Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Rasmuson Foundation’s 17th Annual Grantmaker Tour of Alaska

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 Ed Rasmuson. 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. She assumed that the Rasmuson Foundation would have much more potential for impact in cooperation with these enlightened funding partners. At that time the Rasmuson Foundation’s payout was approximately $300,000 – not even close to the $20 million the foundation gave out last year.

Elmer Rasmuson also supported the idea of the tour. But no one, not even Diane, really understood the huge impact this strategy would have for nonprofits in our state.

The first event was held in 1997. That year five leaders from foundations including the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust arrived in Anchorage on a sunny August afternoon in time to run to the hotel, drop their bags, then hurry to Ed and Cathy Rasmuson’s house for a dinner with some of Alaska’s most significant leaders.

The next morning the funders were whisked away on a whirlwind tour of a number of Anchorage based nonprofits and met with a group of Alaska funders. The following day they rose early to catch a flight to Prudhoe Bay, then over to Barrow before returning home late that night. By Thursday they were understandably having a hard time catching their breath but, again, had to get up, tour the Anchorage Museum, meet with Senator Stevens and Ed Rasmuson and then leave for a fish camp on Cook Inlet. There they learned more about Alaska’s indigenous populations – while having the experience of a lifetime fishing in a creek full of Coho (silver salmon) along with half-ton brown bears. Friday they were back in Anchorage in time to board a flight for Seattle. WHEW!!! It overwhelms me to remember that experience. My job that year was to drive all of these dignitaries through Anchorage in my minivan.

Several Alaska organizations have now joined in partnership to provide important support for the tour. They include the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Hotel Captain Cook, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, BP Alaska, CIRI and the CIRI Foundation, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips Alaska, First Alaskans Institute, the State of Alaska, Municipality of Anchorage, the Alaska Railroad Corporation, Southcentral Foundation, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Center, the United Way of Anchorage, Wells Fargo, and The Foraker Group. Over 100 leaders from 70 foundations and corporations have been on the tour since its inception.

The group of funders visiting Alaska in 2013 was representative of the talent and leadership present during the prior 16 years. It included Ed Henry, President and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Fund; Suzanne McCarron, President of the ExxonMobil Foundation; Jim McDonald, Senior Program Officer at The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; Rachel Monroe, President of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Dawn Chirwa, Chief of Staff for U.S. Programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Anthony Radich, Executive Director at the Western States Arts Foundation; and Claude Gascon, Executive Vice President at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

This year the tour was lengthened. The guests arrived in Anchorage on Sunday night, August 25, and met with three Alaska icons – Arliss Sturgulewski, Willie Hensley, and Vic Fischer. On Monday they spent a day in Anchorage visiting many organizations and meeting with a group of Alaska funders before having dinner at the Rasmuson’s with many of Alaska’s leading citizens. On Tuesday they flew to Bethel and on to Napaskiak to get a better understanding of many of the challenges addressed by rural Alaskans. Then they came back to Anchorage for a train ride with many of Alaska’s nonprofit leaders down Turnagain Arm. On Wednesday they flew to Prudhoe Bay then to Barrow to continue their exploration of the Alaska that so many of its own citizens never get to see. They had dinner with North Slope leaders then flew back to Anchorage. On Thursday the group’s first appointment was with Governor Sean Parnell, First Lady Sandy Parnell, and many of the Commissioners – then on for a short visit to the Anchorage Museum before boarding a flight for Sitka. There they dodged the weather and were treated to Southcentral Foundation’s fish camp at Silver Salmon – then back to Seattle.

As you can see, this tour crammed as much as possible into one short week so these visitors, like the funders who came before, had a much more comprehensive understanding and appreciation for all things in Alaska. I have spoken with former participants who said that some of their strongly held positions on various issues were transformed by the experience. Dawn Chirwa from Gates reported, “I thought I knew so much about history and cultures, but this trip reminds me of how much I really didn’t know.” Many of these visitors have become long-term advocates for Alaska. The Rasmuson Foundation’s little initiative has more than met its original goal of leveraging resources for our state. Aligned with their mission “to promote a better life for Alaskans,” the grantmaker tour is another significant Rasmuson Foundation contribution.

Even with success, there is more that you can and should do as a result of the amazing opportunity this tour creates for all nonprofits in Alaska. Check the websites of the foundations that came this year and determine if their funding priorities are a fit for your organization – if so, make contact. And do it while their memories are fresh.

With all the funding that has come to the state from this event, we have heard from too many funders that they never hear anything from any nonprofit in Alaska after they leave. If that is so, it’s a shame because this tour creates such an opportunity for each and every organization in Alaska – even those of you who did not get to meet our guests face-to-face. But for those of you that were able to connect with them while they were here, what are you waiting for? You must ask if you want to receive.

Most nonprofits in Alaska know how to develop proposals. If not, Foraker has classes that can help you apply – but please make an effort. If you have questions about the appropriateness of a proposal you would like to submit, please call us or a program officer at Rasmuson. We are eager to help you appropriately connect to potential funding. The ball is in your court.