Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

President’s Letter

Over the past few years, The President’s Letter has been a way for the Foraker CEO/President to write about issues affecting the sector and, most especially, on ways to apply the Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model to nonprofit management. We hope you will find value in these letters to the sector, which have part of our monthly e-newsletter, and we invite you to share your comments on the Foraker blog.

President’s Letters by Current Foraker President/CEO Laurie Wolf:

Right People

Agreement Over Assumption – Helping to Engage the Right People (August 8 2016)
Finding your stride with the right people
The Messenger Matters (October 13 2015)
How do we know the right messenger for our stories?


A Season of Gratitude? (December 10 2015)
Top 5 moments of gratitude for Alaska's nonprofit sector.
A Way Forward (December 9 2016)
A time for civic engagement and advocacy
Focus on the Future (January 10 2016)
Now is the time to look ahead -- and plan for the future.
Looking Back on Summer Adventures and Packing our Gear for Fall (September 9 2016)
New tools and ideas at Foraker
One Word to Guide Your Resolutions (January 9 2017)
Which plan will bring you forward with purpose?
Staying Grounded in Uncertain Times (April 10 2016)
Laurie's thoughts on how to stay grounded in times of change and uncertainty.
The Best Laid Plans (November 9 2016)
The importance of planning documents
Turning Data into Action (October 9 2016)
The data conundrum
Succession: Lessons Learned on the Other Side…So Far (March 8 2016)
Top 5 insights on succession

Unrestricted Cash

Supporting Overhead IS Supporting Programs (June 10 2016)
How does the nonprofit sector move beyond the overhead myth?
Budgets as a Values Document (May 9 2017)
Budgets are certainly made of numbers, but they are far more than that.
Go Slow to Go Fast (September 2 2015)
Go slow to go fast -- read Laurie's thoughts on what that means for your organization.


Celebrating Our Interdependence (July 8 2016)
Finding strength in interdependence
Distinct Organizations, But One Sector - With a Voice (August 11 2015)
More binds us than divides us as a sector -- we need to give voice to that.
Is Our Greatest Competition Ourselves? (November 10 2015)
Moving from scarcity and competition to abundance and collaboration.
Whose Job is it to Partner? (May 10 2016)
Laurie's thoughts on partnership and collaboration


Finding Civic Action Between Concern and Control (March 9 2017)
We can each find our own way to take action in the new normal of uncertainty
Invisible to Visible – Amplifying the Sector Voice (February 9 2017)
What can you do to move your nonprofit, and the people you serve, from invisible to visible?

Archived President’s Letters by Foraker’s Founding President/CEO Dennis McMillian:

