Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

The Foraker Group Blog

Nonpartisanship – a core principle of charitable nonprofits – is under attack in Washington, DC. Last week we let you know about efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a part of the U.S. tax code that prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from engaging in partisan politics. Foraker has gone on record and notified our congressional delegation that we oppose the repeal. You can read our statement here.

We need nonprofits across Alaska to show their support, too, for this important provision that has protected our work from divisive partisanship for more than 50 years. The National Council of Nonprofits has organized a campaign to get organizations around the country to sign the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship.

Bills pending in Congress would repeal or significantly weaken the current law’s longstanding protections by inviting charitable and philanthropic organizations to endorse or oppose candidates for elected office and divert some of their assets away from their missions to instead support partisan campaigns. This would damage public trust in the work of nonprofits. And changes in the law just aren’t necessary. Nonprofits and their staff, board members, and volunteers already have many legal avenues to freely express their views on a wide range of public policy issues through existing laws that allow for advocacy of our missions to policymakers.

We encourage you to go to the National Council website and learn more about this important issue. Then join Foraker in signing the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship. This letter will be delivered to our U.S. Representatives and Senators to show them that charitable nonprofits, including religious institutions and foundations, along with businesses that support our work are united in opposition to efforts to politicize our community.

In our recent Foraker newsletter, we invited you to share with us your perception of the operating climate for Alaska nonprofits in 2017. This is a time of transition and we want to know how you’re doing and what we can do to help you effectively carry out your mission. What are your greatest challenges? What are your concerns? What changes do you anticipate? How are you planning? We’re interested, too, in learning your thoughts on the economy and the national landscape.

First we need to hear from you. Please take a few minutes to fill out our Navigating 2017 survey. The information and perspectives you provide will help us plan how we can best serve you and your organization.

This is an anonymous survey. We may use some of the comments you offer in the survey summary, but no comments will be associated with your organization.

This survey will be open until Friday, April 7. We encourage you to participate so we have a broad base of information on the issues facing our sector. We will publish a summary of the survey findings in our May newsletter.

Click here to start the survey.

Both the U.S. House and Senate are considering a repeal of provisions in the U.S. tax code that prohibit 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from engaging in partisan politics. The so-called Johnson Amendment has been part of the tax code since the 1950s. Foraker issued a statement today opposing this repeal, saying that:

“In very real terms, the current legislation (S. 264 in the Senate and H.R. 781 and H.R. 172 in the House) would politicize the sector, subjecting nonprofits and foundations to demands for campaign contributions (thereby diverting donors’ money away from mission-related work to benefit politicians). Not only would repeal damage public trust in the work of nonprofits, it would threaten the impartiality and independence of our sector and our requirement, as written in statue, to “do good” – both of which are valued by nonprofits.”

You can read our full statement here.

The National Council of Nonprofits is taking aggressive steps to push back the movement to repeal. You can read a summary of their actions here.

We urge you, too, to take action. The National Council has developed a Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship. Foraker has signed this letter. We encourage you to read it, talk over the issue with your board, and make your voice heard.

If you have questions about this threat to nonprofit nonpartisanship, please contact Foraker Vice President and Director of Public Policy Mike Walsh,

Join us at the 2017 Leadership Summit and learn from the best. Early bird registration ends TODAY! Click here to register.

Katie Orenstein,  The OpEd Project

Katie writes and speaks frequently about the intersection of media and mythology – that is, what we think is fact or fiction and how that shapes our ideas about politics, culture and history. She has contributed to the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald. She has lectured at Stanford and appeared on ABC TV World News, Good Morning America, MSNBC, CNN and NPR. A graduate of Harvard (BA) and Columbia (MA) universities, she is the author of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.” Orenstein has worked around the world and particularly in Haiti, where she reported, consulted with the United Nations, and worked with a team of human rights lawyers to assist victims of military and paramilitary violence in seeking justice. She is a recipient of The Diana P Scott Integrity in Action Award, and a fellowship from Echoing Green, which selected The OpEd Project as one of the most innovative social enterprises worldwide, out of 1500 applicants.


Katie’s session:

Your Voice in Thought Leadership

Katie’s session is designed to share the tools of powerful argument, to generate concrete results, and to inspire and cultivate a sense of social responsibility by empowering participants to see their potential impact on the world. In this interactive workshop, Katie will address the core questions of thought leadership. Participants will walk away with bold ideas, a deeper sense of what they, as well as their colleagues, know and stand for, and actionable steps. **Participants who attend the interactive keynote will be eligible to be selected for a complimentary seat to a full-day OpEd Project “Write to Change the World” workshop.**




The 2017 Leadership Summit is right around the corner! Join us April 3 & 4 at the Hotel Captain Cook for two days of workshops. Richard Evans, a favorite from the 2015 Leadership Summit, is a national thought-leader on resilience and adaptive change.

