Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

The Foraker Group Blog

Last year we shared with you attempts in Washington D.C. to repeal the Johnson Amendment. This is the provision of the federal tax code that protects charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations from getting involved in candidate endorsements. The National Council of Nonprofits had led the charge to save this important provision, and we’re proud that Alaska nonprofits have stepped in, too, to let our delegation know about the danger of repealing this long-standing protection from partisan politics.

Another attempt is underway this month to once again repeal the Johnson Amendment. Some congressional leaders hope to consolidate a huge array of legislative proposals into a massive bill to be passed by March 23 that would provide funding for the rest of the fiscal year. (See article below.) And one of the riders being considered would repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. If that rider is attached, it will be virtually impossible to stop passage.

Again, we strongly encourage Alaska nonprofits to “use their voices” and speak out against this attempt.

Call or email our delegation. Let them know that you oppose any move to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment.

If you haven’t already, sign the community letter in support of nonpartisanship. It’s easy. Here’s the link. Pass it along to your colleagues after you have signed.

Write an op-ed or letter to the letter of your local newspaper. These will get the attention of our delegation. Here’s a sample of letters from across the country.

Here at Foraker, we will keep up the pressure, too. Here’s our official statement on this critical issue.

Stay in touch. Let us know if you need help to “speak up and take action.”

For more information, contact Mike Walsh, Foraker Vice President and Director of Public Policy, at

Foraker has added Emmy award-winning reporter John Tracy to our consulting team! We are excited to offer new trainings and to assist your organization with your communication and marketing needs.

Call us at (907) 743-1200 to learn more about our communication and marketing services!

The right people at the right time – this is a fundamental premise of the Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model. We apply this to the board, the CEO/ED, and the relationship between the two. The goal: balanced partnership. The reality: it takes consistent attention and purposeful action.

Central to this relationship is the board chair. We know, of course, that not every nonprofit has staff. In fact, most nonprofits in Alaska have no staff. However, this intensifies rather than minimizes the important role of the board chair.

And yet, staff or not, our board chairs are often picked by default – we often joke that the person who gets up to go to the bathroom during the selection will become the chair.  This is no way to set up a team for success. And yet…

So, if we were doing it on purpose, what are we looking for in a successful board chair? There are many characteristics, but one in particular stands out and that’s the ability to facilitate the cultural dynamics of the group. This term refers to the way we bring our organizational values and behavioral norms into any space where mission is occurring, and then how that intersects with everyone’s personal values and behavior on the team. We see our cultural values play out in many ways, including how the team makes decisions, the way we communicate, and the way we deal with conflict. The latest national study on board governance, Daring to Lead, notes:

“Chair selection should emphasize skills in managing and facilitating group dynamics. Given the importance of the chair’s role in creating and sustaining a strong board culture, and the impact that board culture has on overall organizational performance, boards are wise to emphasize skills related to consensus building and conflict resolution when selecting a chair. Taking opportunities to observe and cultivate this skill set among committee chairs and other board leadership positions may help ensure that future candidates for the chair position are well prepared to lead. It also helps ensure the board is not forced to appoint a chair who does not have these essential skills.”

Establishing the role of the chair as a facilitator of cultural dynamics is critical, but what else does the position entail? A job description should also include the chair’s main responsibilities of keeping the board focused on what matters the most for the organization. How the chair stewards the mission is a bit more delicate, and while each person will do it with their own nuance, and hopefully in context with the organizational culture, generally it is appropriate to expect the following minimum responsibilities:

