Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

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The National Council of Nonprofits has alerted us to a conference call to be conducted by the White House on Friday regarding the process for helping uninsured individuals enroll for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity for factual information on ACA and how it could affect your organization and constituents.

The call will occur on Friday, September 20, at 10:30 am Alaska time.

According to the White House, “this call will showcase some of the best practices for partnerships that will help to prepare uninsured Americans to enroll in health insurance through the marketplaces starting on October 1, 2013. Faith-based and other community groups are playing key roles in this work, and we look forward to discussing additional ways in which we might collaborate.”

You will need to register for the call. You can do that by clicking here. Once you register, a confirmation page will display dial-in numbers and a PIN. You will also receive an email confirmation with this information.

As a reminder, the Council has prepared various materials about the latest ACA developments to help keep you informed. You may find links to those on the Foraker website health insurance page.

Please call the Foraker office if you have questions at 907-743-1200.

It's come to our attention that rumors are being circulated about penalties for employers who don't notify their workers of health exchanges available under the ACA. We want to share the information below that came to us from the Alaska Chamber.

According to Jerry Geisel of, employers will not be fined by federal regulators if they fail to distribute to employees health care reform law model notices about the availability of public health insurance exchanges. 

Using a question-and-answer format, the U.S. Department of Labor said that while employers should provide such notices to employees by Oct. 1, "there is no fine or penalty under the law for failing to provide the notice."

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is clear that penalties cannot be imposed, "Internet-based rumors have circulated recently that employers could face penalties of up to $100 per day for failing to distribute the notice," Lockton Cos. L.L.C.'s health reform advisory practice said in a bulletin.

Remember that ACA covers both nonprofits and businesses. We have more information on how ACA affects nonprofits on the health insurance page of our website. Be sure to call us if you have questions.

Strategic thinking is important for all nonprofit leaders. It’s how they know what success looks like. Many put more emphasis on developing a strategic plan than on having ongoing strategic discussions. Looking ahead and adapting to the emerging environment is a critical behavior for sustainability. But in addition to ongoing discussion and reflection about the future, you also need a written strategic plan at least every five years.

The strategic plan we develop typically fits on one page. Brevity makes a plan more useful, memorable, and therefore more relevant to the actual operations of the organization. We believe it is critical that everyone is on the same page. The shorter the plan, the less likely the organization will stray from its core ideology.

Our strategic plan includes three sections: core purpose and values, an envisioned future (long-term goals), and three to five strategic directions (one to five year priorities). A one-page plan can easily remain at the forefront for all board and staff decisions. By avoiding detail, the plan encourages big picture thinking.

Boards should work at this strategic level. But it is important that boards not only develop the strategic direction, but each year identify and set priorities based on that direction. So, strategic planning and establishing annual priorities is the board’s responsibility. All other planning is the staff’s job. Staff should further define the big picture vision of the board through more detailed plans such as development, technology, marketing, human resources, facility operations and business planning. In most cases these staff-developed plans will require board comment and approval.

Share with us your process in getting your board engaged in big picture, strategic thinking.


Dennis McMillian is President of The Foraker Group, a nonprofit capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.

I think of my grandfather when I say, “I remember when….”

Well… I remember, I think it was in 1996, when Diane Kaplan dreamed one of her big dreams and promoted that vision to Ed Rasmuson.   [Read More... ]

An organization’s core purpose is described simply and succinctly, in just a few words. If you are a soup kitchen, your core purpose may be to feed the hungry. Core purpose does not try to differentiate your organization from others. In fact, many nonprofits have the same core purpose, but differ in their core values and activities.

Core values clarify purpose and make each organization unique. Using the soup kitchen example, the core values could be compassion, respect, and dignity. An organization’s core values usually revolve around what drove the founder to create the nonprofit in the first place. They go beyond organizational aspirations. A value is considered “core” when it remains true through the years and motivates the entire organization.

To use a bowling reference, if one envisions the core purpose as the pins at the end of the alley, the ultimate goal is to get a strike by knocking down all the pins. A gutter ball is not desirable. What would happen if bumpers were placed in the gutters so that every ball could be guaranteed to hit the target? Who would not want such an effective tool to avoid gutter balls and ensure higher scores?

Core values act as bumpers, guiding the bowling ball as it makes its way to the pins for a strike, or at least a spare. Succinct, clearly stated core purpose and core values, provide solid information to nonprofit leaders when determining direction. Every staff and board leader should be able to articulate the answer to “Who are we?” for their organization.

Share with us your organization’s core purpose and values.


Dennis McMillian is President of The Foraker Group, a nonprofit capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.

