Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

The Foraker Group Blog

We are thrilled to have two new staff join our team. Monica Garcia-Itchoak has joined our team as a Lead Capacity Builder – she will be around the state working with our Partners on leadership support, collaboration, and civic engagement. Lailani Cook is our new Administrative Assistant – she will be behind the scenes coordinating the services you need and will be the friendly voice ready to help you when you call.

Monica Garcia – Itchoak
Lead Capacity Builder
Monica has over 26 years of nonprofit leadership with 16 years dedicated to the museum industry in Chicago and New York.  In 2010, she relocated to Alaska to join the Anchorage Museum as the Director of Education and Public Programs.  Since then, she has been an independent consultant and continues to participate on the Board of Directors at the Pratt Museum and Museums Alaska. She is an alumna of Leadership Anchorage (a program of the Alaska Humanities Forum) and Foraker’s Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence program.  Monica is dedicated to staying curious, lifelong learning, and mobilizing teams around collaborative ideas.





Lailani Cook
Administrative Assistant
Originally from Hawaii, Lailani and her family moved to Alaska on military orders in 2013. Lailani received a Bachelor’s in Music Education from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2017. Her experience with nonprofits in Alaska has primarily been with organizations that specialize in the arts, such as: Girls Rock Camp Alaska, the Alaska Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, the Alaska Chapter of the National Association for Music Educators, and the Alaska Fine Arts Academy. Being a part of the successes and struggles of these nonprofits are what led her to adapt her career goals to working towards a better future for Alaska’s nonprofits, especially those that focus on the importance of conserving the arts.

December is a strange mix in Alaska of extreme dark and the promise of new light on the Solstice. It is a time of reflection in a cozy curling-up space along with frenetic efforts to wrap up projects, connect with donors, and find time for joyful celebrations. It is a time of deep gratitude and wonderful surprises. I take all of this in and reflect on the fullness of the year with equal amounts of wondering “How did we get here so fast?” and “What’s next?”

So as December engulfs us, I am thinking about how we take the lessons from our year and bring them forward to light our way into 2018. At Foraker, 2017 has been a year of change. We have said hello and good-bye to wonderful staff. We have celebrated graceful transitions on our boards. We have created some new programs to engage nonprofit board, staff, and volunteers across the state, and we have willingly and strategically jumped into a public policy agenda. 2018 will be an equally focused year in public policy and we hope you are finding your voice as we stand for the nonprofit sector and its vital role in our democracy and in our economy.

It is an unprecedented time in our country where often the definition of “winning” is about keeping the structures of civil society in place. This is true with our efforts to leave the Johnson Amendment intact and preserve a 100-year tradition of tax incentives for charitable giving. The list is long on issues and processes that are not broken, but may need refining. There is also an equally long list of very broken systems that enable division, inequity, and fear – that make our work more critical and the path longer toward anything that looks like progress.

In 2018, we join you in knowing that there is so much at stake for our sector and the work that impacts life every day in America. We know you are working on the ground to meet your missions. At Foraker, we are working on the issues that connect us all like ensuring an accurate count in the 2020 census, strengthening our partnership as an economic driver in our communities, and building our ability to engage charitable donors in a meaningful way. We will also continue to focus on the rules that govern our work. Collectively and individually, we are going to need lots of energy in 2018.

So what brings you energy? We teach in our Certificate for Nonprofit Management program the concept of the VUCA world. VUCA, a term developed by the US War College, stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is not a new concept, but an apt way to describe our current reality. I don’t know about you, but this concept, while incredibly helpful in putting words to what is occurring, does not bring me energy. Instead, I am buoyed by the reframe of Bob Johansen who reminds us that to live in a VUCA world we need to adapt. His words instead are: vision, understanding, clarity, and agility. I encourage you to get connected to both of these concepts. In the meantime, I offer these four techniques as a way to find our footing as we gather the energy to lead into 2018 together.