Right People

Are You Really Going To Do It? (January 1 2007)
I was very grateful and honored to receive one of the coveted Rasmuson Foundation sabbaticals that would afford me the opportunity to take off three months.
Board Bullies (April 14 2012)
This past month we experienced another disastrous cluster, board bullying. In February 2012, our office received six calls from nonprofits in crisis over the behavior of one member who was described as a bully.
Board Leader-Staff Leader Relationship (April 7 2008)
It s the most important thing to get right in your organization! The lack of board support has been identified as the first or second reason why nonprofit CEOs are resigning in record numbers.
Board Member, Staff Member; Is That a Question? (July 10 2007)
Alaska s nonprofit sector is facing an issue nonprofits are facing throughout the nation, only here it s on an extreme scale: where will we find sufficient leadership for the future?
Boards Behaving Badly (November 2 2008)
So one may ask, why do we need good boards? The answer is simple - all research on effective nonprofits states that the success of organizations is best indicated by a competent board.
Boards, Email and Texting – It's Time to Establish Norms (April 4 2014)
Board work continues to evolve. Thirty years ago board norms were different. Boards met monthly. They used a strong executive committee that met between board meetings to manage the executive director s actions – EDs made few decisions without the board s permission. Only on rare occasions did the board or executive committee meet by phone. There were no faxes – board packets were sent by mail. Today things are different. Boards meet less often, typically four to six times a year. As more research suggested that executive committees disengaged boards, fewer nonprofits have a strong executive committee. Executive directors are often referred to as President/CEO and are expected to run the organization, informed by the board s policy and direction, but using their own judgment. And especially in Alaska, telephonic meetings, especially for emergencies, are common. Already faxing is obsolete.
Burnout (December 6 2013)
In the social sector, we know burnout – at least we think we do. It’s what happens when we push too hard, do too much, basically when we don’t take care of ourselves. I never really thought about what caused burnout because I thought I knew. I discovered that my understanding was simplistic and only partially correct. So what is burnout and what are it its causes?
CEO Boards/Working Boards? (July 4 2012)
Recently while I was working with a board, one of its directors commented: "This board used to be nothing but CEO's. Now it's the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th level managers. It’s better now. Then the board was just a figurehead board – now we are a working board." He was proud of that observation. This comment created an opportunity to consider what I have observed as a reality for many Alaska boards. People seem not to be aware that managing the day-to-day operations is not the board’s job. I am afraid that many people confuse what they should be doing with what they are comfortable doing.
Confidentiality and Transparency (December 8 2014)
"What happens in Nome, stays in Nome." Our opinion – nonprofits should be transparent. Yet, the board’s duty of loyalty requires “directors,” (board members), to maintain confidentiality. Many nonprofit leaders are confused on what should be public knowledge and what should remain confidential. As with most questions, the right answer is, “it depends.” This article is not written as legal opinion, but hopefully will provide some clarity on how an organization can be as transparent as possible while it understands that some information can and should remain confidential.
Executive Evaluation (January 1 2007)
In the nonprofit world, executive evaluation concerns two employee classifications. The first is an evaluation done by the board on its executive leader. The other is the evaluation done by that executive on other executive staff.
Find the Right Nonprofit Executive (July 10 2007)
During the last few years, I have written 20 articles on various subjects. Of those, six have been on the topic of nonprofit CEO success.
Founder's Syndrome (August 9 2011)
Many articles have been written about founders syndrome. This occurs when a founder of an organization can t differentiate him or herself from the entity.
How Your Board is Elected Can Matter (September 1 2011)
There are as many ways to configure a board as there are boards.
Improving Internal Communication (July 4 2013)
Some people can make easy predictions. For example, a weather forecaster in Phoenix can predict sunshine and be right most of the time, so can a stock broker who suggests buying low and selling high, or a teacher who says, Study and make a better grade. Organizational consultants can easily and with confidence predict that every organization has communication issues. No study must be done. It s obvious – where there are people, there will be, at least, occasional communication issues. Unfortunately, too often if these communication problems go on and on they will impact the organization s ability to do its work. They can also make work less fulfilling for all involved. 
In Search of Board Diversity (August 6 2009)
Leadership Succession (guest contributor) (August 27 2008)
Dennis McMillian, President/CEO of The Foraker Group and Jim Maley, President/CEO of Alaska Children s Services and a member of the Foraker Group Operations Board attended training on succession planning earlier this year. Dennis asked Jim to write his reflections.
Leadership Void for Sector Predicted (June 6 2007)
Managing Board CEO Relationships (January 1 2007)
The traditional role of the nonprofit board was to establish and monitor policy as well as determine the strategic direction for the organization.
New Thoughts about the Life Cycle of Nonprofits -- from Symbiosis to Individuation (October 25 2011)
There have been many papers written on the life cycle of nonprofit organizations. While there are as many different descriptions of this cycle, most experts agree that a nonprofit organization goes through some maturation process. They eventually either mature, or they are stuck in some dysfunctional stage until they go out of business.
So You Want to be a Nonprofit CEO? (November 6 2007)
Most people become a chief executive in a nonprofit through their passion for the organization s mission and their competence in implementing it.
Take Time to Reflect (December 6 2007)
The Board's Most Important Job (May 3 2012)
If we were to ask what is the board's most important job, no doubt many would respond, “fiduciary duties," which means acting in trust for the organization's assets on behalf of its beneficiaries and community. That is not the wrong answer because, in fact, ensuring directors act in good faith in accordance with state and federal law, mission, and policies is the legal requirement for all boards..
What I Did That You Should Consider (July 10 2007)
With the strong encouragement of The Foraker Group board, I applied for and was granted one of the coveted Rasmuson Sabbaticals in 2006.