Oct. 1, 2013, is the deadline for applications to Rasmuson Foundation’s Sabbatical Program. Now entering its tenth year, the program offers an opportunity for nonprofit and tribal executives to take sabbaticals of two to six months.

Research shows that when nonprofit leaders engage in well-planned sabbaticals, the results can transcend the individual to reach the organization itself. An extended leave can lead to new perspectives for the leader, the board and staff, and often energizes organizational innovation. Learn more here and watch a short video highlighting some past sabbatical recipients.

Focus is maintained through good strategic planning and ongoing evaluation. Good planning and evaluation start with a written plan developed through a thoughtful planning process that involves the entire board and key staff. This written plan then becomes a tool to ensure that the organization knows why it was founded and where it is going. A written plan moves the organization in a unified direction and is firmly rooted in focus.

Research supports the notion that strategic planning is one of the most important jobs for an organization’s board of directors. A strategic plan not only helps board members articulate a clear understanding of their organization’s purpose and values, it describes where the organization is headed. We have found that helping nonprofit boards develop a strategic plan has become the service they most value. Strategic planning maps the way forward.

The planning model Foraker developed was adapted from the work of James Collins and Jerry I. Porras. In their book Built to Last and subsequent article in the Harvard Business Review, “Building Your Company’s Vision,” they describe how important it is for successful organizations to understand their core purpose and values.

Please share with our readers your experiences in developing your organization’s strategic plan and how your core purpose and values drove the process. Did focusing on those values and purpose provide a blueprint for the rest of the plan? Give us some examples of how you use your strategic plan to keep your board members focused on leading the organization forward.


Dennis McMillian is President of The Foraker Group, a nonprofit capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.

Focus can be measured by establishing that an organization is grounded in its purpose and values. Such grounding is accomplished by showing that every major action or decision directly links to purpose, values, and direction. A nonprofit’s key leaders should be able to articulate the answers to two critical questions – Who are we? and Where are we going?

To answer these questions, one must be honest about behavior. Some organizations go so far as to indicate which values an action connects to, or how an action links back to the core purpose. With clear focus, an organization can measure its efforts against its strategic direction and hold itself accountable. The result is better communication with the community, an increased ability to raise money, and a greater opportunity to attract the best people – board, staff, and volunteers.

The answer to the first question, Who are we? comes from gaining an understanding of why the organization was founded. What was its original purpose? What values drove its founders to take such a bold action? The answer to the second question, Where are we going? comes from forging a unified vision of where the organization must go in order to thrive.

How well an organization articulates these answers is vital. With focus, organizations are better able to recruit and retain board and staff, develop strategic partnerships with other organizations, and generate revenue. With focus, organizations run effective programs and deliver services that meet community needs. 


Dennis McMillian is President of The Foraker Group, a nonprofit capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.  

In 2008 we joined with the Rasmuson Foundation to launch a health benefit plan that was designed to create a healthier nonprofit sector in Alaska. We’re pleased that because of this program a number of Alaskans working in nonprofits can be covered by health insurance.

The Foraker Benefit Plan is now transitioning into a broader based program that will include nonprofit organizations and small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The reason this has occurred is due in large part to the Affordable Care Act. As part of the transition the name of the plan is changing to encompass this broader base. It is now known as the Alaska Small Business Wellness Program.

The elements of the Foraker plan that supported wellness will continue in the new program – as evidenced in its name. We’re proud of the hard work from many, along with Rasmuson’s financial support, that allowed the wellness initiatives to become an established part of the way we look at health coverage today. After five years of implementation, we know the wellness strategies work at controlling costs and creating a healthier work force. We consider that a significant accomplishment.

If you have questions about this transition or may be interested in becoming part of the program, please contact Rebecca Savidis at 907-743-1200, or email her at For more information on what this transition may mean to your coverage, please contact your insurance broker.

Our thanks to everyone who has supported the Foraker Benefit Plan over the past five years.

Posted in Advocacy.    

People who took part in the first two Catalyst cohorts say it made a huge positive change in their perspective on work, their approach to leadership, and literally in their lives. There’s still time for you to apply for this unique, dynamic program and experience your own personal renewal. Our deadline has been extended to Monday, August 26.

Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence is not your typical training or workshop. It’s not your typical anything. Instead Catalyst is a rare opportunity for nonprofit leaders to focus on themselves while getting the support they need from a cohort of peers. We’ve partnered with Context International to bring this program to Alaska.

Whether you are on top of your game or looking to take your skills and knowledge to the next level, you will measurably enhance your results and your experience of life when you participate in Catalyst. The program is open to senior leaders, funding officers, and board members with a commitment to the nonprofit sector. Learn more here.

If you still have questions, call our office and talk with Laurie or Andrew – or let us help you connect to a Catalyst graduate.

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