  1. Hold a clear vision. Stay focused. There is a lot of noise in the world around us. There is much we can worry about. And some days, I think the system we operate in is set to keep us distracted so we can’t make progress. At our worst, we are so distracted from what matters most that we work against each other, and we dilute our collective powerful message. Find your energy in your vision. Get clear with yourself and with your team. Grow the team and engage others in that vision. Know what success looks like without getting lost in how you get there. Trust me – the way you think you will get there will change. Agree as a team to pick two goals, not ten. Write one plan, not five. Pick one word as your guide to act as your beacon in the storm. Distraction will keep you busy, but busy doesn’t solve the challenges we face. Let 2018 be the year of clarity.
  2. Focus on understanding. Listen to learn and then listen again. Understanding requires context and context means we have to know ourselves and know our ecosystem. We have our organizational missions and we the greater causes where our missions connect. What is the context for both of these? Use your eyes, use your emotional intelligence, use more than your ears and listen for the data that informs our cause and our mission. Most of us are lost in a blizzard of data with very little information. We need to “confront the brutal facts” as Jim Collins reminds us in Good to Great so that we can understand what truly matters most. We need to understand and discern the difference between data and opinion to know where our Mission fits in a larger world – to know what we should do more of, and what we should stop doing. Let 2018 be the year of facts.
  3. Seek clarity. The daily list of to-dos, the packed calendars, the meetings, the phone calls, the EMAIL! It is a wonder we save people’s lives, protect our planet, create economic opportunity, provide healthcare, keep the lights and the heat going for thousands of Alaskans, not to mention put out fires, respond to children, and produce incredible art. Nonprofit leaders – you do it all. But I know, every day the ability to find clarity of purpose in the midst of minutia is a challenge. Some days we each do it better than the day before or the day to come. Clarity is just as much about rising from the minutia to know our “why” as it is about plowing into the minutia with clear intent to learn something on the other end. The minutia of life can be savored when it means the clarity of a small child’s face or the vividness of color in the sky, but in the workplace it can steal our joy and rob our energy. Let’s commit to one another that we will boldly state our “why” with clarity and bring each other up for air. Let 2018 be the year of intent and purpose.
  4. Build your agility muscle. It’s almost the New Year, let’s build our energy and our strength to respond and approach challenges in a new way. Like any effort to build something new, we need to take it slow and have support. Building your ability to be agile means moving in a way that lets go of old notions of “we always did it that way,” and sets us up to approach different challenges in different – and more productive – ways. The challenges on your path are not created equal. What is effective in solving one challenge using a best practice or an expert will not work on our most complex issues. Your agility training needs to ensure we are ready to ask better questions, engage more and different people at our tables and take small, calculated risks that allow us to learn new things in this new world. No workout is ever easy, but this new muscle will bring us the energy most of us need to hold on to our vision, provide new understanding and give us clarity of purpose. Let 2018 be the year of renewed strength.

As we come into the new light of the year, I invite you to pick up your VUCA tools and lead into 2018 with peace in yourself, peace in your work, and peace with each other. We are gratefully in this work together.


The House and Senate have passed separate versions of tax reform (see a comparison chart here). The difference between the bills must be negotiated in what’s called a conference committee made up of a dozen or more Representatives and Senators. We write asking for your help in convincing Senator Murkowski and Representative Young, as members of the tax reform  conference committees, to preserve nonprofit nonpartisanship and to reject any changes to the Johnson Amendment.

Each bill contains multiple provisions that would harm the ability of charitable nonprofits to advance our missions. The most damaging is Section 5201 of the House-passed bill; it would radically change the longstanding, vital protection in law for nonpartisanship of charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations, known as the Johnson Amendment. Section 5201 would:

  • Create pressure on nonprofits to endorse or oppose candidates for public office.
  • Allow powerful donors to exert pressure on organizations to endorse or oppose candidates the donors prefer.
  • Make political donations – for the first time ever – tax-deductible when funneled through charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations.

Now is the time to contact Senator Murkowski & Representative Young.

Here is a sample script for this important message:

I’m a constituent and I’m calling in opposition to a very harmful provision in the tax bill that would weaken the Johnson Amendment and politicize charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations against our wishes. The harmful provision is Section 5201 of the House-passed tax bill that is now in a conference committee with the Senate. It is imperative that Senator Murkowski/Representative Young understand that the Johnson Amendment language in the House bill must be stripped from the final bill. Thank you.