A New Series of Articles and a New Approach (September 14 2008)
The ISER (Institute for Social and Economic Research at UAA) study provided useful facts on our sector s strengths and vulnerability. I have presented these facts to over 1,000 community leaders around the state in 20 communities at local Chamber and Rotary meetings.
Alaska's Nonprofit Sector - A Major Participant in the State's Economy (July 10 2007)
Alaskans are certainly familiar with the good work performed by nonprofits across the state. We are enriched and informed through arts and cultural organizations - helped in times of need by health and human service agencies - cared for at hospitals.
Alaska's Nonprofit Sector Generates Economic Impact (June 9 2014)
In 2007, The Foraker Group and the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at The University of Alaska developed the first comprehensive study of the nonprofit sector’s impact on the Alaska economy. In 2010, the second study was completed, and a precedent was set. Now we work together every three years to monitor the nonprofit economy, using the data to help sector leaders address current concerns as well as plan for the future. 
Getting ethics right - it's harder than you think (June 4 2008)
All corporations have the legal duty to avoid conflicts of interest. However, because of their civic and charitable missions, nonprofit corporations, specifically 501 (c)(3), (c)(4), and (c)(6) organizations, should exceed the law s expectations to maintain the public s trust.
Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings (September 16 2010)
While I was at United Way my staff threatened an intervention to restrict my meeting habit. I was literally going and coming from meetings from dawn to dusk, eight days a week! What were they to do? Send me to another meeting of Meetings Anonymous? I am not alone.
More Tools for These Times - and reinforcement for the tools already provided (February 20 2009)
Moving Forward in Uncertain Economic Times (April 8 2009)
Nonprofit Restructuring (September 16 2010)
Points to Consider When Founding a Nonprofit Organization (January 1 2007)
Regardless of the data that suggests that Alaska already has more nonprofits per capita than any other state, The Foraker Group continues to receive calls daily from individuals throughout the state wanting to form a new organization.
Ready for the next Alaska recession? (October 14 2011)
For the last three years, while the rest of the country was in recession, Alaska maintained some sense of normalcy.
The Economy: How Will It Impact You? (December 10 2008)
The New Reality is One-Year Old (September 16 2010)
The Next Trend - Structural Evolution (April 14 2012)
We predict three major trends for the coming decade: a funding crisis, the crash of the herd, and a need to restructure the sector.
The Next Trend -- Structural Evolution (May 6 2015)
The Pre-elevator Speech - Keep it Shorter and Sweeter (September 16 2010)
There is a "New Reality" And it's About Time (May 13 2009)
Time for a Corporate Checkup (September 11 2008)
One of the hallmarks of American medicine is the checkup - the time to have a good look-see before anything is wrong.

Unrestricted Cash

A Case for Fundraising Events? (May 15 2008)
If the title of this article is not provocative, you ve probably not been to a Foraker class. We ve spent the last eight years trying to convince nonprofits that event fundraising is not a good idea. So, you might ask, why am I now willing to write a paper on making the case for events?
A Competitive Debate (September 16 2010)
Another Issue to Address - Capital Campaigns (April 14 2012)
During the past year, The Foraker Group focused on trends impacting Alaska s nonprofits. One of those is a funding crisis that we predict will occur in Alaska in large part because of federal budget cuts.
Budget Strategies for Tough Times (January 17 2009)
In Search of Alpha Donors (June 18 2009)
Strategic Financial Management -- Building Reserves (June 4 2013)
Let s face it, nonprofits take their tax status seriously – most find it hard to make a profit! They spend every penny they have – and then more. We know we should be saving for a rainy day, but with day-to-day crises and ever-increasing costs and needs, it s hard to save. A recent survey conducted by The Nonprofit Finance Fund found that a quarter of nonprofits have less than a month of operational funding in reserve, 40 percent reported an operating deficit in 2012, and as many predict a deficit in 2013.
The Permanent Fund Dividend Initiative (July 10 2007)
One truth of charitable giving is that donors must be asked in order to give.
The Secret to Raising Money (September 16 2010)
What to Do When Alaska's Nonprofit Funding Assumptions Change? (November 6 2007)
The headlines in Alaska cause concern. Our Congressional delegation is under scrutiny that could overshadow the good they have done for our state for so many years.


