Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Happy Holidays – 2011

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. And we get to work with other staff and volunteers also dedicated to a mission to seek the greater good. How cool is that? Many nonprofit staff express their gratitude at being able to serve in such a positive environment.

And if you are a volunteer directly serving clients or serving on a committee or board, I want to thank you for dedicating your personal time working with nonprofits. We hear stories from volunteers about how their involvement with nonprofits is the highlight of their week. In my opinion we never do enough to recognize volunteers. Even though staff is essential, volunteers – especially board members – are legally required for staff to do what they do. While most volunteers don’t seek recognition, reinforcing our appreciation for their service should become routine – maybe a New Year’s resolution for nonprofit execs? And this recognition should also be routine for the hard working, and often underpaid staff.

So during this season of light, family, warmth, and sharing, I want to personally express my gratitude not only for the great volunteers and staff at Foraker, but for all of you who work to serve your community.

On a personal note, 2011 will go down as the year that I personally received (too) much recognition. First I received the Shining Light Award from Congregation Beth Shalom and then the Eugene R. Wilson Award from the Association of Fund Raising Professionals. Of course I appreciate that others recognize my service, but the fact is that there are so many others more deserving of such recognition, including many of you who worked with me over the last 20 years. The only way I could accept these awards was through the understanding that everyone who helped me was included in the recognition.

To ease my guilt, I used my ten minutes at a recent board meeting to recognize my staff. They are amazing, dedicated, competent and caring souls. In Good to Great Jim Collins described the need to “get the right people on the bus.” I cannot think of a group of professionals I would rather have on the bus with me. Over the last eleven years we have had many great staff members. To date, not one has left because they were unhappy. All that left either had a great opportunity to move to, or they left for personal reasons, like a spouse being transferred.

Our staff has “internal” and “external” members. The internal staff is exclusive in their work with nonprofits through Foraker. Our external members may provide significant support for Foraker, but also provide consulting services to nonprofits outside of their time with Foraker. We have 14 internal staff and 11 internal consultants. As of today we have more than 40 external consultants that we use from time to time. All of these talented individuals constitute the “group” at Foraker.

One of our most recognized programs is also one of our most unique, Pre-Development. In 2005, private and public funders who support capital projects envisioned a service to assist nonprofits with a very challenging phase for development – the initial planning for a facility. The Pre-Development program started in 2006. Chris Kowalczewski, an architect with many years of experience in Alaska, was chosen to lead Pre-D. Chris and her husband Bruce have lived in Alaska many years. She along with leaders from the sponsoring funders established guidelines, identified contractors, and started this work. Since its inception, Pre-D has worked on over 40 projects, helping to build facilities from Ketchikan to Barrow, and from Glennallen to Bethel.

In addition to working at Foraker, Chris serves on the board of 4 A’s and is constantly volunteering within Foraker for additional duties that help the entire organization work. Chris added Pam Lund, a senior project manager with many years experience, to her full-time staff in 2010. Pam and her partner Dana moved to Anchorage from Seattle and have quickly adapted to life in Alaska. Pam is a whiz on all things “Mac” and is helping those of us less capable learn how to use our IPads and IPhones. Chris and Pam utilize three very dedicated internal consultants, Steve Fishback, John Conway and Martha Schoenthal to manage many of the projects. This is the only program of its kind in the world. And so far, every community and organization that has worked with Chris, Pam, and staff, express their deepest appreciation for their effort.

In 2008, a number of skilled professionals at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) moved to Foraker to continue the work they started in 2001 providing quality financial services to our Partners. When Foraker formed, we consulted with CITC about how to provide financial shared services since they had been providing a similar service for some of their sister organizations. Bruce Hilton was their financial leader. It was his vision that created what we now know as Financial Shared Services. During the early years, CITC took on Foraker members as clients in order to give us time to develop competence in other areas. By 2007, it was determined that it was time for this service to come in-house. Bruce had decided to partially retire, so his very able assistant, Raj Shankar brought five other employees to Foraker.

Today most of the original employees and Raj are still at Foraker. When they came they were providing services to fewer than 30 clients – today they are serving over 50! And last year Third Sector and the Tides Foundation recognized Foraker’s program as the only one in the country that was sustained on earned revenue, without a subsidy! Raj’s great team includes Gretchen Specht, Malu Antonio, Olesya Zalata Sweet, and Brent Kapansky.