Richard Evans, EmcArts, Inc.

Prior to founding EmcArts, Richard held senior positions in performing arts management and philanthropy in the UK and the USA.  His research, program design and facilitation emphasize organizational resilience and adaptive change in the arts and culture sector, and effective ways that individuals and organizations can lead change in complex adaptive systems. As a unique service agency, EmcArts designs and facilitates programs that support individuals, organizations, and communities on their journey to becoming highly adaptive as they take on their most complex challenges. Programs in the US and Canada include Community Innovation Labs, which integrate the arts into rigorous processes of local system change, as well as the multi-city New Pathways for the Arts initiative and Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators (ALACI).

Richard’s Sessions:

A Path to Resilience: Balancing Stability and Adaptability

In a time when resources can seem scarce and risks high, our organizations get tugged in two contrary directions. Should we hedge our bets, hunker down for now and focus on trying to develop more stability? Or is this the very time to look at new ideas, try some experiments, and search for unexpected opportunities? In EmcArts’ experience over the last ten turbulent years for nonprofits, we’d say the most generative answer to these questions lies in not being seduced by either attractor, but rather accepting and exploring the ongoing paradox of these simultaneous truths. We cannot afford to think of either option as a safe harbor because any singular approach, pursued on its own, will prove an unreliable and insufficient response to the conditions we face. The Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model embraces this paradox – the complex challenge of re-invoking our founding principles (being clear who we are) even as we develop more flexibility around our direction (knowing we cannot predict nor plan our way into the future). Innovation, it turns out, is as much about radical renewal as it is about radical departure. And, fundamentally, it’s about being able to recognize which of these to pursue and when. The journey, then, really is home. And it’s the strength of adaptive capacity in our organizations that is the surest sign of our resilience. “We cannot discover new lands,” said André Gide, “without first consenting to lose sight of the shore.” It is on this extended journey that our sea change is to be found.

The Roots of Innovation: Addressing Complex Challenges

In this interactive workshop, Richard will engage participants around the complex challenges that the nonprofit sector faces in a time of rapid and uncertain change. From the perspectives of both their individual organizations and the sector as a whole, participants will focus on identifying and exploring complex challenges – the kinds of challenges that have persisted despite our best efforts, and where there are no readily apparent “best practices” we can adopt. Participants will question existing organizational assumptions and identify evidence that contradicts those assumptions, in order to develop bold new directions for future success, on which new strategies can be built. Participants will share their new strategic thinking and explore areas of shared interest in working adaptively toward a thriving future.

Facing Our Uncertainty About Uncertainty

Demanding though the work always is, there’s a degree of comfort in the familiar role of being a heroic leader, where you control most decision-making, provide certainty and maintain order. In the swirling complexities we now routinely face in our jobs, this kind of leadership is no longer as useful as it once was: the problems are so wicked, they say, that no single person, no matter how brilliant, can solve them on his or her own. But shifting from acting as an authority to serving as an adaptive leader doesn’t mean letting go of responsibility – in fact, it demands that we assume responsibility for continued uncertainty, that we facilitate our colleagues’ ability to live and make progress even in sustained ambiguity, and that we enable unheard voices to contribute to direction-setting. Adaptive leadership can be creative, thrilling, inclusive and transformational – if we can let go of old assumptions, adopt an experimental mindset, and embrace the heat of idea conflict. In this session, Richard will distinguish adaptive leadership from authority, consider how to lead effectively in complexity, and engage participants in active rehearsal of essential new leadership practices.

Steve Patty was a participant favorite at the 2015 Leadership Summit. He’s back this year with 3 sessions on focus, change, and evaluation.

Steve Patty, Ph.D. – Dialogues in Action

Steve spent over 13 years as a professor and administrator in higher education before stepping out of the university to work with nonprofits. For the past ten years, he has been developing the capacity of agencies that work with people to design strategy, develop people, and evaluate impact. He has taught thousands of leaders throughout North America and internationally how to design and implement a kind of evaluation that gets below the surface and into the heart of human change and transformation. He has also been facilitating leadership development cohorts for public and nonprofit leaders in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He is an author and conference speaker.