Opportunities to learn more:

  • Join us for our Advocacy in Action call on December 13 at 9:00 am. Register here.
  • Sign up for our public policy alerts here.
  • GiveVoice (including history, resources, and links to statements, editorials, and op-eds from across the country)


Calling all new Executive Directors (0-3 years in the position)! Are you interested in working with an experienced mentor and a network of peers while exploring governance, financial management, and planning? Looking to cultivate a more effective relationship with your board? Apply for the Executive Leadership Initiative – a program designed to build on your strengths and tackle the challenges of running a successful nonprofit. The deadline to apply is December 15.

The Senate passed its version of the tax bill ‪on December 2. For those of you tracking the bill closely, here is how the issues that directly impact nonprofits stand in the House and Senate versions. There is more work ahead of us all. Thanks to the National Council of Nonprofits for their close analysis.


Alaska nonprofit staff, board, volunteers and donors:

As tax legislation moves through the U.S. Senate this week, some of the basic structures under which the nonprofit sector operates are facing significant changes.

For 100 years, through the U.S. tax code and its charitable giving incentive, Americans have been encouraged to donate to the causes that matter to them. If the Senate provision that raises the standard deduction is approved, 95% of us will lose that opportunity.  Additionally, partisan politics will likely enter into our charitable organizations, fundamentally compromising the nature of our work.

Yesterday, the National Council of Nonprofits issued an open letter to all of us.  As a member of the Council, I encourage you to take a moment and read the full letter. There may be certain parts of the tax bills that you support, but the pieces that impact the nonprofit sector are our focus. Our role at Foraker is to keep the public policy issues affecting the sector out in the open so that you can make the decisions that are right for your mission. I encourage you to stay informed, stay active, and most importantly to engage your whole organization in this conversation that will have an impact on every Alaskan.

An Open Letter to the Hundreds of Millions of Americans Who Have Worked for, Volunteered for, Donated to, or Benefited from the Work of a Charitable Nonprofit: i.e., every living person in the USA.

By Tim Delaney

Our tax system is a mess, we all know, so real reform would be welcome. But not like this. Congress could have opted to move the tax code in the direction of fairness. Instead, they have favored corporations and the wealthy. Congress could have acted to strengthen our communities. Instead, they are proposing to cut revenues that will lead to massive spending cuts at the federal, state, local, and nonprofit levels due to automatic cuts through sequestration.

The National Council of Nonprofits calls on you to protect the well-being of current and future generations by being America’s conscience; take three minutes as soon as you finish reading this plea to pick up the phone and call your Senators (202-224-3121) to tell them to vote NO on the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” bill and start over.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes personal exemptions and the standard deduction in a way that effectively denies 95 percent of taxpayers any tax incentive for giving back to their communities. The amount to which tax incentives drive donations can be disputed, but surely it will cut revenues some. Indeed, economists at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute report that the tax change would reduce giving by $13 billion to $20 billion every year. The same group estimates that changes in the estate tax will reduce giving to charitable purposes by another $4 billion.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will also add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years. We all know that rising deficit levels can and will be used to justify further program cuts, with real-world consequences. For every meal cut, shelter closed, or arts program eliminated as a result of spending cuts made in the name of deficit reduction, the tax bill would add to the unfunded mandates on charitable nonprofits and foundations to fill in the gaps. Congress will be imposing long-term suffering on our communities to secure what can, at best, be seen as short-term political gain.

The House tax bill, which passed, contains a particularly self-serving provision for politicians, a provision that would rip away the longstanding protection that all 501(c)(3) organizations—charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and private foundations—have had from demands by candidates for public office and their political operatives to drag us into the toxic political wasteland, diverting us from our proper missions. The Senate bill does not, yet, but as the New York Times noted earlier this week, it may get slipped into the Senate version as well. The overwhelming majority of nonprofits, including religious organizations, vigorously oppose this change. If a bill that rolled back the Johnson Amendment became law, nonprofits could be pressured to endorse politicians and therefore become explicitly partisan and cast public doubt on the motives of our entire sector. We must not let this happen. This is a most radical change in the law, such that any bill should be defeated because of this fatal flaw alone.

