January is a time when we hold our annual meeting per our bylaws. We take care of Foraker’s business at this meeting including a review of our audit and our investments. It is a big day and one that makes me feel proud that we are doing all we can to support Foraker as a strong business that is working to strengthen Alaska’s nonprofits. Foraker’s board structure is unique compared to state associations and capacity building organizations. Our two statewide boards oversee Foraker. The Governance Board is responsible for legal, financial, and mission stewardship, and the Operations Board keeps us connected to the sector we serve. The Governance Board is comprised of leaders from the for-profit sector, local and tribal governments, higher education, and key philanthropies. It ensures that Foraker is strategically placed to advance Alaska’s nonprofit sector including tribal governments. The Operations Board is comprised of leaders from the state’s nonprofits, tribal leadership, and philanthropic practitioners. It serves as a sounding board for staff initiatives, helps monitor nonprofit issues and trends, serves as a neutral space for direct service and nonprofit philanthropy to meet, and advises the Governance Board to ensure alignment with our core purpose to Strengthen Nonprofits.
In this cycle, we said our thanks and farewell to Bryan Butcher, CEO of Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation, as he ended his nine years of service on our Governance Board, two as chair. Bryan’s kind heart and clear strategy were the perfect balance in and out of our boardroom. Truly his service was exceptional. We will miss him in all our rooms, and we are grateful he will stay on our finance committee and as a member of the Sultana New Ventures board. Please help me thank Bryan for his true commitment to strengthening the work of nonprofits and tribes across Alaska.
We also welcomed two new Governance Board members, Carol Gore and Ethan Tyler, and four new Operations Board members, Beth Trowbridge, Shane Iverson, Cynthia Libby, and Mriya Lovishchuk. These statewide leaders bring breadth and depth to our team, and we can’t wait to engage them all.
Finally, we also shared our gratitude with Jaeleen Kookesh, our outgoing Governance Board Chair. Jaeleen served two years in this position and was just the right leader for us at the right time. Her steadfast determination to keep us moving forward as we emerged from the impacts of the pandemic was insightful, inspiring, and on track. Please help me thank Jaeleen and know that she will continue on our board as she transitions in her career. Also, help me say congratulations to Dr. Pearl Kiyawn Brower who is Foraker’s new Governance Board Chair. Pearl was our Operations Board Chair, and we are so excited to work with her in her new role.
We are off to a great start with a wonderful board team.
Last month we rolled out our public policy priorities for 2024. This month I want to share more about this work and call your attention to some specific actions we need from each of you.
Back in 2009, Foraker formally became the state nonprofit association and part of a group of 42 peer organizations across the country. This action not only validated our role in the convening and research but it also got us thinking differently about our role in public policy. Our signature effort to that point had been publishing nonprofit economic reports, and writing the original legislation and hiring the lobbyist to create what is now Pick.Click.Give. We didn’t engage much in public policy until I became CEO in 2015. Since then, we have taken part in extraordinary efforts including the formation of a national model of census advocacy we call the Alaska Census Working Group, which launched AlaskaCounts in 2020 and will resume its work in 2030. The 2020 Census numbers ensure that Alaska nonprofits had access to $50 million+ of direct pandemic relief funds from CARES, ARPA, and even more indirectly from specific pass-through and local government partnerships across Alaska and now partnering with the Alaska Municipal League (AML) and others to host the website to track federal infrastructure funding coming into Alaska. We also ramped up our advocacy training and engagement across Alaska to support nonprofits in finding their own voices and standing for their missions as partners to government and within their communities. Truly the list of ways we have exercised our nonpartisan voice on behalf of the nonprofit sector and tribes in Alaska has been exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking but always interesting.
We don’t make any choices lightly about which issues to tackle. We have a thoughtful process to determine our public policy priorities. These are not just while the legislature is in session, but certainly, our ability to make significant progress ramps up during the session.
Today, there is one priority I want to call out specifically. In a rare move, the Foraker boards have approved a resolution in concurrence with the Alaska Municipal League to call on the State of Alaska to provide prompt payment parity to nonprofits, tribes, and local governments as they do with for-profit businesses or risk penalties and interest, but more importantly, to have clear lines for accountability not just for us but for them.
