2008 Annual Letter to Alaskans

Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie once observed, "You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb himself." While the vernacular shows its age, the principle, as valid today as it was 100 years ago, is at work behind some of Rasmuson Foundation's major initiatives in 2007. We believe a community that invests in itself is a healthy community; this simple tenet informs much of what we work to accomplish through our philanthropy.

While evaluating projects to implement in 2007, we asked whether prospective programs were designed to enkindle community participation and support. The Community Asset Building Initiative, the PFD Check-Off Program, and the Alaska Statehood Experience grant program demonstrate how philanthropy can partner with Alaskans eager to climb the ladder.

Rasmuson Foundation and community leaders from across Alaska came together to develop a program that could create vehicles to prioritize and solve local problems. The three-year Community Asset Building Initiative was launched as a pilot project to ensure that communities have access to a pool of philanthropic funds to meet local needs and sustain valued nonprofit services. Partnering with the Alaska Community Foundation and citizens from seven communities – Seward, Talkeetna, Haines, Kenai, Juneau, Homer and Petersburg – the initiative provides technical support, training and financial incentives to stimulate local charitable investment into the creation of community foundations. When communities raise at least $25,000 in gifts from at least five individuals, the Rasmuson Foundation provides a two-for-one unrestricted match plus $5,000 for local grant-making activities. The process repeats in year two. At the end of the program, Alaska will have seven new community foundations, each with at least $150,000 in permanent assets and $10,000 for local grant making while their endowed funds grow.

The same philosophy of encouraging individual philanthropy resulted in the Permanent Fund Dividend Charitable Check-off program that will debut to Alaskans filing for the 2009 dividend. Alaskans are legendary for their self-reliance and individuality; we roll up our sleeves to care for ourselves and our communities. This rugged philosophy has resulted in the formation of more nonprofits per capita than any other state – roughly 1 for every 110 residents – as Alaskans seek to help other Alaskans and solve Alaskan problems. Yet, ever increasing demand for nonprofit services far outstrips the level of public funding. To sustain the nonprofit sector that provides essential services to our state, we must increase charitable giving. The PFD Check-off program will enable Alaskans to contribute some or their entire dividend to their favorite charities. Rasmuson Foundation is committed to pay all start-up and initial operating costs associated with establishing a Permanent Fund check-off for the first three years. This new law will give Alaskans the chance to roll up their sleeves to augment public funding for important nonprofit services with their donated charitable dollars.

Finally, the Rasmuson Board set aside $1 million for the 50th Anniversary of Statehood initiative to commemorate the historic milestone in a thoughtful and substantive way. Working with the Alaska Humanities Forum, the funds will support projects of all types – arts, sciences and social – that would demonstrate the impact of statehood on its people and leave a thoughtful and thought-provoking legacy as we move into the next 50 years. We believe that rediscovering a heritage of individual responsibility is an inevitable outcome. The project has two grant categories: the "Alaska Statehood Experience"will support a gamut of projects while "AK50: Our Stories"is a mini-grant program targeted at K-12 age organizations. The Forum launched an extensive, statewide outreach effort that generated 117 completed applications and more than $7 million in requests. This project is a look back as well as a look ahead. It asks where we've been and where we're going. Somewhere along the way we know this self-reflection will reveal – and celebrate – a commitment to bettering our communities through individual responsibility.

In 2007, the Foundation continued its strategy of partnering with communities of Alaskans as we awarded $36 million for 245 grants across the state. We continue to recognize individuals who, through their work, make Alaska a great place to live. Independent expert panels selected 32 Alaskan artists from across the state to receive Individual Artist Awards for their work. In recognition of her signature ability to capture Alaska's people and day-to-day activities, as well as her dedication to documenting village life, prominent painter and printmaker Rie Muñoz of Juneau received the 2007 Distinguished Artist Award. Muñoz used the $25,000 to revisit many of the remote villages of Alaska that she painted earlier in her career. Health and human service nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors Trevor Storrs, Candace Winkler, Gloria O'Neill, Linda Swarner, and Cheri Smith received awards from the Sabbatical Program.

We awarded 42 large grants of strategic importance to organizations across the state. These included a top-off grant to Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to purchase and install a CT digital image scanner at the regional hospital, which services 43 communities in Western Alaska; a construction grant to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks for a community gathering place where diverse cultures come together to learn, understand and appreciate one another; a family housing supportive services grant to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; and a behavioral health building for substance abuse outpatient services in Palmer to Alaska Family Services.

We also awarded 68 small capital grants during 2007 for a diverse set of needs from computer equipment for the Alaska Zoo to instruments and microphones for Cordova 4-H music programs; from improvements to the Gustavus Public Library to transportation services for seniors in Juneau, Haines, Kake and Ketchikan through Catholic Community Services; and from Food Bank building renovation at the Nome Community Center to an emergency shelter cabin at Igguagnak through the Native Village of Shaktoolik.

Since 1955, the Foundation has awarded approximately $170 million for over 2,295 projects across the state, in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, organizational capacity-building, community and economic development, and education.

Our ability to continue and strengthen our commitment to Alaska relies on well-managed resources. In 2007, our assets grew to approximately $590 million. The main objective of the endowment, which is managed according to a percent of market value (POMV) approach, is to enhance its real value in perpetuity. A POMV approach means that the Foundation is committed to spend no more than a set percent of the annual average market value of its endowment. This set percent, which is slightly more than 5%, is based on a combination of IRS regulation and the expected difference between the total annual return and the rate of inflation. The Foundation continues to diversify its equity-oriented portfolio which produced an 8.64% return last year. Our investment strategy, which balances growth with risk minimization, lays the groundwork for stable, long-term growth consistent with our planned grantmaking activities.

As the Rasmuson Foundation looks across the Alaskan landscape, we find many Alaskans who are actively engaged in making their communities healthy through the investment of their time, passion and giving. Andrew Carnegie was right – you can't push Alaskans up the ladder. But through matching funds, incentives for community participation, and partnerships with the public sector, you can give those ready to climb a boost.

Sincerely,
Edward Rasmuson signature
Edward B. Rasmuson
Chairman
June 1, 2008

View past letters:

2007 Annual Letter to Alaskans
2006 Annual Letter to Alaskans
2005 Annual Letter to Alaskans
2004 Annual Letter to Alaskans