Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Looking Back on Summer Adventures and Packing our Gear for Fall

It’s back-to-school time, and families all over Alaska are shifting their schedules, settling in to new routines, and preparing for the fall and winter. At Foraker we are getting into our fall routine with the launch of our new training schedule. We are also watching the leaves turn just as fast as we are noticing our fall and winter days filling up with board and staff planning retreats. We anticipate this routine every year, and we are ready.

Like most back-to-school conversations, we thought we would share what we did over the summer and what’s in store for the new “school year.”

This summer, we went on three different kinds of expeditions. The first was our regular hiking trail. This is the route we have traveled with minor adjustment for 15 years – providing services that offer stability and predictability and, we hope, some fun for Alaska nonprofits. You will find all our team on this path from time to time, but we have a few who are here in the office every day. They are front-of-house team members who are fielding your questions and helping you navigate the next steps in your work with Foraker. Our Financial Shared Services staff and consultants are here, too. They are busy every day providing back-of-the-house accounting for almost 80 nonprofits and tribes. They do payroll for more than 800 employees and assure that nonprofits have their financial house in order. We are grateful for this type of expedition because we know we are creating less stress and more space for nonprofit board and staff to focus on delivering their mission.

The second expedition can be compared to many family car camping adventures. You know the kind – when you bring out all the things that make you feel supported while living in a new place for a while. Our cohort support programs have been setting up camp all summer. We’ve taken out two sets of adventurers – one through our New Pathways arts innovation program and the other made up of new executive directors who are in their first three years of service. We also launched our cohorts into the 6th year of Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence and the 16th session of the Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. These cohorts add a level of intensity to our support that feels like just the right gear when you really need it.

Our third adventure this summer was on unmarked routes. We took a lot of these. For these routes we needed each other more than ever, so the staff and board has spent time focusing on and talking about possible routes to new destinations. We are still learning and listening, and we have begun to clear the way on some new trails. Perhaps you had a summer adventure like this, too, and remember how exhilarating and exhausting it is. Still, I hope you feel like we do that it’s the “good kind of tired” – the one that has us sitting by the fire or, in our case, by the water cooler sharing stories about how we got here. We might have also eaten a bit more chocolate for energy along the way, but that’s just part of our journey.

We can’t wait to share with you all the new tools and ideas we are creating on this adventure. We will be rolling them out slowly at first and are planning a bigger splash at our Leadership Summit on April 2-3 next year. Sometimes, however, it’s fun to hear just enough about the adventure to want to go, too. With that in mind, below are a few of the projects we look forward to sharing with you.

  • In our last newsletter we reported on some public policy efforts in which we were able to help amplify the sector’s voice. Our economic climate means more of this will be happening. We are working on new tools to help you better show your contribution to the economy and change the conversation about the value we bring to communities – while we simultaneously debunk the notion that the nonprofit sector is a burden. Are you ready to raise your voice with other sector leaders? Our communities need you and we are ready to take on the big issues that impact our sector. Have you signed up for our public policy alerts so you can better understand the issues prepare to act? If not, now is the time because we have a lot more work in front of us this coming year.
  • This summer, the board approved Foraker’s new strategic directions for the next five years. The plan is big and it’s possible but we are going to need some new gear and some new maps to get us there. Thankfully, our compass is working and we know our true North thanks to our core purpose and core values. These are the best kind of guides as we take on the next phases of our theory of change. This means more systems work, more community efforts, and much more effort to tackle difficult challenges. We wouldn’t even imagine going it alone so we hope your gear is packed and you are ready to lead or come along in the journey. It will take each one of us to make it work.
  • Within a week we will publish the new Foraker Salary and Benefits Survey report, and for the first time it will include the critical conversation of gender pay equity in our sector. This is a tool to help you make goods decisions, so be sure to bring it on the journey with you.
  • You now also have access to a report on new research to benchmark your own internal capacity needs based on a five-state survey in which many of you participated. You can find both the summary report and the full text of the survey on our website. Just click here. Once you read these reports, I promise they will make you think and, I hope, they will inspire you to act. Coming soon, too, will be a more detailed report on the responses by Alaska nonprofits that were part of the survey.
  • We have been working at creative collaborations for a long time, and this summer we have been honing this work around the critically important role that organizational culture plays in these relationships. Our roadmap is nearly complete.
  • Sometimes your favorite gear needs an upgrade. I know when that happens to me I wonder what it will be like, and almost always, I am so glad I got the new version. A “favorite route” now falls into this category. What once was part of our regular hike is now a new expedition called Pre-Development 2.0. We are excited, and we hope you are, too. To learn more see the full article in this newsletter.
  • The strange thing about an adventure is that we are often so into it we forget who isn’t with us. We have been thinking about who isn’t in nonprofit board rooms and on leadership staff. This is more than a diversity issue, it’s about equity and it’s about inclusion. We know other people and organizations are asking versions of these questions and seeking action. The more the better because these issues are all encompassing and there are so many different paths in this braided river. This summer we explored new ways to get deeper into the water in our own Anchorage neighborhood and found cross-sector partnerships with the Municipality of Anchorage, businesses like Wells Fargo Alaska, and other nonprofits like United Way of Anchorage and Rasmuson Foundation. Our focus is on how to better engage our very diverse community in the civic life of Anchorage. We held an initial community meeting with a great turnout and are planning ways to engage more people and organizations that are interested in working together. Our focus will be on encouraging leadership across the sector and we know clearly that focus is intricately tied to many issues both upstream and down. We are on this journey for the long haul.
  • No expedition is complete without an emergency kit. Our economy is on a long trek full of uncertainty, and we want you to be prepared for all kinds of emergencies before they happen. So this summer we have been building up your emergency preparedness kit, which includes refining succession planning tools and classes, developing financial scenario templates, and creating a checklist of financial resiliency indicators. We also are making sure we all safely follow the rules so we created some new FLSA tools for the upcoming changes in December. Every emergency kit needs some meaty substance to sustain us, so we are redoing our business plan workbook to be richer in flavor.
  • Off in the distance, just over 200 days of hiking from here, is our Leadership Summit. Mark your calendars for April 2-3, 2017. I love getting to the summit. It’s a chance to take in new views, explore new vistas, and feel grounded in my journey. I love them most when I can get back down and home safely because I gained new skills and found new support in my journey. Registration will open in January but it’s never too early to prepare for this trek. We encourage you to read our book Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey. It’s the base gear that we will build upon to get us where we need to go.

Whew – it’s been a full summer. We took these adventures in record breaking warm temperatures that had us basking in the sun as we took healthy breaks along the way. We also had some fun on our own individual adventures, which included the celebration of a wedding, a pregnancy, two new puppies, milestone birthdays, a new house addition, and one year of executive transition.

We hope you had an amazing summer full of all the ways that fulfill you. Come visit us this fall and tell us about your summer. Tell us, too, about ways we can work with you on your next adventure. We are ready.