Steve’s Sessions:

How to Be Focused

There is so much to do. There is so much pulling on our attention all the time. At some time or another, most of us feel overwhelmed by the needs around us. How do you know what to focus on? How do you decide what to give your attention to? How can you tell what kinds of strategies will have the most impact? How can you and those around you stay connected to the meaning of your mission? This takes focus. This takes the ability to gather, energize, and mobilize people with focused intention. In this session, we will use a model for intentionality to create and clarify a sense of aim, method, and motive. At the end of this session, you will have a model to focus any initiative you lead. You will also have an articulation of intention for one area of your leadership that needs more focus.


Immunity to Change

Why is it so hard for people to grow, even in the areas where they deeply desire to grow? Why is it so difficult for each of us to change in the parts of our lives and leadership we want to change? Have you ever wondered why real and durable growth is so difficult for us to attain? The task of helping people make progress on life and leadership challenges is one we all face. To truly change, people must grapple with the hidden assumptions that complicate their thinking and inhibit their progress. In this session, we will utilize a technique called “immunity to change” to reveal what’s in the way of our best intentions. Through the session, we will explore our own competing commitments and design experiments to test those assumptions and release the potential within us. We will also explore how to help others identify and engage their inhibiting assumptions.


Getting to What Matters: On Designing Evaluation

All of us who work with people need a way both to prove and to improve our impact in the lives of those we serve. We need data to demonstrate what we are doing is making a difference. We also need data to illuminate areas where we can get better and to show us how to get better. Too often we are influenced by a singular anecdote, an idea like program satisfaction, or superficial metrics that miss the deeper, more durable, more meaningful aspects of human progress and development. We need better ways to evaluate what really matters. This session will provide ideas and models that have been used in hundreds of nonprofits across North America to design and implement meaningful program evaluation.


Join us at the Leadership Summit on April 3 & 4.  David Ehrlichman and David Sawyer’s workshops will guide you in establishing and maintaining complex collaborations.

David Ehrlichman, Converge for Impact

At Converge for Impact, David works to catalyze others to make their greatest contribution. Specializing in designing, leading, and evaluating networks and other forms of complex collaborations, he has helped build impact networks across the environmental, healthcare, education, economic, and civic sectors.

He was previously the lead Network Manager for the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network, as well as the Network Manager for the James Irvine Foundation New Leadership Network. He recently helped to design and launch the UCSF Health Coordination of Care Network, the Financial Advantage Network, and the Government Performance Consortium, and has supported and evaluated numerous other complex collaborations across the country. He is also the author of multiple published articles in Stanford Social Innovation Review including Five Steps to Building an Effective Impact Network and The Tactics of Trust.

David holds a B.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University and lives in Seattle, Washington.

David Sawyer, Converge for Impact

David is a strategy guy for a better world, specializing in strategy, leadership, culture, networks, design, and systems thinking. His work focuses on helping teams, groups, and organizations function with peak effectiveness to achieve outstanding results. He is active across all sectors and has played key roles in a variety of fields: education reform, national service, social entrepreneurship, women and girls, venture philanthropy, and environmental preservation.

David’s contributions include facilitating The New Generation Training Program and other national leadership programs, helping to launch the nation’s AmeriCorps program, and leading a community delegation to the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future. Sawyer spent four years working with energy company BP, coaching senior leaders, designing the cultural integration of the BP/ARCO merger, and facilitating a conference on global climate change in Washington. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


D. Ehrlichman & D. Sawyer sessions: 

How to Make Complex Collaborations Work

We live in a world of problems that are so complex — so tangled up with other problems, so non-linear, ambiguous, and volatile — that they defy solutions and cannot be effectively addressed by any one organization or even by any one sector. This session will demonstrate, through a series of experiential exercises, how to make complex collaborations work, both within organizations and across sectors. The session will begin with an overview of the network roadmap including key strategies and design components necessary for effective collaboration. We will then lead you through an interactive simulation demonstrating how to establish a strong foundation upon which collaborative efforts can live up to their potential and drive sustained impact on complex social issues.

How to Build Trust for Impact – The Critical Ingredient of Successful Collaboration

The single most important factor that determines the long-term success of networks and collaborative efforts of all kinds is not strategy, structure, systems, or technology, but rather the quality and strength of the relationships that develop between its members. Contrary to popular belief, participants in a complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years. Through a series of experiential exercises and simulations, our session will demonstrate how to rapidly and effectively develop trust for impact between diverse stakeholders to catalyze meaningful collaboration on complex social issues, even despite intense personal disagreements and professional differences.



What are you hearing? This is a consistent question I am getting. It is a good one because the question in itself tells us a lot about the state many of us are feeling – uncertainty, unpredictability. In 2009, we talked about a “new normal” in reference to the national economy after the downturn in the stock market. Our new normal today is measured more by what we don’t know. We are asking each other “what are you hearing?” I’m asking the same thing from other people. We crave certainty so that we can respond accordingly. Alas, we have a new normal.