The lack of prompt payment by the state to nonprofits and local governments has been an issue for years, but the scope and scale of the delays are now untenable. To be clear, this is not about asking for new money. These are budgeted and approved funds the state has failed to pay on time in far too many cases – grants, contracts, and reimbursements – generally, three-to-six months late or longer, while at the same time asking for reports about how money was spent that was never received just to stay in the queue for the next disbursement of funds. This process is stressful, time-consuming, and burdensome to everyone involved, but more than that this money pays for essential services like domestic violence shelter employees, senior citizen care coordination, behavioral health providers, local transportation providers, food pantry supplies, substance abuse services, arts and culture opportunities, educators, childcare providers, and so many others. This lack of prompt payment is not just in one department of state government – it happens in virtually every state department, which means it is a systemic problem. Foraker has tried for years to bring this issue to the attention of those we believed could fix the problem, but it not only persists, it continues to get worse.
While I encourage you to read the whole resolution, the bottom line is this: Alaska’s nonprofits, tribes, and municipalities are essential partners with the state. Because of our unique geographic and demographic profile, we provide services that the state otherwise could not provide, or if it did, the cost would be astronomical. Through grants, contracts, and reimbursements to nonprofits and tribes, the state expands its reach, finds efficiencies, and can improve the quality of life for all Alaskans.
In the same way that roads and bridges are built through contracts with private sector engineering and construction firms, the state meets many of its obligations by outsourcing to nonprofits and tribes. Our communities rely on the dedication and solvency of Alaska’s nonprofits. Prompt payment is an essential part of the economic ecosystem, ensuring this vital network remains healthy and helpful. Delayed payments result in degradation of service and in some cases bankruptcy. And temporary solutions like tapping into savings accounts, laying off employees, or halting service are simply not viable. And the quality of life for all Alaskans suffers.
As always, we want to be part of a solution, not just lend our voice to identifying the problem. For many years we and many individual organizations have tried a variety of strategies to find solutions to delayed payment that are both good for the state and good for our sector, but the reality is that this issue is complicated and systemic, reaching into each department. Therefore, it requires a systemic solution that works both for the state and all those they partner with to deliver services.
We are ready with a list of ways to make the situation better for now, and to fix the problem for good. We understand the solutions will come through dialog and action, and we are committed to the journey no matter how long it takes. If necessary, we have model legislation from other states that we believe will work in Alaska. We remain committed to working constructively to achieve a bicameral, bipartisan approach to find solutions before we break Alaska’s safety net.
We need your voice on behalf of the sector
Since our most recent visit to the Capitol and through our extensive outreach, we understand that several legislators who have brought up the subject of delayed payments during recent committee hearings were provided with encouraging statistics from the state about recent average turnaround times to process grant payments. This is encouraging and we applaud every effort that the state employees are making to fix these issues. That said, we continue to believe the problem is real, systemic, and more sweeping than grant turnaround time in a couple of departments. This is where your voice matters.
You can help in two ways:
We know work like this takes time and effort and lots of partners all working toward the same goal. We feel confident that if we are successful, it will mean less burden on the state and its many hard-working employees, more efficient government, better systems for Alaska for the long-term, and most importantly services available for Alaskans when they need them the most. I hope we can count on you to be on this journey with us. We are stronger together.
Are you ready? This year promises to be one in which your full participation will be in high demand. Not only is it a national and local election year that by all current indications will do more to divide us than unite us, but we are also bringing with us the persisting challenges of 2023 as we continue to reckon with workforce challenges, declining funding, and significant leadership transitions in our board and staff spaces. I wrote last month about our superpower as a sector to hold on to our belief that everything will turn out for the best, and I am digging deep into that place as I prepare with you for 2024.