In our work, we seek to serve people and forge stronger community bonds every day. That’s why it is so baffling and sad, frankly, to see Congress debate measures that could harm our ability to strengthen lives, build communities, expand job opportunities, and promote solutions. Both versions of the tax reform bills put politicians’ concern for passing something—anything—ahead of the best interests of the American people. It’s time for every Senator to slow down and consider the massive damage they are about to do. We all need to urge them to Vote No on this bill, and start over with legislation that prioritizes people over partisanship and communities over corporations.

Tim Delaney is President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits.

The Senate is now looking at its version of tax reform legislation and Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan need to hear from you TODAY, before debate begins on the Senate floor. The most effective way of advocating on a fast-moving bill is to pick up the phone. So, if you have time to do only one thing today, have that one action be calling each of our senators.

Make the Call: Simply call Senator Sullivan (202.224.3004) and Senator Murkowski (202.224.6665), identify yourself as a constituent, and relay these two important points:

  • Do not use tax reform to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment, which keeps divisive partisan politics out of nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations. I am concerned that efforts to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment would harm my community and damage the public’s trust in my organization and many other groups doing good work in Alaska. Thank you!
  • The tax bill as written would limit the charitable deduction to only the wealthiest taxpayers and would reduce charitable giving to the work of nonprofits by more than $13 billion every year. If that number is translated for Alaska, it would mean a loss of somewhere between $5.5 million and $15 million – delivering a significant blow to virtually all nonprofit organizations in our state and greatly reducing their ability to serve our communities.”

If you can’t call right now, then email Senator Murkowski here and Senator Sullivan here.

For more information on how tax reform will impact Alaska’s nonprofits, click here.

For more information on the Johnson Amendment, click here.

For more information on the charitable deduction, click here.

There is a common saying: “It is lonely at the top.” I have been contemplating this saying as I enter my 18th year in leadership, including my two and a half years as Foraker’s CEO. I’m thinking about this mostly because of hard conversations I’ve had recently with Alaska leaders, and because of studies like Daring to Lead, which suggests new CEOs often leave their jobs during their third year because they feel isolated. I am also thinking about it because while there are certainly times I experience isolation, for the most part this is an experience I have managed to avoid.

What can make leadership less lonely? And how do we stay and thrive in our work? Some research points to creating environments of support. We believe in this so much we have created programs that focus on support, including our Executive Leadership Initiative that is customized for executives in their first three years of work. We are recruiting for this program now. So, if that means you, give us a call.

We know support works, but shy of taking on a program to create support, I have narrowed down four other factors that are often missing for many CEOs, but can individually or collectively alleviate loneliness.

  1. A true partnership with the board of directors
  2. A supportive and honest board chair
  3. A clear process for feedback and evaluation
  4. Support – support – support

A true partnership with the board of directors

The single most important work the board does is hire the right staff leader at the right time for the organization. This is quickly followed by their next most important job – working as a partner with the CEO. In the Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model, we talk candidly about the critical need for board/CEO balance – action taken each day to treat each other as partners in the work of mission stewardship. Partnership means, of course, that there is trust, communication, and effective decision making. It also means that the board and staff take turns leading, depending on the issues. None of this is easy as it comes in hues of gray instead of black and white. The way one group does it will look different from another. And the way the group does it today will change every time there is significant turnover in the board or a change in staff leadership. This is the work.

You likely know far too many boards and CEOs who don’t think this is the work and their behavior in these relationships can range from deflection and avoidance to all out hostility. Mostly the rational for this path is based on good intentions, regardless of bad behavior. It is a rare CEO or board member who purposely intends to harm the mission. Still, bad behavior is more normal than not. If this sounds familiar, and you are a CEO, ask yourself how much time you are spending on your relationship with your board and is it enough to achieve and sustain a high performing team? It likely takes far more time than we prioritize. If you are on a board, and you are seeing a high churn of CEOs and fellow board members, ask yourself: “Do my intentions and my behavior match? How am I building trust by working as a partner with the CEO?” We are a team, and teamwork takes effort from everyone. Some of the loneliest CEOs I know don’t feel they have a team.

