in lowered premium costs in the future."

Over the next two months, Foraker in conjunction with Wallace Group Services will hold meetings around the state to provide further details about the third plan option, discuss updates in participation requirements, and review the status of becoming an association plan. Names of preferred brokers who are familiar with the benefit plan will be announced as well. Nonprofit leaders and brokers are encouraged to attend.

A meeting schedule and registration is available at www.forakergroup.org, click on calendar, then special briefings. For more information, call Rebecca Savidis at The Foraker Group, 907-743-1200.

The Rasmuson Foundation is supporting the Foraker initiative through Health Savings Account incentives and an enhanced comprehensive Health Risk Management (HRM) program. The HSA incentive consists of a $250 contribution per enrolled employee for the first two years ($500 total) and is available to the first 2,000 employees enrolled in a Health Savings Account. The HRM assists employees in evaluating their own health risks and helps employers manage the effectiveness of the insurance plan.

For more information, contact Rebecca Savidis, 907-743-1200.




The Foraker Group, along with the Rasmuson Foundation, unveiled a new health insurance program in October of 2008 that is designed to create a healthier nonprofit sector in Alaska. The program offers two options that will help expand coverage to underinsured individuals and families or those who currently have no insurance.

We are making great progress with the plan. Partners are signing up to take advantage of this new program which puts employees in charge of their health care, helps increase productivity, and will reduce the rise in future health care costs.

Already 24 nonprofits are part of the plan. The leaders of these organizations recognize the value of this approach to health care and have taken action to bring it to their staff. We thank them for their long-term commitment to the well being of their employees and their willingness to step forward, especially during challenging economic times. Right now it can be easier to look inward, stick with the familiar and be unwilling to try something new. Congratulations to those of you who have maintained focus and understand that we’re all in this for the future – of our mission and our organizations.

Since December, the plan has more than doubled the number of enrollees. The growing participation is due, in part, to the incentives for those who enroll early. Just to recap, the Rasmuson Foundation will cover contributions into employee’s Health Savings Accounts (HSA) for two years along with funding the Health Risk Management (HRM) program for three years for enrolled employees. We thank Rasmuson for that generous support which demonstrates the foundation’s steadfast vision of a thriving nonprofit sector in Alaska.

We also recognize and appreciate the hard work of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, the Wallace Group and the insurance brokers who have embraced this innovative benefit plan. Without their guidance and support, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are today. They have been diligent in their work, which allows us to offer this competitive, long-term benefit package to our Partners.

As we know, during difficult economic times the health of our staff can suffer. Employees work longer and harder, under more stress, to serve the community. The emphasis the Foraker plan places on health and wellness has never been more needed. For enrolled groups to learn more about this part of the plan, we have partnered with Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska to offer training sessions on proven workplace wellness strategies. We encourage you to take advantage of these sessions.

For more information on the benefit plan, or a list of preferred brokers, please call Rebecca Savidis at The Foraker Group, 907-743-1210.

What our Partners say about The Foraker Group Benefit Plan

From Barbara Dubovich, Executive Director, Campfire USA Alaska Council

Camp Fire is in the process of moving to Foraker’s HSA plan this year. After enduring radical increases in health insurance premiums for several years with the latest at 50%, we look forward to the potential of having more predictability in increases.

The Foraker HSA Plan through Premera Blue Cross is a proactive health management plan that provides more control to each employee and will, we believe, result in lowered premium costs in the future.

The added incentive offered from the Rasmuson Foundation really helps our employees to build their HSA Accounts.




Pick. Click. Give.More than 5,100 Alaskans give $545,000 through their Permanent Fund Dividend

The Alaska Giving Coalition has announced preliminary results from the first Pick. Click. Give. campaign.  The new program allowed Alaskans filing on-line for their 2009 Permanent Fund Dividend to give all or part of it to qualifying nonprofit organizations, community foundations or campuses of the University of Alaska.

According to preliminary figures from the Alaska Department of Revenue, 5,163 Alaskans filing on-line selected the option to give to a nonprofit.  Those Alaskans made a total of 7,572 donations – some choosing to give to more than one organization.  The approximate total for the amount donated is $545,000.  Specific organization contribution totals and the final figure will be available in October when dividend checks are determined and disbursed.

“We were optimistic that Alaskans would respond to this new way of giving to their favorite nonprofits,” Alaska Giving Coalition Chair Jim Caldarola said.  “We are thankful to each and every individual donor who chose to make a charitable contribution with part of their dividend check.  It shows a wonderful commitment by Alaskans for Alaska nonprofits.”