That said, one thing I am hearing, which I have been writing about frequently, as have others across the country, is the resurgence of civic engagement.

By sheer numbers, the chances are good that you are engaged in your community. Americans by the thousands are calling, emailing, and writing their elected officials, they are stepping up to volunteer and to donate to the causes that matter the most to them, and they are self-organizing. These are all forms civic engagement – all ways to step in and step up.

What does civic engagement mean?  When I searched the web for the definition of civic engagement, I got 3,740,000 results. This seems appropriate as with most things in civil society, the definition is largely in the eyes of the beholder. However, there are a few things I know to be true about any of these definitions: (1) the nonprofit sector is intricately woven within and through the action of civic engagement, and (2) generally speaking, the act of being engaged is a positive sign of democracy in action. Knowing these two things, I willingly jump into invitations to have conversations about how Alaskans can be more connected to their communities.

Considering a previous newsletter article I wrote earlier this year about finding focus in one word, I was intrigued when a colleague shared her answer, which was inspired by the work of Stephen Covey, to focusing her civic engagement by explaining a simple Venn diagram. The point of engagement is where one has both concern and the locus of control to have an impact on that concern. This seems like an antidote to the myriad number of issues facing us as a state and a nation. It also seems to address the consistent refrain I hear about how to manage the high level of uncertainty we face as a sector while charting a path forward in a productive way. Placing this idea in my list of highly useful tools, I set out to test the concept.

I can describe my latest encounter on this journey as the “meaningful entertainment” at a house party. This is not how I would normally describe my work. However, in this case the event organizers were a group of young professionals who were ready to do something more meaningful in their community but felt like they needed some additional conversations and process to pick their next step. Yea! They gathered about 30 of their friends and acquaintances for a fun and serious evening. During the course of the evening, I walked them through a process we called Getting Engaged in Your Community: Values-based Volunteerism. I am sharing this with all of you because in the process of creating this experience, I developed a complementary framework to the Venn diagram that seemed to resonate above the din of the Google search definitions and got people in a place where meaningful next steps could occur. I have since shared this a few more times and used it for a handful of facilitated discussions. In each instance, like most things at Foraker, it isn’t overly complicated but when pondered it can offer many levels of consideration. Here is the framework:

Civic Engagement – Places and Action

  • Government: vote, serve on boards or commissions, run for public office (community council, school board, local, tribal, state, federal governments)
  • Nonprofits: volunteer as unpaid staff, on boards, at an event – seasonal, skilled, or novice offerings – donate
  • Coalitions: participate in think tanks, advocacy, projects, programs
  • Grassroots groups: volunteer for a phone bank, give public testimony, march, write letters
  • Neighborhood actions: help your neighbor, take part in crime watch, form little libraries, pick up litter, volunteer to tutor, help in your local school
  • Online: sign petitions, share, connect, send, like causes and issues that matter to you

A few thoughts about this list:

  • Government: This option is fairly self explainatory. Vote (if you can), advocate for others to vote. Pay attention and take action in every election. Take a step and serve on a government run board or commission or run for office. The path can be circuitous at times, making the choice to engage all the more difficult. However, the rewards for helping your community can be big. Stand-up and exercise your rights.
  • Nonprofits: The list of options is long and the volunteer roles are endless. Often the hardest choice is finding the right organization to match your skills, interest and time. Jump in and activate the greater good.
  • Coalitions: Generally framed as collective action to support the greater good, coalitions are as much about process as about results. The rewards and challenges are found in each aspect. Group up for a stronger voice.
  • Grassroots groups: Action is the name of the game and that game often has an underlying or obvious political frame of reference. Embrace the energy. Sign-up to stand up.
  • Neighborhood action: From pushing your neighbor out of a snow bank to neighborhood watch or community school particpation, these often smaller acts of kindness add up to big results in creating community, one neighborhood at a time. Step-up and lend a hand.
  • Online: Sometimes framed by the skeptical as “clicktavism” there can be a lot of power harnessed in the petitions, online shopping or boycotting, communicating and networking of the virtual world. For the less cynical this is grassroots work in a technological format. Sign-in and sign-on.

Democracy and our civil society are at their best when we engage our whole self – when we find that place where we can be active and be heard. Throughout this newsetter and through our blogs this month we are highlighting several ways for you to consider finding that connection between concern and control and engaging in a way that works for you. These include using your voice and walking with your feet and taking action. Will you do them all? Join us.