  • Effectively run meetings:
    • Partner with the CEO/ED to prepare an agenda, keep meeting discussion and debate focused on the issues, and move board members to a decision
    • Monitor board discussion and ensure that board meeting time is used effectively
    • Create ad hoc committees to propose options to difficult issues
  • Continue to define the board’s boundaries – what is the board expected or not expected to do?
  • Ensure that no single board member is dominating board discussions – work toward operating as a team
    • Contribute to the work of the board without dominating or over-influencing
    • Keep channels of communication open between the board and the CEO
    • Make sure that board members are clear about their individual board commitments
    • Establish and enforce guidelines for disciplining board members
    • Ensure that board decisions and key discussions are documented and made available to the board and the executive director (partner with staff as appropriate)
  • Develop a positive working relationship with the CEO/ED
    • Act as official spokesperson for the board, when asked by the CEO/ED and board
    • Coordinate and participate in the annual performance evaluation for the CEO/ED
    • Take the leadership role in communicating with the CEO/ED
  • Ensure a consistent plan and process are in place for strategic recruitment and engagement of board members
    • Ensure board development and finance committees are active
    • Ensure board officer and executive director succession plans are in place and up-to date
    • Ensure there is continuity and a platform for success for the mission

Again, the Daring to Lead study also highlights the importance of the board chair in setting a positive culture for the organization. “When it comes to board culture, the importance of the board chair’s leadership cannot be overstated. Daring to Lead data shows a clear link between the ability of the board to work as a collaborative team and the board chair’s ability to:

  • Resolve conflict, build consensus, and reach compromise
  • Foster an environment that builds trust among board members
  • Establish clear expectations of board service
  • Encourage board members to frame and discuss strategic questions”

The study goes on to note that “when board chairs are strong facilitators of board culture, the board is more likely to operate as a collaborative team working toward a common goal.”

While this list of roles and responsibilities is not complete, and could deepen depending on the size, complexity, and staffing of the organization, it clearly shows that this is not a role that should be offered by the board to one of its members without clear intention. Additionally, the responsibility of the rest of the board and the CEO to create an environment for the collaborative team to thrive should be a top priority for us all.

Certainly, support is a piece of a flourishing environment. In this context, support includes creating and holding safe space for the board chair to ask questions, to find their peers, and to explore their challenges. I have often thought that board chairs, if not whole boards of similar missions, should regularly meet with each other. Not because we all need more meetings, but because so much can be learned from each other that is different from what staff would share or prioritize. Imagine a world where board members simply met more often to talk about being better board members or tackling bigger questions to address the issues we face in our communities. It is this vision that propels us at Foraker to offer our statewide educational programs for board and staff, that prompts us to gather board chairs and ask them specifically what support they need and then endeavor to provide it, and that invites us to create ways for more board chairs to seek support that works best for them. It is also what makes us aware that we must do more to help board chairs reach their full potential in stewarding their missions.

At Foraker, we have tried a few times over the years to develop specific support for board chairs – like brown bag lunches and consultations. While we always knew that a need existed, we didn’t fully address it until we convened the most recent cohort of our Executive Leadership Initiative. ELI is designed for CEOs/EDs who are in their first three years of leadership. Our purpose is to help them succeed so that, in turn, we can hold on to our nonprofit leaders. When we started this program, boards participated but were not an integral part of the process. However, with the current ELI cohort, board chairs were purposely engaged and the results were immediate. This remarkable group of board chairs showed up, rolled up their sleeves, and asked for support – lots of support. Hooray! Our “take away:” we have to do more to support board chairs who either by accident or on purpose have assumed enormous roles in mission success. If we don’t each do our part in this work, our board leaders will be unsupported and unguided and could do harm – to themselves through burnout, to the board as a team, to the CEO, and to the mission. There is a role for each of us in this supportive ecosystem.

While we agree with the Daring to Lead conclusions that CEOs/EDs and boards should show great appreciation for their chairs, celebrating is not enough. We need to take more concrete steps. That means:

  • For board chairs – ask for the support that works for you. One place to start: sign up for an Ask the Expert consultation.
  • For CEOs – be open, available, and remember that each interaction can’t just be about getting what you need. This must be a mutually beneficial relationship if both of you, and your mission, are going to thrive.
  • For board members who are not the chair – your role is central to success. Your chair and your CEO/ED need you. Your responsibility is paramount to not pretend your board chair is a super hero who can handle it all. That means preparing in advance for meetings, participating – especially when no one else want to – and providing support. Each of these steps matter greatly to the success or failure of the team.