More than 330 organizations qualified for the 2009 program and represented the diversity of nonprofits around the state.  Each met a series of criteria laid out in the law establishing the program, which was passed by the Alaska State Legislature in May 2008.  The program is authorized for three years, at which time it will be evaluated and the legislature will decide whether to continue it. 

Caldarola credits the participating nonprofits for helping the program succeed. 

“They reached out to their existing stakeholders through newsletters, websites and emails to spread the word about Pick. Click. Give.  They recognized that their ability to communicate about the impact of their mission to their constituents makes a powerful difference in their ability to raise resources. 
 
A new application process is currently taking place to qualify organizations for the 2010 program. Nonprofits must apply again this year, even if they were part of the 2009 program.  Information and application forms are available at www.PickClickGive.org, by calling 1-888-785-GIFT (4438) or by emailing pfdinfo@forakergroup.org.
 
The 2009 Pick. Click. Give. public awareness campaign was made possible through financial support from  the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, ConocoPhillips and BP.  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.




In April, I'll be teaching a class called Analyzing Your Web Site for Effective Marketing in Anchorage. The session is based on something I started doing at the end of my Internet workshops where I'd ask people in the audience to volunteer up their organization's web site for a quick, on-the-fly analysis. I promised to be kind and to give them at least 5 actionable pieces of advice about ways to instantly add-value or improve their sites.

Some of the things I look at when analyzing an existing web site include

1. The effectiveness of your branding. How obvious and clear is your brand? Where is your logo positioned? How consistent is your branding throughout the site?

2. The clarity of your message. How clear is your organization's message when someone arrives at your site? I can't tell you how many times we tend to "fill in the blanks" when we publish content and make assumptions that someone new to our site can understand who we are and what we do.

3. The accessibility of critical content. How easy is it for someone who doesn't know your organization to find the content that is important to them on your site? I comment on the navigation elements and information architecture from the front-end.

4. The use of actions. What important actions do you want site visitors to take? Donate? Volunteer? Sign an e-petition? How obvious are these actions and how easy is it for the actions to happen?

5. The balance of images and page styles. Just because you can add fancy fonts to a page, doesn't mean it will increase a site's effectiveness. Are the images on site enhancing or detracting from the important messages? And don't forget of the all-important white space!

The next Analyzing Your Web Site for Effective Marketing will take place Monday, April 13 in Anchorage from 11:00am to 1:00pm at the Foraker Training Room. For this class, we request that you submit your web site URL in advance to the instructor to reserve your site's spot in the critique session. Email arisdahl@forakergroup.org. This class is limited to 12 people to insure that each organization's site receives adequate attention.

Do you feel your organization's site is effective? If so, link to it in the comments and let us know what is working for you.




Here's an interesting survey worth taking. Hopefully they will do a geographical breakdown and we can get some stats on Alaska nonprofits.
 

The Nonprofit Social Network Survey is a joint project of NTEN, Common Knowledge and The Port.

This survey seeks to understand how NONPROFITS are using online social networks. In the first section, we ask about your organization's work with commercial social networking and social media sites. The survey asks whether your organization hosts your own social network on your website using specialized software.

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete. The survey results will be analyzed and announced at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in late April 2009. The survey is confidentiality, and your responses are completely anonymous.




Trendwatching recently came out with a report titled "Generation G: That would be G for 'Generosity,' not Greed." The premise of this report is that "Giving is the new taking" and "sharing is the new giving." Giving is growing as a national mindset which dovetails nicely with our newfound social media skills of giving, sharing, engaging and collaborating.

Some reasons cited in the report for the shift in thinking and acting is the recession and consumer disgust over the current financial meltdown. Consumers want to identify institutions that care. And while the report is geared toward the commercial business and how to tap into this shift, nonprofits are poised to benefit greatly even during bad economic times.

Today's individual is empowered by communications, publishing, sharing and engagement tools like never before. Whether they are creating Facebook Causes and inviting their 100+ friends to join them in supporting a cause (including soliciting donations in some cases) or extolling the virtues of their favorite nonprofit to their 1000s of Twitter followers, social media is the fan on the fires of giving and peer influence to join in.

Read more about Trendwatches report here and view a slideshow about Generosity as the Future of Marketing.

How are you tapping into this generous state of mind to benefit your nonprofit or cause? Or are you not even in the social mediasphere yet to connect with individuals with the interest and wherewithall to give?