Peer Networks, a Simple Strategy with Real Results (January 17 2008)
Rasmuson Foundation Completes 11th Grant Maker Tour (September 23 2007)

Programs and Services

A New Year's Resolution - I'll Learn How to Better Manage My Organization (July 10 2007)
A key factor in nonprofit sustainability is human capacity - and a key element in developing that capacity is education.
Crisis Management for the Nonprofit Organization (March 11 2008)
The Foraker Group Today -- The Services We Provide (October 6 2012)
Recently we conducted focus groups with Partners to learn how to improve services. As in prior research, we learned that they appreciate what we do – at least those who participated in the process do. One surprising finding was that while those Partners value what we do, they did not know many of the services we provide. This article is aimed at refreshing your knowledge of the range of services we now offer.

Health Insurance

Foraker Benefits Plan revisited (September 16 2010)
Healthcare Reform - The Foraker Response (September 16 2010)
Special Report Health Reform Update (September 16 2010)
The Stockdale Paradox and Thoughts on The Foraker Group Benefits Plan (November 2 2008)
On October 1, 2008, The Foraker Group and Premera Blue Cross/Blue Shield implemented an innovative health insurance plan for Foraker Partners.


2013 Foraker Leadership Summit – You All Need to Come (March 9 2013)
Storytelling is how we build community. We pass along knowledge, entertain, and engage each other when we tell stories. It is from this foundation that The Foraker Group is proud to present its third leadership summit with the focus on "Telling Our Stories.” April 22-23, 2013 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, Alaska's nonprofit leaders will convene to hear some of our sector's leaders as well as have opportunity to connect with each other and discover how to better tell stories and serve our communities. Everyone is welcome. We want as many of the board, staff, and volunteer leaders of Alaska's nonprofit sector as possible to come.
Building Your Personal Philanthropy Plan (February 7 2014)
Sharing one's abundance, giving, is required to be fully human. That said, maybe I should defend this statement.  The definition of philanthropy is love of humankind, or performing benevolent or charitable activities. Most people understand and use the term to describe the organized sharing of time and especially of sharing money. However, philanthropy is not limited to organized giving, nor to the wealthy, nor corporations or foundations. Anyone who makes a conscious decision to share their time or other resources is a philanthropist. We should and could all be philanthropists.
CEO Transitions (May 5 2014)
Futurists observe what's happening today, then they study the events that led to now, and finally with some accuracy they predict what will happen in the future. So using that logic, it's is easy to see that many nonprofit leaders are nearing retirement age. The nonprofit sector has grown tremendously as a result of the baby boom generation's creation of institutions to build stronger communities. During the next 10-15 years it is assumed that while some boomers will stay in their jobs as long as possible, others will change careers, try something new, but most will just want to let go, play with grandkids, or take a long needed break.
Coping with the New Normal? An Opinion (July 8 2014)
When the 2008 recession began there was much uncertainty about the future. Jim Caldarola, former Chief Development Officer for the Archdiocese of Anchorage and Foraker Operations Board member, encouraged us to “embrace the new normal.” He was referring to his conversation with national colleagues about how the old assumptions on running a nonprofit were no longer valid. In other words, most of us knew at some level that nonprofits had to transform their business models to survive. Since then, the sector’s equilibrium remains off-kilter. As soon as we think we understand what to do, our reality shifts.
Don't Despair -- You Still Have Time to Increase Your Share (January 2 2014)
It’s January, and at this very moment thousands of Alaskans are online filing for their next Permanent Fund Dividend check. Last month we provided a quick reminder for Pick.Click.Give. participants, which included several steps to increase participation. Today I would like to suggest a few more simple tactics that I guarantee will raise more money and should also increase donations to all participating nonprofits.
Evaluation -- an Illusive Goal (August 6 2012)
Outcomes - Impact - Output -Measures - PROOF??? Funders ask for measurable results. Some nonprofits even want to evaluate impact for themselves, seeking to improve what they do. Regardless of motivation, many nonprofits, even those that have taken the steps to evaluate their work, struggle with evaluation. Even nonprofits with capacity can have this challenge.
Happy Holidays - 2011 (December 14 2012)
Even with the challenges we are facing in our sector, we have a lot to be grateful for this holiday season. We have jobs with impact. We help people live healthy lives, we support families, and we educate, entertain, inspire, and engage people.