Ultimately, the board has one voice and everyone needs to know their roles and responsibilities for exercising that voice as a steward of your mission. But the chair, desired or not, is often the voice of that one voice, and they need support. This is a team effort that on good days will be one of the most rewarding things each of us does, and on the hard days will likely be the thing that matters most to mission.

And, regardless of who has the role, it is unrealistic to think that the person will magically wake up the day after the appointment and know exactly how to do the work in exactly the right cultural context. Each and every board chair needs support. How will you give it, or get it? And what do you need from us?


A big welcome to the Executive Directors participating in our Executive Leadership Initiative! We are excited to learn and grow with you:

Samantha Blankenship, Gastineau Humane Society
Jennifer Cross, Alaska Raptor Center
Shannon Fisher, Family Promise of Juneau
Sara Harriger, Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center
Sarah Harrington, Kodiak Historical Society & Baranov Museum
Frances Leach, United Fishermen of Alaska
Kristin McTague,  Healing Hand Foundation
Michael Monterusso, Alaska Botanical Garden
Janice Nightingale, Hospice of the Central Peninsula
Andrea Noble-Pelant, Alaska State Council on the Arts
Tory Shanklin, Victims for Justice
Laurie Stuart, Pratt Museum
Curtis Thayer, Alaska Chamber of Commerce

We are proud to help the Nonprofit Finance Fund raise the voices of nonprofit leaders through the State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey. This survey – the biggest national sampling of our sector – collects data about the health and challenges of U.S. nonprofits into an accessible, evidence-based illustration of our ability to help the communities we all serve. It’s a powerful platform for nonprofits large and small, urban and rural, across sub-sectors and geographies. Its findings are widely used and cited by nonprofit leaders and boards, funders, advocates, policy advisors, media, researchers, and many others.

In 2015, the NFF survey found that, despite the U.S. economic recovery, vulnerable communities were going without because nonprofits couldn’t meet increasing demand. Nonprofit leaders reported persistent worries about financial sustainability – fewer than half ended the previous year with a surplus; more than half said they had three months or less of cash-on-hand.

How comfortable is your rainy-day fund? Does anything hinder your organization from doing all the good it sets out to do? What should the country know about what we need to successfully do our work?

We at Foraker are proud to help NFF reach as many nonprofit leaders as possible, and to help share the survey’s findings as a resource for everyone.

Please take the survey and raise your organization’s voice. 

Alaska’s nonprofit sector represents a wide variety of organizations that provide public service and have an impact on the lives of nearly everyone living in the state. Although most Alaskans do not think of nonprofits as an economic powerhouse, we play a critical role in the state’s economy both as major employers and as revenue generators.
Join us as we discuss the latest research on the economic impact of Alaska’s nonprofit sector. Learn how you can use the data to advocate for your organization as we highlight the five ways we in the nonprofit sector are doing our part to meet the challenges of the state’s economy. 

See you soon!: 
Space is limited. Please click on links above for details and to register.Interested in a presentation for your community? Contact Kate Rose at or call 743-1201.

To be sure every Alaskan is counted in both the 2020 Census and the annual American Community Survey (ACS), we all need to step up and do our part. To help accomplish this task, Foraker has pulled together a diverse group of Alaska organizations to address critical elements that are necessary for an accurate count. The Alaska Census Working Group has pinpointed issues that could result in undercounting, especially in rural areas. To learn more about the activities of the working group, visit this new page on our website. If you have ideas or comments on how to achieve accurate counts in the both the 2020 Census and the ACS, or if you want to know more about the working group, contact Mike Walsh, Vice President/Director of Public Policy, at 907-388-5561 or

One of my favorite ways to end a full day of facilitation is to ask everyone in the room what they will take with them and what they will leave behind because it no longer serves them. This round-the-room exploration is often a telling moment for what has moved people throughout the day – and more telling about what will stick moving forward. To launch us into 2018, I offer my own version of what we are taking with us from 2017 and what we at Foraker will leave behind as we stand with you in 2018.