When it comes to marketing, nonprofits - like many companies - tend to go for the familiar. What do we know? What have we done in the past? Direct mail? Check. A print newsletter? Check. A fundraising event? Check.

Whether or not these tactics have actually been successful in the past, they tend to be the typical course of action. Even if they are not cost effective or time efficient, more often than not, everyone at an organization can at least agree on the statement "that's the way we've always done it."

Unfortunately, today's funders and constituents are no longer consuming their information in the same ways. Today's marketing tactics are not familiar. So how does a nonprofit with limited capacity get up to speed?

Social Media Marketing (SMM) - marketing through blogs, microblogs, social networks, podcasts, etc. - addresses several issues that nonprofits face as they evaluate programs and activities for their staff and volunteers.

1. Cost - How much is it going to cost us? We don't have the money for this.

2. Time - How much time is it going to take? We're all stretched to the limit.

3. Capacity - How many people are going to have to manage this? We're short-staffed.

Like any tools and tactics for marketing, nobody can say that social media marketing is free and takes little or no time. Every time you reach out to constituents or funders, there is an associated cost. Social Media Marketing doesn't erase that. But here is how SMM addresses marketing issues many nonprofits face.

1. Cost 

Assembling the tools you need to engage productively in social media marketing are more often than not free. There are free blogging tools such as Wordpress.com and Blogger.com. Almost all microblogs are free such as Tumblr and Twitter. Video sites such as YouTube are free to upload and host your videos. Utterli is a free solution to podcasting. So when it comes to costs, the tools are downright affordable.

The other cost often associated with SMM is consulting. Few nonprofits have staff on board who are familiar enough with social media to assemble an integrated social media toolset for the organization. Consultants in this area aren't cheap, however, those who work with nonprofit organizations are sensitive to cost and can develop a basic foundation of social media tools to get started for a reasonable price.

Ideas: Many nonprofits have staff members or volunteers who are very familiar with social media - and they might even be the teens or 20-somethings who tend to get overlooked when it comes to marketing initiatives. One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits can make today is to fail to tap into the digitally savvy young people in their circle. Elevating them to "Social Media Coordinator" could bring much needed knowledge and energy to the fore.

2. Time

Social Media Marketing takes time, there's no doubt about it. But does it have to be unmanageable madness? Of course not. If an organization takes the time or invests in a consultant's time to set up a compact set of social media tools - a blog, a microblog, and a handful of social networks or media sharing sites - they can immediately begin tapping into the conversations that are already happening online without them.

If all of those tools are integrated and inter-connected, then it will take even less effort to manage and maintain them.

Ideas: Make sure all social media accounts are set up using a single email address, preferably one dedicated to Social Media Marketing and not somebody's work or personal email. Managing emails is much easier when all social media correspondence and friend requests go into a single pool. Take advantage of email filters to more quickly sift through the emails that need to be addressed versus the ones that can simply be archived.

3.  Capacity

Part of the "capacity solution" was addressed in #1 - tapping into the resources you have but may be overlooking.

I know of an organization that has a 20-something person passionately engaged in social media and actively interested in helping with social media initiatives at work. However, the social media duties have been assigned to a person who is unfamiliar with the technologies and sites. While that person is a highly qualified marketing person who can engage in strategic thinking, they are uncomfortable with social media. Therefore, the organization has missed powerful opportunities to engage and grow their membership and increase their brand visibility because they've failed to tap into the right resources for the job.

Another way to address the capacity issue is to outsource the upkeep of SMM to a volunteer. With the proper setup and with clear written guidelines, a volunteer could be put to good use going through the organization's SMM email account and taking action where needed.

Social Media Marketing can be a cost-effective and time-efficient way to reach out to potential funders and constituents. Make sure you know your audience. Survey them to see if they have a MySpace page or Facebook account or if they Twitter or blog or even if they prefer email to regular mail. You'd be surprised how many people have shifted the way they want to hear from you, but you just haven't asked.

How are you changing the way you are reaching out to your funders? Your constituents?




The Conference of Young Alaskans took place Jan 3-6. Fifty-five young Alaskans from across the state met in Girdwood to talk about their thoughts on the state.