Happy New Year - 2010 (September 16 2010)
How to Bare Bad News (June 5 2012)
From time to time most nonprofits face a situation that requires communicating unfortunate news. Various issues such as a loss of funding, an employee dispute, or some problem within a program or service are likely culprits. Regardless, preparing for such occurrences is a good idea. If you’re not prepared, a spontaneous response when something bad happens may exaggerate the problem. This article is not intended as a guide for crisis communication – it’s designed for the board and CEO to ponder how to tell others about issues that we would often prefer to keep to ourselves.
How to Change -- Small Experiments with Radical Intent (November 5 2014)
"Even if you are on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers There are many clichés about resistance to change. People prefer predictability – unfortunately, for some, change is constant and required. The Rasmuson Foundation's new capacity building initiative for arts organizations, New Pathways, is focused on how to embrace change. Rasmuson Foundation secured a nationally recognized capacity building organization, EMCArts, to lead the New Pathways initiative and The Foraker Group will support their work on the ground in Alaska.
Looking Ahead to 2013 (January 2 2013)
The winter solstice came and went. So if you are reading this newsletter, those predictions about the end of the world, fortunately, were wrong. We are also now clear on whether or not we fell off the "fiscal cliff.” Now we need to see if the predictions of the impact on the economy of their decision (or lack of) are accurate.
Nonprofit Trends for Alaska, 2011-2020 (February 17 2011)
One Hundred and Counting! (October 8 2014)
Periodically I review the Letters from the CEO archive to make sure that I don't repeat myself (too much), and to monitor how many months in a row I've written one of these articles. We have published the newsletter since 2004 and it became a monthly service in 2006. In July we marked the 100th publication! The original intent of our newsletter was to share useful information from national publications and to report on important Alaska events like the Leadership Summits and Pick.Click.Give., etc. For the last six years we have worked to present provocative and original insights from our experience and research.
Pick.Click.Give. 2013 -- It's not too late to increase your results (February 2 2013)
One of the most unique and successful efforts to increase individual giving in Alaska is Pick.Click.Give. In a few years, its success is evident. But we think that the long-term impacts will be far greater and it will take more time for its total impact to be fully understood and appreciated.
Prophets (August 5 2014)
From the opinion page of the Anchorage Daily News, June 28, 2014, Steve Lindbeck writes “…you might have mistaken him for an old-timer sidelined and out of touch. You'd have been wrong. Over time his consulting services were more in demand abroad than in the modern Alaska. Angola, India, China, Finland, Israel, Iceland, Russia ...” As I read this recent tribute about the respected Alaska advocate Walt Parker, this bible verse came to mind – King James Version: Luke 4:24, And he said, “Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”  Walt was an activist and a world renowned specialist on public policy for transportation and communication issues. In Alaska, those who knew Walt sought his counsel – even his advisories noted his experience and integrity. But as Lindbeck stated, his vast knowledge seemed more respected by those outside Alaska than by his neighbors, even though he played such a significant role in our state’s history.
Rasmuson Foundation's 17th Annual Grantmaker Tour of Alaska (September 4 2013)
I think of my grandfather when I say, “I remember when….” Well… I remember, I think it was in 1996, when Diane Kaplan dreamed one of her big dreams and promoted that vision to the board of the Rasmuson Foundation. She proposed that one way to invest their (then) limited funding to leverage more dollars for Alaska projects would be to invite leaders of the most significant institutional funders, both foundations and corporations, to Alaska where they could learn about our unique challenges and opportunities.
Reflection on the Summit (February 13 2008)
Technology -- Friend or Foe? (April 9 2013)
I was recently out of state for two weeks to attend meetings and work with Alaskan boards holding retreats Outside. In between work related activities, I took a few days to relax having just completed a couple of non-stop months at work. Planning for time on and off the clock during this trip was, in hindsight, not the best strategy to chill. But I was grateful to be able to spend quality time with my wife in some nice places.  When I returned to the office I was compelled to write this article.
Ten Years and Counting (February 16 2011)
The Case to Engage in Public Policy (March 4 2014)