A supportive and honest board chair

How did you get your board chair? Was that person in the room when they were elected? Had they been on the board for more than a year? Did they know what it meant to be board chair? I often joke that the best way to become board chair is to go to the bathroom or miss a meeting. We all laugh at this because we recognize how true it is. And yet, this function is so critical to the health of both the CEO relationship and the functionality of the full board. There is often little guidance given to the chair about his or her role. There are a few lines in our bylaws that often describe the role, but rarely a complete and current job description to match the organizational culture and capacity. Often no succession plan is in place. Again, remembering that this position is critical to a healthy CEO relationship with the board, picking carefully and planning ahead is worth making time to do.

While the CEO needs to have a relationship with each board member (partly the reason for taking 20% of your time), in most nonprofits the closest relationship is between the CEO and the board chair. From my own experience, I find that this relationship is a monthly opportunity to work together to craft the board agenda, spearhead difficult conversations, and navigate the full board meeting to achieve successful outcomes and create a rapport for honest two-way feedback. For too many CEOs it is luck alone that makes this work, rather than a strategic and thoughtful approach. If you are the board chair, or are contemplating assuming that role, consider the support that will make the work meaningful, energizing, and affective. If you are flying without guidance, consider working on a job description for the position. You can start with our template but make sure it’s real for the organization you serve.

A clear process for feedback and evaluation

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the “lonely at the top” phenomena is lack of feedback. The feedback cycle can be a gift or a distraction. It can be helpful and forward focused, or harmful and punitive. We have seen it all. We have also seen a complete absence of any type of evaluation for the CEO, usually because the board fails to make it a priority even when the CEO directly asks for it. The feedback process can and likely should take many forms. Monthly calls with the board chair is a way to get immediate feedback from the full board. What I value about this process is its regularity and timelessness. It is so much easier to change course when I can hear the issues as they arise. Waiting months or a full year for an evaluation means that small issues can become big, and big issues can become untenable.

The CEO also needs candid and timely feedback from staff. The culture we instill with our team says a lot about how this information comes to us. I recently had someone tell me that I was receiving the gift of difficult feedback because of how much my team wants me to succeed. Without hesitation I agreed and took the gift carefully to contemplate and act with new intention. This is a journey as CEOs we can go on again and again. It is not an accident to receive honest feedback, both the praise and the constructive. As the CEO, I understand that I can shut down the feedback loop or I can stay open and available to learning. It isn’t easy, but oh so valuable to ensure mission is best served.

As a CEO, consider how you are hearing feedback and what you do with it. Are you allowed to fail forward and learn from mistakes, or are you left wondering how it looks from the board and staff perspectives? What can you ask for? What is your role in getting it? If you are on a board, ask yourself, when is the last time the board provided helpful feedback?? Don’t save evaluation just for the challenging issues – use it to let your CEO know they are doing a great job. They don’t hear that often enough.

A safe environment for support

As I mentioned earlier, and perhaps in most of my articles, I am a firm believer in the value of excellent support. What I talk less often about is the need for safety as a key ingredient to support. Safe support is as much about confidentiality as it is about comfort. It is about telling the truth to yourself and others and being heard. It is about listening, not judging, and it is likely more than anything about the ability to bring one’s whole self into a relationship. Safe support is the maxim that drives me to seek support for myself and to provide support to others every day. There are certainly plenty of CEOs and board members who believe that support is a sign of weakness, but I wonder if that brand of support is safe. What I have seen instead is that safe support can be the antidote to loneliness and the energy for inspiration. Support comes in many forms for a CEO. It can be a coach, or a mentor, or a peer. It can be formal and informal. In our Executive Leadership Initiative program we talk about formal support in the following ways:

If you are the CEO seeking formal support, consider what way works best for you right now given the other three factors we just discussed. If you are a board member, consider offering these options to the CEO by creating room in the budget to fund it or by creating an expectation that they will use some of their work day to get it. Not all support takes money to achieve, but it all takes time. This is what I call “go slow to go fast” time. The return on the investment of time will come back tenfold in mission impact, job satisfaction, and less isolation.