Gretchen serves as comptroller. She provides the quality control on our financial services. She and her husband Ben are avid outdoors people and in between her work at CITC and when shared services came to Foraker, she and her husband lived for a year in Antarctica. Brent is the newest member of this team. He is a life-long Alaska graduate of Service High School and has an MBA. Brent is active in the community, enjoys going to his family’s place in Hawaii and is expanding his services next year by providing financial training. Olesya is from the Russian Far-East. She came to Alaska while in high school and has made it her home. She has two great sons and continues to grow and learn and decide what new challenges she wants to face in her professional career. Until that time, she does a remarkable job of balancing a very busy work and home life. Malu is one amazing community leader and makes sure her career and family allow her to engage in her extracurricular community work. She and her husband, Austin, volunteer for many community events, especially their leadership roles with Maharlika, a nonprofit organization benefiting the Filipino community. While Bruce Hilton envisioned the concept of financial shared services, he would be the first to credit Raj and this crew for taking the idea to scale. They are supported by a team of senior accountants who work part time including Tor Daley who has been with Foraker since the beginning and Kim Erickson, Kim Good, Kaye Christofferson, and Sue Riehle.

Over the years we have offered various human resources support for nonprofits. Beginning with Todd Allen then Janet Jacobs, we were able to secure the most competent, senior H.R. professionals in the state. Todd once worked in H.R. at BP, and Janet at the state and at the University of Alaska. Finally, by 2008, we were ready to hire our first full-time H.R. consultant, Rebecca Savidis. Rebecca came to us from Digitel and GCI. She had worked with both Todd and Janet soon after arriving in Alaska, so it made sense she would be the right person for this assignment. Her first project was to champion our health insurance initiative. She is still focused on finding the right solution for health insurance for our Partners but is also developing more shared human resource services. A native of Utah, she and her husband Justin are also active outdoors people and commute every day from Willow. In addition to her work at Foraker Rebecca serves as her husband’s ultimate partner pursuing their collective dream to win the Iditarod.

In the office, managing the logistics and relationships with Partners are Vicki Lewis, Andrew Cutting and our newest addition, Brooke Quiles. Since they are in the office most days, they are likely the ones you deal with when you first call Foraker. Vicki has worked with me for almost fifteen years, first at United Way, now Foraker. She is a master of logistics, but as important, she is a genuinely incredibly nice person. She and her husband John are some of the best known and liked people in Anchorage. They have never met a stranger. Andrew joined us in 2009 as our first Partner Relations Manager. He has extensive customer service experience and more important, he is great at research and communication. He and his wife, Summer, have two very cute children and are active in many other community activities, including the Alaska Sudan Project. Brooke recently moved to Alaska in 2011 with her husband who serves in the United States Army. They have a very polite five-year-old son and are expecting a second at any moment, just before her husband is re-deployed to Afghanistan. Brooke has already proved herself to be a valuable member of our team and we are glad to have her in our family.

The people you may know the best are Mike Walsh and Laurie Wolf. I met with Laurie in Seattle late September of 2001 to see if she was ready to come home to Alaska and help with Foraker. She started part time later that fall and in January 2002 we shared a desk while she began to implement our training services. Laurie and her husband Dan have a very engaging four-year-old daughter – by the way I was the first person to get her to laugh out loud at only a few weeks old! Mike started part-time in 2004 after members of the board from the Interior lobbied for a staff presence in Fairbanks. Within a few months Mike had become our second senior consultant. Mike and his wife Mahla live in Fairbanks. They have one grown and another almost grown daughter, both of whom are involved in the arts world. Both Laurie and Mike work as many hours as I do, and both have become trusted advisors to our Partners.

The only people I have yet to mention are Diane Strzok who has served as an Interim Executive as well as a mentor to many new CEO’s, Aliza Sherman Risdahl, a significant leader in the world of social media who lives in Tok with her husband and daughter, and Billy Finley our guru on all things related to the web. And finally I must mention a quartet of consultants that have served at Foraker with me, from the beginning; Dirk van den Bosch, Steve Mahoney, Suzanne Lagoni, and Joan McCoy. Dirk worked with me for over 20 years in the United Way phase of my career and is known as one of the major thought leaders of our sector. Steve has advised hundreds of nonprofits on financial and legal issues, he’s trained many professionals and board members and we are so lucky to have someone with the credentials and commitment of Steve. Joan and Suzanne were involved since Foraker was a vision. They were at ARCO, then Joan was with Phillips when we were founded. They have served as trusted colleagues and helped me stay sane through our rapid growth.

