Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

The Foraker Group Blog

One of my favorite ways to end a full day of facilitation is to ask everyone in the room what they will take with them and what they will leave behind because it no longer serves them. This round-the-room exploration is often a telling moment for what has moved people throughout the day – and more telling about what will stick moving forward. To launch us into 2018, I offer my own version of what we are taking with us from 2017 and what we at Foraker will leave behind as we stand with you in 2018.

2017 ushered in a new federal administration, a state in fiscal disarray, and a sector left to wonder how we would manage it all as we worked diligently every day to serve our communities. You persevered, you endured, you were brilliant. Every day nonprofit leaders did ordinary and extraordinary things to move missions forward. Along the way, we shared with you a few ideas to bolster your efforts. I invite us all to take these eight mantras with us into 2018.

  1. One word intention. In 2017, we focused on choosing one word to keep us grounded. I invite you again to commit to this practice. 2017 was about staying focused and not getting lost in ALL the policy changes. This year we still need to focus on our intentions as a sector and on our missions – specifically to stay connected to relationships that strengthen missions, that strengthen our connection to donors who have motivations beyond tax deductions, and that strengthen our connection to policy makers who understand the critical role our sector plays in a vibrant economy and a healthy democracy. Our intentions come from our core values. Our values drive our work. Let’s stay focused on living our intentions in 2018.
  2. Choral breathing. A useful metaphor in 2017 was the idea that we can sustain our energy if we borrow a brilliant tool from the arts. For those of you who have participated in a chorus or enjoyed a performance, you may have noticed the group’s ability to sustain a very, very long note. This is because of the technique of choral breathing. To make choral breathing work in our daily lives, we each get to take a breath as we need one, regroup, and re-engage – just not at the same time. We have to sustain the work and the way to do that is together. Sing your cause from the rooftops, take a break, rely on your team, sing again. Repeat. Together in 2018 we will let our voices be heard.
  3. Curiosity. With so much change, it could be easy to get discouraged or shut down. I invite you to savor the manta I used in 2017 — “curiosity will serve me.” Useful in so many circumstances, in 2018 we can choose to have a panic reaction or we can get curious and ask more questions. Let’s spend 2018 seeking to understand so we can build bridges to move us to a new place.
  4. Small experiments with radical intent. We learned a handful of years ago from our partners at EMCArts that the key to innovation was not betting the whole house on a theory but practicing what they called small experiments with radical intent. We shared this often in 2017, and we are embracing it as a “go-to practice” for our time. This practice invites us to run true experiments in which we harken back to our fifth-grade science projects to form a hypothesis, question our assumptions, design and run an experiment, reflect and learn from it in order to implement a positive shift. Around and around we go with incredible results of turning our environments into learning organizations that are practicing true innovation rather than random “good ideas.” In a world that needs us all to get to better results for the very complex problems we face, this practice can continue to serve us all in 2018.
  5. Public policy is not a luxury. In 2017, we jumped into the public policy arena with both feet and many of you joined us. Together we created a culture of advocacy in our organizations and among our peers. We prioritized our efforts. We organized. We educated our staff and our board. We engaged our donors. We formed coalitions. We stood up for each other’s missions. We found our collective voice. Many days I rejoiced at the efforts I saw across Alaska as board and staff leaders stood for their missions. Many days I said out loud, “if you are not active in public policy you are not doing your mission,” and every time we moved a little closer to amplifying each other’s voices for a stronger, better result. Our work has just begun, so in 2018 let’s keep our attention on the public policy that impacts our missions, our causes, and our communities.
  6. Overhead is mission. No apologies in 2017 and none now. Nonprofit workers need a living wage. Nonprofits need administrators, and fund development professionals, and marketing experts, and office assistants, and computers and phones, and staples, and paper, and light and heat. These items are not luxuries. They are not extras. They are mission. In 2017, we signed on to burst the overhead myth. We are going to keep at it until not only do the very people within our sector stop discounting the necessity for overhead, but more than a few in our funding community begin to fund unrestricted operations – because it is all mission.
  7. Missions are bigger than organizations. As noted many times, in many ways, the work we do is bigger than all of us, and it is bigger than any single agency. We focused on this topic deeply at our Leadership Summit in 2017 and we have much more work to do not just in understanding what this means, but in changing our organizational practices if we are going to make true headway in our work. Let’s take these efforts into our planning and into our board rooms in 2018. Let’s take it into our peer support groups and into our policy efforts. These efforts don’t have to be monumental, but they do have to be meaningful.
  8.  Support. Every month, every day. Getting and receiving support is a sign of strength in leadership. We have based our work on this mantra and we have seen the results in you. We are in this together and it is just far too much to do alone. May 2018 bring you new ways to give and receive support.