A relevant blog post worth reading is here:

Because Things in the Game Done Changed: Why Nonprofits Need Generation Y Leadership in an Uncertain Economy

Here are some local links to coverage about the conference:

Conference of Young Alaskans - KTVA

Conference of Young Alaskans Under Way - Juneau Empire

Conference of Young Alaskans In Full Swing - APRN

 




Anchorage - Eight Alaska nonprofit leaders have been selected for the 2009 Rasmuson Sabbatical Program, and they are:  

Lynne Ballew, Safe Harbor Inn
Christine Bauman
, Sitkans Against Family Violence
Tammy Bidwell
, Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center
Joyanna Geisler
, Independent Living Center - Homer
Katherine Gottlieb
, Southcentral Foundation
David McClure
, Bristol Bay Housing Authority
Jonathon Ross, Alaska Native Heritage Center
Nicole Songer
, Cordova Family Resource Center  

The Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical Program is designed to provide time for nonprofit leaders to refresh and rejuvenate. The sabbatical is to be used for personal growth and reflection, according to Diane Kaplan, President of the Rasmuson Foundation.  

"Non profit leaders often work long hours helping others or operating programs that benefit the public. They experience emotional as well as physical effects from their work. Taking a sabbatical offers them an opportunity to spend quality time with their family, step back to gain new perspective on their organization and renew themselves," she said.  

Lynne Ballew is Founder and Project Director of Safe Harbor, Alaska's first and only nonprofit motel for homeless families and people with disabilities. She will use the time for rest and relaxation, and to "let go." She said, "sooner or later, every founder's vision must give way to the realities of time, change and subsequent management with the hope the cherished work finds able and imaginative curators," she said. Her absence will allow others to assume more responsibility and ownership of the program. Safe Harbor is located in Anchorage. 

Christine Bauman, Executive Director, Sitkans Against Family Violence, has led the organization for four years and has continuously worked in domestic violence services for many years . Bauman oversees management of a 25-bed residential program serving victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. She recently attended a workshop on vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. "I was only mildly surprised that I exhibited the symptoms of burnout. I love my job, but it is wearing me down. A significant break will allow me enough time to full recover and rejuvenate," she said.                                                               

Tammy Bidwell, Executive Director, Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center, began working there in 1987 as a Family Teacher. She believes the sabbatical will permit "time for relaxation and solitude." She says it has become difficult to separate her personal and professional life, and that taking a break will allow her to "continue the same level of efficiency and productivity that being a nonprofit executive director requires." She will spend time with family. With a staff of 25, the Community Care Center provides services to emotionally and mentally disturbed adolescents in a group home setting.  

Joyanna Geisler, Executive Director, Independent Living Center in Homer, has served in that role for 17 years guiding the program's growth to a million dollar service budget. She will use her Sabbatical to focus on health, connect with friends and family, and "relax, have fun and come back energized and ready to get back to work." The Independent Living Center trains people with disabilities to develop personal living skills.  

Katherine Gottlieb, President and CEO, Southcentral Foundation, has been a health care leader in the Alaska Native community for nearly three decades. She manages more than 1,000 professionals in a complex health care delivery system serving 46,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians in 55 urban and rural communities spread across southcentral Alaska. Her Sabbatical will allow her three months away from these responsibilities. 

Dave McClure, Executive Director, Bristol Bay Housing Authority, has worked in his position for 15 years. He embraces the sabbatical to "evaluate his experience and return with clarity of mind to focus on new and ongoing endeavors with a renewed perspective." The Dillingham-based housing authority manages 500 homes and apartments with 22 new units in development.  

Jonathon Ross, President and CEO, Alaska Native Heritage Center, intends to use his sabbatical to learn the Dena'ina language from elders on the Kenai Peninsula. "There has not been a single person in many years who has gone from not knowing any of the Dena'ina language to being fluent. I hope to be the first of many." The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a 26-acre facility with year round programs and exhibits telling the story of Native cultures and histories to more than 110,000 visitors each year.  

Nicole Songer, Executive Director, Cordova Family Resource Center, is on call seven days a week to oversee and staff the 24-hour help line. "The sabbatical will give me time to refresh myself, learn new things and take time to reunite physically and emotionally with my family," she says. "After seven years of this occupation with minimum leave, my family needs me and I am in need of a break."   

The next postmark deadline to apply for a Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical is October 1, 2009. Details about the Sabbatical Program, guidelines for preparing a proposal, and application materials are available online at www.rasmuson.org  or by calling (907) 297-2700. The toll free number within Alaska is 1-877-366-2700.  

About the Foundation The Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband E.A. Rasmuson.  Through grantmaking and initiatives, the Foundation is a catalyst to promote a better life for all Alaskans.




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