Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

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Each year the Nonprofit Finance Fund conducts a survey that provides a view of the sector from a variety of angles. We encourage you to participate, as does the National Council of Nonprofits. Once the survey is compiled, the information can be used in many ways -- as support for advocacy programs, to inform the public through the media, and to demonstrate the significant value of the sector to the vitality of communities. 

Results can be filtered by states, so the information from this survey is an excellent supplement to other research Foraker conducts, such as the ISER study on the impact of the sector on Alaska's economy. You can view the results for Alaska from the 2013 survey by clicking here.

Click here to get started. It will take about 15 minutes to complete. You'll be adding important information to our overall knowledge of the sector, both nationally and here in Alaska.

Thank you.

Many people, even those with a financial background, have difficulty with the nonprofit sector’s accrual accounting standards. Most of us think in terms of cash accounting: Do I have enough money in the bank or do I need to charge it? With accrual accounting, it can be easy to believe your organization has enough cash, only to discover that what seemed to be a healthy bottom line was masked by restricted funding.

Nonprofit organizations cannot be sustained without a financial reserve. A quick way to gauge this important part of sustainability is to look at the unrestricted income and reserves. Are they clearly presented in your organization’s financials? Are they adequate?

Determining the appropriate amount of unrestricted funds for an organization depends on several factors, including the goals outlined in the strategic and other organizational plans, historical and projected cash flow, and the organization’s ability to manage emergencies. Some nonprofits seek a three-month operating reserve as a cushion for tough times – others want up to a one-year reserve. Whatever the amount, it should be sufficient to allow the board and staff to manage cash flow and accomplish their vision.

Look at your reserve account. Does it allow you to implement your strategic and annual plans during tough times?


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

Posted in Nonprofit News.    

Nonprofit Quarterly is a publication we depend on here at Foraker for news and analysis on issues affecting the sector. That's why we were pleased last week to receive the NPQ Cohen Report in which author Rick Cohen listed what he believes are the top stories from 2013 with implications for the nonprofit sector.

Click here to review Rick's list. Let us know if you would add any stories.

As we close out 2013 and look forward to 2014, we’re especially grateful for the response we have received to our book Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journeywhich was released during the Leadership Summit in April. Through the generosity of the Rasmuson Foundation we were able to provide everyone who attended the summit with a copy of the book. We hope by now you’ve all had a chance to read it and perhaps put some of the suggestions about sustainability into effect in your organization.

We appreciate the many positive comments we’ve received about Focus on Sustainability. We are currently selling it on Amazon and have been getting orders from all over the country. People who have read the book are encouraging us to keep spreading the word that it’s available. You can help with that.

When you have a few minutes, please post a short review and rate the book on Amazon. All you need to post a review is an Amazon account. It will help us greatly move up in the Amazon ratings and attract more attention to the message of sustainability.

Please let us know if you have any questions or need help. We truly appreciate your support.


Here are the critical tools to determine whether or not you can successfully build and enhance key partnerships.

  • A strategic plan – Outline where partnerships can strengthen mission.
  • An operating plan – Outline where partnerships can strengthen annual goals and priorities.
  • A business plan – Outline where partnerships can strengthen mission, complement human capacity, and allow the organization to increase and/or conserve funds.
  • A fund development plan – Focus on partnerships that emphasize donor relationships as a core fundraising philosophy.
  • A marketing and communications plan – Focus on the impact of the organization through stories, and outline tactics to engage stakeholders in telling their mission-connected stories.
  • Current letters of agreement – Outline letters of agreement or memorandums that ensure an understanding with mission-connected stakeholders.

What key steps can your board and staff take this year to build strategic partnerships?


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

It’s January, and at this very moment thousands of Alaskans are online filing for their next Permanent Fund Dividend check. In last month's newsletter, Dennis provided a quick reminder for Pick.Click.Give., which included several steps to increase participation. In this article, he suggests a few more simple tactics to raise more money and increase donations to all participating nonprofits. Click here for more.