2017 ushered in a new federal administration, a state in fiscal disarray, and a sector left to wonder how we would manage it all as we worked diligently every day to serve our communities. You persevered, you endured, you were brilliant. Every day nonprofit leaders did ordinary and extraordinary things to move missions forward. Along the way, we shared with you a few ideas to bolster your efforts. I invite us all to take these eight mantras with us into 2018.

  1. One word intention. In 2017, we focused on choosing one word to keep us grounded. I invite you again to commit to this practice. 2017 was about staying focused and not getting lost in ALL the policy changes. This year we still need to focus on our intentions as a sector and on our missions – specifically to stay connected to relationships that strengthen missions, that strengthen our connection to donors who have motivations beyond tax deductions, and that strengthen our connection to policy makers who understand the critical role our sector plays in a vibrant economy and a healthy democracy. Our intentions come from our core values. Our values drive our work. Let’s stay focused on living our intentions in 2018.
  2. Choral breathing. A useful metaphor in 2017 was the idea that we can sustain our energy if we borrow a brilliant tool from the arts. For those of you who have participated in a chorus or enjoyed a performance, you may have noticed the group’s ability to sustain a very, very long note. This is because of the technique of choral breathing. To make choral breathing work in our daily lives, we each get to take a breath as we need one, regroup, and re-engage – just not at the same time. We have to sustain the work and the way to do that is together. Sing your cause from the rooftops, take a break, rely on your team, sing again. Repeat. Together in 2018 we will let our voices be heard.
  3. Curiosity. With so much change, it could be easy to get discouraged or shut down. I invite you to savor the manta I used in 2017 — “curiosity will serve me.” Useful in so many circumstances, in 2018 we can choose to have a panic reaction or we can get curious and ask more questions. Let’s spend 2018 seeking to understand so we can build bridges to move us to a new place.
  4. Small experiments with radical intent. We learned a handful of years ago from our partners at EMCArts that the key to innovation was not betting the whole house on a theory but practicing what they called small experiments with radical intent. We shared this often in 2017, and we are embracing it as a “go-to practice” for our time. This practice invites us to run true experiments in which we harken back to our fifth-grade science projects to form a hypothesis, question our assumptions, design and run an experiment, reflect and learn from it in order to implement a positive shift. Around and around we go with incredible results of turning our environments into learning organizations that are practicing true innovation rather than random “good ideas.” In a world that needs us all to get to better results for the very complex problems we face, this practice can continue to serve us all in 2018.
  5. Public policy is not a luxury. In 2017, we jumped into the public policy arena with both feet and many of you joined us. Together we created a culture of advocacy in our organizations and among our peers. We prioritized our efforts. We organized. We educated our staff and our board. We engaged our donors. We formed coalitions. We stood up for each other’s missions. We found our collective voice. Many days I rejoiced at the efforts I saw across Alaska as board and staff leaders stood for their missions. Many days I said out loud, “if you are not active in public policy you are not doing your mission,” and every time we moved a little closer to amplifying each other’s voices for a stronger, better result. Our work has just begun, so in 2018 let’s keep our attention on the public policy that impacts our missions, our causes, and our communities.
  6. Overhead is mission. No apologies in 2017 and none now. Nonprofit workers need a living wage. Nonprofits need administrators, and fund development professionals, and marketing experts, and office assistants, and computers and phones, and staples, and paper, and light and heat. These items are not luxuries. They are not extras. They are mission. In 2017, we signed on to burst the overhead myth. We are going to keep at it until not only do the very people within our sector stop discounting the necessity for overhead, but more than a few in our funding community begin to fund unrestricted operations – because it is all mission.
  7. Missions are bigger than organizations. As noted many times, in many ways, the work we do is bigger than all of us, and it is bigger than any single agency. We focused on this topic deeply at our Leadership Summit in 2017 and we have much more work to do not just in understanding what this means, but in changing our organizational practices if we are going to make true headway in our work. Let’s take these efforts into our planning and into our board rooms in 2018. Let’s take it into our peer support groups and into our policy efforts. These efforts don’t have to be monumental, but they do have to be meaningful.
  8.  Support. Every month, every day. Getting and receiving support is a sign of strength in leadership. We have based our work on this mantra and we have seen the results in you. We are in this together and it is just far too much to do alone. May 2018 bring you new ways to give and receive support.

