Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

A Season of Gratitude?

There are so many reasons to feel and express gratitude throughout the year and, yet, often it takes a holiday or some external reminder for us to stop a moment and give one of the best gifts we can to ourselves as leaders – to be thankful. We have no shortage of demands on our time, our energy and our missions to do more and do it better. But for a moment, perhaps just the time it takes you to read this post, let’s stop and give thanks.

Like you, I have a personal list of people and experiences that I am grateful for every day. Top among them are my family, close and forever friends, the Foraker staff, and this work in Alaska that I so truly love. But I have another list that I offer all of us, which focuses on my top five moments of gratitude to Alaska’s nonprofit sector. Come celebrate with me.

  1. We generate economic impact. One of the best conversations I am having around the state right now is about the positive impact our sector has on the Alaska economy. Collectively we generate 63,000 jobs and $6.5 billion in revenue. There is compelling data showing that nonprofits are the growth industry in our state both for rural and urban centers. We are the fabric of everyday life in Alaska and no one is left untouched by our collective work. We all have a role in ensuring that the formal and casual conversations on the economy that are taking place across the state include the nonprofit sector as a partner in making our state systems work. We are far from “takers” in this system, but instead provide necessary human, environmental, artistic, cultural and civic engagements that are delivered better, cheaper, and faster than any government system could provide. And we are multiplying each and every dollar that we receive into more jobs, more service, and more money for our whole economy. I am grateful for these conversations. They are challenging and exciting, and we can all have them every day. (To learn more, go to our 2014 report Alaska’s Nonprofit Sector: Generating Economic Impact.)
  2. We are values driven. As part of the formal fiscal conversations Foraker is facilitating across the state, Liz Medicine Crow, President/CEO of First Alaskans Institute, has joined me to explore a common truth in our work – we are a values-driven sector. When considering this notion as it relates to our state’s fiscal challenges, the nonprofit sector has solutions to offer. Consider the practice of nonprofit budgeting. Our first step in this process is to get clear on who we are (core purpose and core values), and then determine where we are going (often captured in strategic and annual plans). Once we have that focus, then we attach the budget and funding to match our efforts – this is “double bottom line,” or mission and money thinking, and ensures that we avoid mission drift and have the funds to achieve our goals. This should sound like a familiar process to you. Some of your organizations are so good at this that you can actually see your organizational values and goals purely in the numbers of the budget – that is the point. This concept is not new to our sector, but seems rare to hear in conversations about our state’s budget situation. Instead, the conversations are almost entirely about money and little about the impact that the funds have on what we value as a state. We have an opportunity to change the conversation from one that is purely financial to one that starts with our core values and goals as a state. The opportunity to have a greater impact on this discussion, using our sector’s framework, is immeasurable.
  3. Partners for success. This year the Rasmuson Foundation is celebrating its 60th The family’s commitment is felt in communities across the state and in nonprofits both big and small. Their partnership is more than financial – they are thought leaders and strategic collaborators in our communities. They believe in Alaska, and their financial investments are only one way they show their generosity. Recently, Dennis McMillian shared his story of gratitude about the ways the foundation has made an impact on the sector. Here is an excerpt of his speech from the anniversary dinner.

Sixty years ago while Elmer and Jennie were creating the foundation, he also worked with fellow citizens to establish the first United Way in Alaska called the Good Neighbors Fund and over the years dedicated countless hours to put it on a firm financial foundation. Now, 60 years later, United Way of Anchorage is a national leader in community impact and philanthropic support. Another effort to build capacity was the creation of the Grant Maker Tour that has generated tens of millions of dollars of support for Alaskan organizations, building their capacity and good will for Alaska from many national philanthropic leaders. An initiative close to my heart was the initial funding to found and then provide the ongoing support for The Foraker Group, now the nation’s largest and most comprehensive nonprofit Management Service Organization, building the capacity of the sector. In addition, through innovative grant making guidelines, such as transparency of unrestricted cash reported on financials and the foundation’s emphasis on board giving, you normalized better governance across the state. And during the last decade you have grown significant individual philanthropy through support of the Alaska Community Foundation and its affiliate capacity building program, CABI, and you led the amazingly successful effort to increase grassroots individual giving through envisioning and supporting Pick.Click.Give.” 

Dennis’s celebration of Rasmuson Foundation’s influence in our work only begins to cover the amazing stories that each of you likely have in your own organizations. The foundation is collecting stories as part of its anniversary celebration. If you haven’t taken a moment to share your story of how their investment has made an impact in your community, I encourage you to do so on their blog.

  1. Giving together. Follow the donor’s interests and goals – listen, engage, show gratitude. These are some of the most important tenants of fundraising that many of our organizations will focus on as they engage with donors like you and me. This time of year is often dubbed “the season of giving” and can be a wonderful reminder to each of us to find the causes that matter to us and engage with the organizations that are asking us to invest in the communities we value. There are many ways to make an investment, and one way to do it as a collaborative experience that brings Alaska nonprofits and donors together – that’s Click.Give. This program encourages participating organizations to “grow the number of individual donors, grow the amount that a donor gives, and grow awareness about the power of individual philanthropy in Alaska.” I am thankful for donors who use this giving tool to make the investments that matter to them.
  2. Giving thanks. If I have had the pleasure of working with you, it is likely you have heard me say that sincere recognition is our key to success with donors, partners, and our team. At this moment, and as often as I can, I offer my sincere thanks to everyone who is working, volunteering, and investing in the sector. I am inspired by the stories I hear and see every day of your willingness to do the hard, meaningful, and heartfelt work – for your gifts of time, money and energy – and for your commitment to our collective community. If there is a “season of giving” and a “season of “gratitude” let’s make sure that they are connected and they last all year long.

I have shared five moments that I am grateful for today. It isn’t the season that makes me grateful, it’s the everyday experiences that come from my work. We each have so many opportunities to find gratitude in our daily lives. Maybe it is small moment in a big day – or perhaps you can see it more often. There is a lot of hard news, difficult missions, and challenging times in front of us. The option to get stuck in the negative is real. How will you find your moment in a day, in a week, or throughout the year to find and express gratitude?