Foraker has been conducting surveys to support human resources management since 2002. It’s a service our Partners depend upon to make decisions about salaries and benefit programs.

The next survey will launch soon. It is now conducted online, making it much easier to complete and tabulate.

You will receive a notice when the survey is ready. We look forward to having as many organizations participate as possible.

Perhaps the best way to show how partnerships trump competition is our own Foraker story. When The Foraker Group was founded, we were concerned that other professionals who supported nonprofits would perceive us as having an unfair competitive advantage because of our tax status or our relationships with funders. But the job of building capacity for nonprofits is a big job in Alaska and we knew from the start that we could not do this work alone. Early in our development, our board and staff looked for the right balance in relation to other providers. One of our values is collaboration, and we knew we had to walk the talk. We decided never to respond to a proposal for work where we intentionally would compete with our colleagues.

Our approach has been to share our theory of change for building capacity, and from time to time we have even contracted with our “competitors” to increase our own capacity. We found that in many cases these outside consultants found value in our methods. Now, Foraker clients who also work with our colleagues benefit from a more aligned approach to improving their organizational capacity.

Part of a nonprofit’s increased capacity is the ability to identify its partners. Like a mall that has two or three magnet stores, each selling similar products, we develop more business for everyone through partnership than if we had tried to monopolize the market. We are not in competition. We are interdependent.

Who are your top strategic partners who help make your mission work effectively? 


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

Inevitably, when nonprofit leaders talk about partnerships, someone brings up the notion of competition. They may say that partnering is great, but even nonprofits have to look out for competitors if they want to be sustainable.

Three of the four factors of nonprofit sustainability – focus, right people, and unrestricted funds – are arguably the same as those needed in the for-profit world. Yet while many “best practices” in that universe make sense in the nonprofit sector, one major difference exists – in the need to compete. In the for-profit realm, consumers can benefit from competition. In the nonprofit sector, competition, especially between organizations with a similar purpose, can have a negative impact on the consumer as well as on the nonprofit’s relationships with partners and funders. Conversely, partnerships can help nonprofit organizations manifest their focus. It is simply not possible to fully achieve most nonprofit goals without collaboration.

Organizations who work as partners do better than organizations that compete. A nonprofit does not have to compete to survive – but its leaders are wise to constantly examine their own performance against benchmarks and actively compete internally to improve capacity and their ability to adapt.

Well-conceived partnerships allow organizations to stay true to their core purpose and values while complementing their human capacity, saving or raising more funds, and, most importantly, serving their communities more effectively than if they worked alone.

While some organizations have difficulty with collaboration, many are willing to take a wide view on ways to achieve mission through partnerships. We should not be fostering a sector where organizations compete against one another. The better nonprofits understate and create thoughtful partnerships, the better they can improve the quality of life in their communities.

What conversations do you think need to occur between board and staff to encourage effective partnerships in your community?


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

Collaboration requires that each organization engage with thought and intent, understanding the risks and increasing trust as it moves toward more formal partnerships and beyond. Leaders who engage in collaboration understand that the true objective is not to serve a community by combining two or more organizations. Instead, it is to truly redefine the conversation in an effort to achieve greater good. The form of partnership then simply is determined by the legal construct that best serves the good.

Another way to view the options for partnerships is found in the 1997 study Beyond Collaboration: Strategic Restructuring of Nonprofit Organizations by David La Piana in cooperation with the James Irvine Foundation and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. It outlines four options that nonprofits could consider when thinking about engaging in new structures.

  • Joint ventures – when multiple organizations formally cooperate to provide a new or enhanced service.
  • Back-office consolidations – when multiple organizations combine internal support services like finance or human resources.
  • Fiscal sponsorships – when an organization with a broad mission serves as the fiscal agent for a new initiative or organization.
  • Mergers – when two or more organization are combined into a single entity.

The most successful partnerships are those in which board and staff members at the participating organizations respect and communicate with each other, identify roles and responsibilities, possess a common vision, and solve problems together.

How do you think the core values of an organization set the tone for partnerships?


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

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