Nationally 31% of charitable nonprofit revenue comes from government grants. Alaska gets twice that much! That fact alone should make it clear that public policy is not just a good thing to do, many organizations must engage in it to survive. Even nonprofits that depend on earned revenue or charitable giving are not immune to today's policy challenges. Never have stakes been so high. Individually and collectively we must act – we must do a better job of advocating for ourselves.
The Future, Part II -- More Trends (December 6 2012)
I recently returned from the Independent Sector's annual conference. The message Foraker has communicated about the eventual changes to expect in our sector was reinforced by many of the presenters at the conference. All agree that this is not a time for complacency. The old notion, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” will inevitably be the downfall of all that adhere to keeping things the way they were. The world we live in is forever changed. For some this is a somber, even pessimistic message. For others it's a message of hope. What I learned at the conference may provide a clearer understanding of why these changes are not to be feared. Actually, many are exciting.
The Historical Timeline for The Foraker Group -- From Vision to 2012 (January 14 2012)
As Foraker turns eleven, we want to document the effort it took to grow from a little vision to what we are now.
The Myth of the Fundraising Board (October 3 2013)
A tenant in the charitable sector is the board helps raise money. For 13 years, every Foraker training on the board's role presented that norm. Still, in over 30 years of experience in the sector I only remember a small percentage of board members who were an asset in fundraising. Now, having observed many more nonprofits and having discussed the subject with colleagues, I am convinced that fundraising by the whole board seems the exception, not the rule.
Transitions are Good (February 9 2015)
It has been a few weeks since The Foraker Group announced my transition as its CEO. The journey to this decision was neither fast nor undertaken without considerable planning. I have the best job imaginable, and I am willingly leaving with the board s reluctant approval, because they, and I, think it is the best time for the organization.  Most of my 42 years at work have been productive and enjoyable because of the amazing colleagues I have partnered with. The past 23 years in Alaska, starting at United Way of Anchorage and evolving into Foraker, have been the best. I love the staff and the leaders that serve on the boards. In addition, I get to work with the best community minded Alaskans in the nonprofit sector who are serving their communities as volunteers and professionals. What could be bad about that?
Warning Signs -- Preparing for the Crash of the Herd and Funding Crisis (November 5 2013)
The Foraker Group has been busy over the past months working with organizations in crisis. Most had been strong nonprofits – all were providing services important to a large number of constituents. Now, they needed help. Unfortunately, they are not alone.Three years ago the last Foraker nonprofit economic study identified trends the sector could expect in the near future. From the data we found that probably too many nonprofits existed in Alaska. As a result, we predicted “the crash of the herd.” And because of shifting government funding priorities, we predicted a “funding crisis” was on the horizon. To refresh memories, here were our assumptions.
Welcome to 2015! Predictions That (Unfortunately) Have Come True (January 8 2015)
In the October 2011 newsletter, we questioned when to expect Alaska’s next economic recession. It may have been too early to ask, but it was the right question.  While Alaska may not have felt the full force of the "Great Recession" of 2008, by 2011 there were glimmers that it was beginning to ease in the Lower 48. Having moved to Alaska at the end of the 1980's recession, I heard that “when the Outside is in a recession, our economy is good. When the economy improves Outside, we go into recession.” The national economy has taken longer than usual to bounce back, but recent reports indicate that the national economy is finally improving. That good news caused me to reflect on my cautionary question a few years ago. Then, I remembered what I learned the week before Thanksgiving.
When Should a Nonprofit Go Out of Business? (August 4 2013)
According to the Small Business Administration, one-third of small businesses cease operating within two years of their incorporation and only 44% survive through four. A new employer only has a 50-50 chance of survival. It’s hard to find comparable statistics for the nonprofit sector, but in our experience, it’s harder to get a nonprofit to go out of business than to get a man on Mars.
You Were There...or You Missed It!! (May 4 2013)
As Alaskans we sometimes can't find the words to describe what we experience – like the pastels in an Alaskan sunset, standing in a stream with a Coho on the line, the color blue in a glacier, or seeing the wisdom on the face of an Alaskan Native elder. We may need to add another to that list – how we felt when we left the last Foraker Leadership Summit.