So, as we prepare for 2018, and we take these eight mantras with us, we know the things Foraker will leave behind to make space for what is new and improved. In 2018, we say so long to:

  1. Our out of date website. Yes, we are excited to bring you a new website in 2018 with new tools to use, new ways to learn, easier navigation, and more ways to engage. Look for our launch in the spring.
  2. Old nonprofit data. Early this year, just in time for the new legislative season, we will have new economic impact data for Alaska. Every three years we embark on a deep dive into our economy to show the net result the sector plays in our Alaska life. This year, our audience is policy makers and our efforts will be to work with nonprofit leaders to get the word out that we are a powerful economic driver in Alaska, and we are part of all the solutions rather than a result of the cuts.
  3. Former definitions of winning. 2017 taught us a new definition of winning. We are leaving our old definitions as we craft our new policy agenda which we will release early this year. Our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels will focus on preserving the sector and the vital work each and every American relies on every day.
  4. Status quo of boards. Systemic discrimination, oversight, status quo – whatever the reason, our nonprofit boards do not represent the communities we serve. While we have made some efforts in the last 18 years to change this – on whole nothing has changed. In 2018, we are leaving our assumptions and old ways of working behind and are committed to raising the issue, creating new tools, and fostering new partnerships in an effort to see real change. Our missions are only as strong as the people at the table. And when we are not all at the table, we fail.
  5. Old policy and old rules. As 2017 drew to a close, Congress enacted sweeping tax reform. We fought to protect the nonprofit sector as it came under attack in 15 different aspects of the bill. In the end, we temporarily preserved the Johnson Amendment that will keep politics and dark money out of our charitable organizations, and we saved the unrelated business income tax redefinition would have caused many organizations to pay taxes on sponsorships, underwriting, and mission-based earned income. We also know that like all working Americans, there will be changes in how your taxes are calculated.  There are many who want you to take action on that now, but the reality is that we are all waiting on the IRS to enact regulations to tell us all how this will occur.  Like all laws, they need regulations to take effect. We are all waiting for these and trust me, no one yet has the scoop on what it will look like.   Additionally, our effort to fully preserve the 100-year tradition of incentivizing charitable giving for   most Americans has now changed. It is true you can all still itemize, but many of you simply will not because it won’t make sense to do so. While we can only estimate the long-term impact to the sector, we have watched as people have experienced a “fear of missing out” phenomenon that inspired new or increased giving at the end of 2017. This frenzy of year-end giving could be happening for all the best reasons, which are that donors truly care about the results nonprofits create. But if the motivation was strictly tax abatement, then 2018 and beyond will prove to be rough. We stand with the nonprofit sector to continue to be donor focused.  To know that as we leave old rules behind there will be new rules soon enough.  We urge you to stay informed, but don’t panic. We urge you to stay grounded in what matters most to your employees and to focus on the roots of philanthropy, which means “love of human kind.” Remember that only 22% of Alaskans itemized before so many were never motivated by tax incentives. Stay clear, don’t perpetuate more “fear of missing out.” We will navigate this together as the new rules come to light.

As we go into 2018, we are curious, what will you take with you from 2017 and what will you leave behind?

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