We are ready for you with tools and resources to keep you focused, motivated, and connected. We rolled out some incredible new tools in 2023 like our Alaska Board Match to help you engage as a volunteer leader or to find your next board champion and our Alaska Funders Directory to help you focus your corporate and foundation searches to make the most strategic requests to support your mission. Along with those two tools, we have seen a surge in the use of our Jobs Board as shifting in the workforce has many looking for the right next person. And, also, more of you are visiting our Pre-Development Toolkit as an increase in infrastructure funding makes its way to Alaska.
Leadership Transition has helped nonprofits of all sizes, mission areas, and geographies navigate change while maintaining mission continuity. We are the only service in Alaska that centers our approach on an organization’s culture, while leaning heavily into the strengths and aspirations of the board and staff, for a customized approach to each effort. And, our Foraker workforce is growing and becoming more diverse, which is exciting and requires intentional efforts both with those already on our team and those who will be joining us in 2024.
From Bias to Belonging is a strengths-based approach where everyone is welcome and where shame and blame have no place in our work. We are all about fostering a workplace where we are called into the conversations and are part of every improvement effort.
We know that part of a shifting workforce is a desire for more economies of scale in the way we work. This month we will welcome a large batch of new financial consultants to complement our already amazing team in Financial Shared Services. This is a focused effort on our part to meet your needs for excellent and consistent accounting and payroll services while also addressing your system clean-up and maintenance projects.
Building these resources and services is just the beginning of all the ways we are ready to support your mission in 2024 to thrive and not just survive. For a full listing of our services, our website is always a great spot to bookmark, and be sure to check out our class calendar, which is updated quarterly with new and renewed ways to learn and grow together with nonprofit people across Alaska.
From our beginning, Foraker has been dedicated to advancing the voice of the nonprofit sector in public policy and research. 2024 will bring new research to practice for you to use both in your everyday decision-making and in advancing your public policy issues. We will start with a new way of providing you with nonprofit salary and benefits data through a partnership with the other nonprofit state associations in the Northwest. This year, five states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska) will work together to provide a larger dataset and more ways to compare your salary and benefits data. We are excited about this potentially enhanced tool kit.
2024 will also be the year we update our Nonprofit Economic Impact Report. This invaluable tool quantifies how essential all your work is to Alaska’s economy. Our goal is for every Alaska policymaker to fundamentally understand that the role of the nonprofit sector is not just “nice” but indispensable to making Alaska work best. We are a strong and equal partner to state, local, tribal, and federal governments, and we are doing our part for the people and places of Alaska. We will have more ways for you to use this tool, and we can’t wait to hear how you put this research into action. We also plan to update our gender pay gap information this year, as well as continue our work to close the pay gap in Alaska. We have a few more fun things in store for you, but you will just have to stay tuned to hear about them as we make our way through the year.
Part of our role as the voice of Alaska’s nonprofits is to prioritize our advocacy efforts. You can find our priorities update for 2024 here. The bottom line to all of these priorities is this: Alaska’s nonprofits are essential partners in our economy and our way of life.
As always, we want to be part of a solution, not just lend our voice to problems. We are ready with a list of ways to make each situation better or even fix it for good. We understand the solutions will come through dialog and action, and we are committed to each journey no matter how long it takes.
If standing up for your mission is new to you, or if you would like to brush up on your advocacy skills, we have a class for you – Strategic Advocacy, When to Jump In and Why It Matters. The next session is Thursday, January 11. We will tackle the changing role of nonprofits in public policy advocacy and share some tools that will help your organization become more strategic, not just in responding to the latest news, but in setting your public policy priorities.
I want to emphasize as we always do and that we know to be true – we are stronger and more effective when we work together. So, thank you in advance for joining us either to grow your capacity or to stand for your mission with your advocacy voice.
We are ready. Join us.
Foraker seeks a highly skilled Senior Director of Philanthropy to join our dynamic leadership team. This role presents two exceptional opportunities for an individual with a strong background in fund development to contribute to our organization’s growth. First, this position will play a crucial role in engaging with tribes and nonprofits throughout the state through one-on-one fund development facilitation and as an instructor, thought partner, and collaborator for Foraker’s fund development courses and cohort programs. Second, this position will lead Foraker in our philanthropic growth and engagement.
