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Jan 8, 2019
Posted Under: President's letter

So often the end of the year is a time of reflection – looking back in order to look forward. Loving traditions, I don’t have to look any further than November 30 to seize my lessons for 2019. There were so many gems to choose from. I could take with me the stories of courage, determination, and sheer devotion to mission. I could draw strength from the stories of individuals around town leading in selfless acts with compassion – or stories of generosity like those of the Girl Scouts who I’m told ran out of community service badges because so many girls stepped up to lend a helping hand in the days after the initial quake. And with every aftershock in Southcentral Alaska, I am reminded that our sector – the safety net for our communities—perseveres in mission delivery even in light of devastation and upheaval around them.

Story after story that came to us through our Earthquake Needs Survey brought lessons of dedicated nonprofit board and staff members who were working to not miss a beat when it came to delivering services. So maybe the lesson to take with us is an old one about how our work is too quiet and unnoticed even when its absence would be notable. Or maybe it is our own response to asking for help and the muscles we need to get better at both asking for and accepting support. Perhaps not surprising to some, but somehow still surprising to us, we couldn’t help but notice when we asked you to tell us what you needed to recover, we got a self-reliant response. We were proudly told that you dug into your savings, or worked from home when you couldn’t get into your offices, or did whatever had to be done so that missions continued. Truly, getting people to tell us that they needed help was actually difficult. We are used to giving help – not asking for it. We have seen this before in so many ways – from our approach to philanthropy, our work with boards and volunteers, and our struggle at times to collaborate for a greater purpose. So maybe this is the lesson to take into 2019 – that asking for help is a sign of strength not failure, that people want to help, to partner, to give, to be part of something bigger than themselves, that asking for and receiving help can actually be a relief, and that through this support we are creating new opportunity for the future.

We know that this lesson takes time to sink in and building our muscle memory around it will take more than one challenging event. So to help, let’s celebrate what happens when we ask for help.

While it took some coaxing, we heard from more than a hundred organizations in our initial survey. And the response to the call for help was a remarkable, true Alaska response. WOW! To name just a few, The Alaska Community Foundation created an emergency fund to catalyze corporate, foundation, and individual philanthropy; Rasmuson Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust, United Way of Anchorage, and the Atwood Foundation all jumped in with significant emergency funds, and Wells Fargo took an extraordinary leap and leveraged funds from their national emergency response pool for Alaska. So many more contributed in ways we have never seen before, but in ways that set a tone for future efforts. It was winning by all accounts. And during the holidays, in the time when no one had extra time, more than $480,000 in 32 grants moved quickly out the door to help our sector help communities across Southcentral Alaska. Extraordinary! Let me say it again just so we are clear – the money is amazing but it is only part of what made this lesson one to build on. It took everyone. It took people to say they needed help. It took relationships built on trust. It took communication and coordination. And it wasn’t just a one and done – it was a muscle building experience. We are all – ALL stronger because of it.

And yes, we know there is more work to do and more damage to be assessed. The ACF Disaster Recovery Fund is open and we hope for another round of support in the coming months. We also know that after the fanfare fades the work continues, both for those who are cleaning up and for those whose lives are forever changed. We remain committed as do so many others to stand with you every step of the way. Look for a new survey later this month to understand the updated needs. We also will continue providing new information on the earthquake recovery page of our website. Until then, keep the stories coming. We want to share in your journey.

So with our new-found gift of strength and the acknowledgement of our collective ability to meet community needs, we usher in 2019. Earthquake aside, this year brings challenges and opportunities aplenty. In 2019 we will focus on turning other challenges into opportunities.

  • The federal government shutdown affects Alaska at every level including our efforts to prepare for the 2020 Census. We also anticipate deep impact from forecasted state budget cuts that often hit our sector and those we serve the hardest. Knowing this, we stand ready in 2019 to help you find your voice in support of the critical role you play in maintaining strong Alaska communities. We will help you get together to say what matters and to speak with clarity. We will work with you, and we look forward to many opportunities to share and learn about each other’s local, state, and federal public policy priorities.
  • More than just earthquakes, we are learning from our peers across the country on how our sector can better prepare for natural disasters and more specifically how we work with government and private industry on coordinated philanthropic and mission responses. We look forward to deeper conversations on this critical topic in 2019.
  • We are interested in learning more about how both federal tax reform and social media platforms like GoFundMe are impacting philanthropy in Alaska. We also want to know how we can help you approach your work through a strong culture of philanthropy. Look for a statewide philanthropy survey this year and new offerings to help nonprofits build smart donor-centered plans and receive personalized support in the process.
  • We are building on our nearly two decades of work understanding the culture and context of nonprofit leadership by combining our emphasis on diversity in board and staff leadership, strategic succession, staff retention, and leadership development. This combination will result in a comprehensive offering aimed at changing the norm in nonprofit culture to planned succession, strategic search, and smooth transition of key leaders. We look forward to more conversations about this service at our Leadership Summit.
  • Speaking of the Leadership Summit, mark your calendars because it will be spring before you know it. Pre-sessions will be held May 1 with the summit following May 2-3. The speaker line-up is already inspiring, and we are just getting started. Make sure you are receiving our updates so you catch the early bird special. Hint for those of you nonprofit unicorns – you won’t want to miss this moment.

These are just a few of the ways we plan to build from our strengths and the lessons we have learned and turn our collective challenges into opportunities to help us all thrive. Last January I invited each of us to find a word that would sustain us through the year ahead. This year my invitation is to create a visual reminder of the strengths you already have and the lessons you are taking with you into 2019. My visual for the lesson of asking for and receiving support is enclosed. Share your pictures with all of us. Until then, let 2019 be the year we use our lessons as a source of inspiration.