So, as we prepare for 2018, and we take these eight mantras with us, we know the things Foraker will leave behind to make space for what is new and improved. In 2018, we say so long to:

  1. Our out of date website. Yes, we are excited to bring you a new website in 2018 with new tools to use, new ways to learn, easier navigation, and more ways to engage. Look for our launch in the spring.
  2. Old nonprofit data. Early this year, just in time for the new legislative season, we will have new economic impact data for Alaska. Every three years we embark on a deep dive into our economy to show the net result the sector plays in our Alaska life. This year, our audience is policy makers and our efforts will be to work with nonprofit leaders to get the word out that we are a powerful economic driver in Alaska, and we are part of all the solutions rather than a result of the cuts.
  3. Former definitions of winning. 2017 taught us a new definition of winning. We are leaving our old definitions as we craft our new policy agenda which we will release early this year. Our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels will focus on preserving the sector and the vital work each and every American relies on every day.
  4. Status quo of boards. Systemic discrimination, oversight, status quo – whatever the reason, our nonprofit boards do not represent the communities we serve. While we have made some efforts in the last 18 years to change this – on whole nothing has changed. In 2018, we are leaving our assumptions and old ways of working behind and are committed to raising the issue, creating new tools, and fostering new partnerships in an effort to see real change. Our missions are only as strong as the people at the table. And when we are not all at the table, we fail.
  5. Old policy and old rules. As 2017 drew to a close, Congress enacted sweeping tax reform. We fought to protect the nonprofit sector as it came under attack in 15 different aspects of the bill. In the end, we temporarily preserved the Johnson Amendment that will keep politics and dark money out of our charitable organizations, and we saved the unrelated business income tax redefinition would have caused many organizations to pay taxes on sponsorships, underwriting, and mission-based earned income. We also know that like all working Americans, there will be changes in how your taxes are calculated.  There are many who want you to take action on that now, but the reality is that we are all waiting on the IRS to enact regulations to tell us all how this will occur.  Like all laws, they need regulations to take effect. We are all waiting for these and trust me, no one yet has the scoop on what it will look like.   Additionally, our effort to fully preserve the 100-year tradition of incentivizing charitable giving for   most Americans has now changed. It is true you can all still itemize, but many of you simply will not because it won’t make sense to do so. While we can only estimate the long-term impact to the sector, we have watched as people have experienced a “fear of missing out” phenomenon that inspired new or increased giving at the end of 2017. This frenzy of year-end giving could be happening for all the best reasons, which are that donors truly care about the results nonprofits create. But if the motivation was strictly tax abatement, then 2018 and beyond will prove to be rough. We stand with the nonprofit sector to continue to be donor focused.  To know that as we leave old rules behind there will be new rules soon enough.  We urge you to stay informed, but don’t panic. We urge you to stay grounded in what matters most to your employees and to focus on the roots of philanthropy, which means “love of human kind.” Remember that only 22% of Alaskans itemized before so many were never motivated by tax incentives. Stay clear, don’t perpetuate more “fear of missing out.” We will navigate this together as the new rules come to light.

As we go into 2018, we are curious, what will you take with you from 2017 and what will you leave behind?

As we prepare for the holiday, we know many of you have questions about the current tax bill’s implications on the nonprofit sector. Below is some helpful information to know our starting point in 2018. Foraker will remain a resource to you as we navigate the changes together.

To learn more about the bill, read Nonprofit Quarterly’s article What Nonprofits Can Expect in the GOP Tax Bill.

The article outlines several things to watch for, including:

  • deductibility of charitable contributions,
  • new excise taxes on selected nonprofits,
  • treatment of unrelated business income generated by charities, and
  • changes in the tax-exempt treatment of interest income from certain bonds issued by nonprofits.

Thanks to the National Council of Nonprofits for creating this matrix that outlines the components in the tax bill that impacts nonprofits.

Please stay in touch with us. We look forward to standing beside you in the new year.



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.