Our ideal candidate is an accomplished philanthropy professional who is deeply passionate about nonprofit excellence. We are looking for someone with the ability to be a humble and articulate guide and mentor and a strategic leader who can take the work to completion.
This is a fantastic opportunity for someone to work with a motivated and dynamic team with fund development knowledge and infrastructure, and to take our growth to the next level. Learn more here.
This holiday season, Diwali, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa all celebrate by embracing the light. The light that shines through these darker days brings with it joy, delight, connection, and reflection. I like to think it also promises us more light ahead – not just in sunlight but in all the other ways we may need it, too.
In this particular season, I find myself wondering where we are right now in the grand scheme of history. There are no good words for it. It feels less clear to call it pandemic time and equally unclear to not think of it in those terms. We might feel more collective comfort if we could name it, but that label eludes us. Instead of a name, I am left to look and talk and listen to many in our nonprofit sphere to find my answer.
From this space, I hear we are collectively still recovering. We are still feeling for – in fact, desperate for – solid ground beneath our feet as we make our decisions. We are still holding our breath as we continue navigating a never-ending stream of decisions about how to make our budgets work for maximum good, how to do the best we can for the people we work alongside, and how to absorb the loss of funding and volunteers when we need them the most – all without losing the ground we just recovered. I see hands reaching out for safety, security, and assurance in so many ways that it isn’t clear whether those who are asking even know what they are seeking. The complexity of this time has us in unknown spaces and the weight of it all is real, even when we can’t name it.
I feel it, and based on almost daily exchanges, I know I am not alone. So it is that at this moment the promise of more light seems so very important.
For years we have been ruminating on what it means to live in a VUCA world – the place where volatility is met with vision, where uncertainty is met with understanding, where complexity is met with clarity, and where ambiguity is met with agility. Using VUCA to describe this overarching time in our lives has often given me solace. But as I think more about how the combination of these leadership traits works to move us forward, I realize that there is something else at play when I say “ambiguity is met with agility” and that is the belief that in the end, in fact, it will be okay.
There are some signs that our collective belief in a good ending to a workday, a project, our mission efforts, and our work relationships, might be slipping away. I wonder what you see and feel? For some context, one of my mentors often reminded me when I became a CEO that “if it is not okay, you are not done, so keep going until it is okay.” This made so much sense to me because I understood that we shared a common understanding that it would resolve and be okay. I never really questioned it.
But now I see signs from so many who also used to trust and believe – signs that something is different. This often looks like the loss of joy in the workplace. Sure, they are showing up and doing the work but with less spark that the belief in a good ending brings. I am also hearing so many mixed messages from both leaders and staff for a strong desire – even demand – for flexibility while simultaneously asking for a level of clarity and boundaries and a process that used to be unnecessary. I hear conversations and overgeneralizations about one generation or another in the workforce that manifest in questioning each other’s intentions rather than seeing a larger theme at play. These moments often result in less trust and less willingness to hold the belief together that it will be okay. Admittedly, it was hard to maintain the mantra of “trust the process” before 2020, but it seems now that even for those who could, the barriers are greater. I worry for us.
I worry because this belief, knowing deep down that it will be okay – that it will all work out in the end – this is our nonprofit superpower. This is how we get up and keep doing what we do.
This deep belief allows us to do what seems impossible on any random Tuesday.
This deep belief creates possibility and abundance when scarcity tries to win.
This deep belief suspends the rules or, better yet, lets us not need the rules in the first place.
This deep belief has us laughing with each other and provides the backdrop to our knowing nod that “we got this.”
This deep belief connects us and encourages trust that we are stronger together.
This deep belief comes with its own safety net that catches us when everything else seems in motion.
This deep belief reminds us that the work is worth it – because it is.
Despite the very real challenges we face, I still believe.
I want this belief to be strong for you. For me. For everyone in our work. Because WOW, a superpower like that can change the world and our way in it for the better.
So, if I could give you all a gift in this season that celebrates the light, I would give you:
Truly, I would shine all the light your way through this time and into the new year where we can remind ourselves and each other of our hope, our faith, and our belief that it is going to be okay.
Let’s shine bright together.