Being the leader doesn’t mean it has to be lonely. What will be your next step?


On November 9, House Republicans unveiled their Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R.1). Our colleagues at the Montana Nonprofit Association prepared an excellent analysis on the impact of the legislation on nonprofits. With thanks to MNA, we share their thoughts here.

The 429-page bill carries many implications for nonprofits and private foundations. MNA is concerned about two provisions in particular. First, the partial repeal of the Johnson Amendment erodes nonprofit nonpartisanship. Second, the standard deduction is doubled, which almost decimates charitable giving incentives for all but 5% of taxpayers. The bill will be marked up in the next few days, so now is the time to be very clear with our congressional delegation on the impact of these provisions. Join us in advocacy that protects the nonprofit sector.

Foraker agrees with MNA and we call on Alaska nonprofits to get in touch with our delegation – see contact information below.

H.R. 1 Weakens the Johnson Amendment 

The Johnson Amendment is a law currently in place which protects nonprofits by ensuring we cannot and do not endorse candidates for office. H.R. 1 includes language that would significantly weaken the protection from partisan politics that has for decades enabled charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to remain focused on their missions without an overshadowing partisan agenda. As written, the new provision (Sec. 5201) grants a partial exemption from the Johnson Amendment to houses of worship and their auxiliary organizations. The bill potentially changes the nature of faith-based organizations by allowing political candidate endorsements from “the pulpit.” This not only erodes public trust in the charitable nonprofit sector as nonpartisan, but also includes ambiguous language which lends itself to abuse and an increase in dark money in campaigns. As if we need more of that. 

Foraker joins with MNA in requesting that the Johnson Amendment be retained in the current tax code.

H.R. 1 Hurts Individual Philanthropy 

The House tax reform legislation only nominally retains the existing itemized deduction for charitable donations. Here’s how it works: the bill increases the standard deduction to $24,400 for couples and half that, $12,200, for individuals, up from $12,700 and $6,350, respectively. However, by nearly doubling the standard deduction, it effectively puts this important incentive to give out of reach for an estimated 95 percent of American taxpayers. This decrease in the number of people who itemize would result in a decrease in charitable giving in the U.S. by up to $13 billion annually, according to a study from the Lilly School of Philanthropy. The measure fails to include a universal deduction or other incentive sought by a broad coalition of nonprofits and foundations that would enable all Americans to receive a tax incentive for giving back to their communities. This is especially important in Montana where we stand to lose more itemizers because our income is lower than in other states. Another blow to rural philanthropy. 

Foraker strongly encourages Alaska nonprofits to review this analysis from MNA along with information from the National Council of Nonprofits and the International Association of Fundraising Professionals AFP. Then call our delegation and let them know how this proposal would affect your ability to carry out your mission. They will care about the impact on Alaskans and our communities. AFP has developed talking points that you can use to help tell your own story.

If you have questions, please contact Mike Walsh, Foraker Vice President of Public Policy, at Below is how you reach each member of the delegation.


A special thanks to those who who donated to Foraker through Pick.Click.Give.!

We’re honored that our work is among the causes you care most about – together we are creating a thriving nonprofit sector that meets diverse community needs across the state.

Thank you all!:

  • Stephanie Allen
  • Lisa Aquino
  • Bruce Botelho
  • Angela Cox
  • Patuk Glenn
  • Zane Jones
  • Diane Kaplan
  • Gabe Layman
  • Jillian Lush
  • Jordan Marshall
  • Joel Neimeyer
  • Joan O’Keefe
  • Deena Bishop
  • Rebecca Savidis
  • Chellie Skoog
  • Joy Steward
  • John Van Alstine
  • Bernie Washington
  • Laurie Wolf
  • Anonymous x2