  • Donate through Pick.Click.Give. to Alaska nonprofits when you file for your PFD. To get inspired, read a recent commentary in the Alaska Dispatch News from Diane Kaplan, President/CEO of Rasmuson Foundation, and Nina Kemppel, President/CEO of the Alaska Community Foundation. Give cash to make change in your community today and every day.
  • Take our “mood survey” and let us know how you are feeling about your mission, the economy, and a variety of public policy issues.
  • Amplify your voice with your local Alaska representatives and help them know how cutting the nonprofit sector will hurt not help the economy. You’ll find helpful talking points here.
  • Sign up now for the Foraker Leadership Summit. We have a fantastic line-up of national colleagues who are ready to engage, inspire, and challenge our perspectives so we can all find the balance between stability and resiliency.

There are so many ways to engage. And we can each find our own way to take action in the new normal of uncertainty. The trick is to discover what works for you – what brings you certainty that you are finding the place where your concerns and your control meet. I hope you will take some of the steps I have offered. If not, I hope you will share what action you will take next. Effective civic engagement requires all of us to take part.

Take a sneak peak at our conference offerings. Remember, early bird registration ends March 17!

Akaya Windwood, Rockwood Leadership Institute

In her work at Rockwood Leadership Institute, Akaya provides transformative leadership trainings for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations globally. She is a partner in the Opportunity Collaboration, an international conference that convenes leaders working to end poverty, directs the Mycelium Fund, which makes small grants to nonprofit organizations based on generosity and interconnectedness, and is faculty on the RSF Social Finance Integrated Capital Fellowship. Akaya has been a featured speaker at the Stanford Social Innovation Institute, the Aspen Institute, and the Association of Black Foundation Executives conferences. She received an Ella Award from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and is deeply committed to working for a fair and equitable global society while infusing a sense of purpose, delight and wonder into everything we do. Akaya lives in Oakland, California where she reads science fiction and relishes growing enormous squash in her garden.

Akaya’s sessions:

People Matter

In our increasingly divided country, good leadership requires us to build authentic relationships with those who are both like us and those who differ from us in fundamental ways. Our capacity to skillfully navigate difference while celebrating our common humanity is what is needed to create the world we’re all working toward.

Stories are what make us human – they contain our histories, our current realities and our dreams of what will come. Prepare to listen to the stories of your colleagues and partners and to tell a bit of your own. Let us create a narrative and a vibrant picture of the future and take strong next steps in making that a reality.

Courageous Conversations

It is through good partnerships that we move our work forward. Good partnership often requires us to have conversations that may be uncomfortable or require some courage. Becoming skilled in courageous conversations is an important leadership responsibility, so come prepared to practice having a conversation that is important to your leadership and your work.

The 2017 Leadership Summit is right around the corner! Follow along as we highlight our outstanding speakers and post previews of their conference workshops.

Jeanne Bell, CompassPoint
As executive director of CompassPoint, Jeanne leads an integrated practice of 22 people who use teaching, coaching, consulting, peer learning, and research to advance social equity work in the Bay Area, throughout California, and across the country. She is a leading thinker and engaging national speaker on nonprofit finance and strategy. Jeanne is also very active in the nonprofit sector’s infrastructure – committed not only to the success of CompassPoint and its clients, but to the vibrancy of the progressive sector’s essential scaffolding. To this end, Jeanne serves on both the board of directors and the editorial advisory board of The Nonprofit Quarterly and has contributed numerous articles on finance and strategy to the publication. Other recent publications include UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising and The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions (Wiley).

Jeanne’s sessions: 

Breaking Bad Habits: Letting Go of What Just Does Not Work in Individual Fundraising

Jeanne will share the findings from two recent national studies she co-authored on nonprofit fundraising success – one on the endemic challenges many organizations face, and one on what we can learn from organizations who do it really well. Building on the data, we’ll explore what is often called a “culture of philanthropy,” or the way that successful nonprofits approach their year-round cultivation and stewardship of donors. Participants will have the chance to assess their own current fundraising successes and challenges and explore practical next steps for strengthening their fundraising programs.

Strategic Revenue Strategy: Committing to What Success Requires in Core Revenue Streams

Jeanne will facilitate a session to support your focus on the two to three revenue streams that actually align with and drive your organization’s success. Can you do better in your core streams and stop dabbling in others that take time but do not yield sufficient returns? What skills, systems, and culture do you need to invest in to thrive in your two to three revenue streams? How can you help your whole staff and board understand your organization’s revenue strategy and its implications for management and governance? We’ll explore these questions, and you will identify some near-term decisions and investments to strengthen your revenue strategy.