In addition to the staff we have two boards at Foraker, the Operations Board, comprised of sector leaders from throughout the state and the Governance Board comprised of many of our state’s most influential business, government and nonprofit leaders. Our work here could not happen without these committed volunteers — also part of the “group.”

The Operations Board has 10 members who have served since we were founded:

  • June Rogers – Fairbanks Arts and Cultural Center, Fairbanks
  • Marla Berg – North Slope Borough, Juneau
  • Sven Haakanson – Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak
  • Jake Poole – UAF, Fairbanks
  • Joy Steward – Homer Foundation, Homer
  • Wayne Stevens – United Way of Southeast, Juneau
  • Carrie Brown – Healthy Alaska Natives Foundation, Anchorage and Interior
  • Jaclyn Sallee – Koahnic Broadcasting, Anchorage and Nome
  • Ira Perman sector leader extraordinaire, Anchorage
  • Sammye Pokryfki – Rasmuson Foundation, Wasilla

They are joined by a stellar list of other leaders:

  • Stephanie Allen – United Way of MatSu, Wasilla
  • Michele Brown – United Way Anchorage, Anchorage
  • Karen Cowart – BP, Anchorage
  • Angela Cox – Arctic Slope Native Association, Barrow
  • Jerry Drake – Bethel Community Services Foundation, Bethel
  • Charlotte Fox – Alaska State Council of the Arts, Anchorage
  • Stephanie Garrard – Covenant House, Anchorage
  • Mary Gibbs – ConocoPhillips, Anchorage
  • Randy Hagenstein – Nature Conservancy, Anchorage
  • Tina Marie Herford – United Way of Kenai, Kenai
  • Gabe Layman – Cook Inlet Housing, Anchorage/MatSu
  • Karen Lunquist – United Way of Tanana, Fairbanks
  • Joan O’Keefe – SAIL, Juneau
  • Elizabeth Ripley, (Chair) – MatSu Health Foundation, Wasilla
  • Suzanne Rudolph – Providence Foundation, Anchorage
  • Ben Stevens – Council on Athabascan Tribal Governments, Ft. Yukon
  • Saralyn Tabachnick – AWARE, Juneau
  • Candace Winkler – Alaska Community Foundation, Anchorage

The Operations Board provides guidance on our services and pricing as well as providing perspective on Foraker’s strategic direction.

They are joined by the Governance Board which holds the fiduciary responsibilities for Foraker. Those members are:

  • Will Anderson – Koniag, Inc., Kodiak
  • Tom Barrett – Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Anchorage
  • Bruce Botelho – Mayor, City/Borough Juneau, Juneau
  • Sheri Buretta – Chugach Alaska Corp., Anchorage and Chugach Region
  • George Cannelos – Civic Leader, Anchorage
  • Valerie Davidson (Chair) – Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage and YK Region
  • Glen Gardner – Civic Leader, Sand Point and Aleutian Region
  • Jeff Jesse – Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Anchorage
  • Diane Kaplan – Rasmuson Foundation, Anchorage
  • Bruce Lamoureux – Providence Health and Services, Anchorage
  • Janie Leask – Civic Leader, Anchorage
  • Steve Marshall – Civic Leader, Anchorage
  • John Minge – BP Alaska, Anchorage
  • Elizabeth Ripley – MatSu Health Foundation, Wasilla
  • Bernie Washington – Alaska Public Telecommunications, Inc., Anchorage
  • Kathie Wasserman – Alaska Municipal League, Juneau
  • Dean Westlake – NANA Village Corp., Kotzebue and Northwest Arctic

Two members of the Governance Board have served all but one year since our founding. Both of those members have gone well above the call of duty to serve our mission. They are Bernie Washington and Diane Kaplan, both of whom served on the United Way of Anchorage board when Foraker was first envisioned.

Bernie led a committee in 1999 to develop the first business plan. The committee did research and shepherded this little idea through the vetting process to ensure what was created had the capacity to be sustained. Once the vision began to take form, Diane Kaplan championed the initial funding and took the first business plan developed and completed the second draft. Words of appreciation will never express the real impact these two leaders have made for our sector and for me. With their help, along with the service of our boards and staff, we have thrived for eleven years!

I guess you can see why I am grateful for all the people who have helped make Foraker what it is today. Thank you and happy holidays.