2006 Annual Letter to Alaska

A message from Ed Rasmuson

Ed Rasmuson during the June 2006 board trip to Fairbanks.

A Chinese proverb states, “One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.” Clearly, there is important work underway today in Alaska’s communities that will provide benefit to Alaskans far into the future. Here at the Foundation, we work with “communities of location” such as Homer, Wrangell, or Unalaska; “communities of need or identity” such as artists, ethnic groups, seniors or youth; and “community organizations” such as Urban League or Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together (AFACT). Our nonprofit partners are important players within all community types. We all work together when searching for a solution to an issue, or to bring a project to life. Over the past five years, as our work has grown beyond our historical capital project focus, we’ve come to better understand the complex nature of community issues. While there is still much learning to be done, we know that the path from “tree planting” to “providing shade” can be a long one full of twists and turns.

Looking back at 2006, I’d like to highlight three important community projects that are in the planting, growing, and shading stages. First, The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) has the largest budget of any department in the state system, distributing over $146 million annually to approximately 300 nonprofit organizations. These nonprofits, some of the strongest and most effective service providers in the state, told us that if DHSS would consider changes to its current grant management and customer service processes, there could be a very positive benefit both to their organizations and the sector as a whole. DHSS staff members agreed as well. In 2006, the Foundation funded a study to identify opportunities to improve internal DHSS practices and strengthen relationships between DHSS and its grantees. After gathering a significant amount of community feedback and performing analysis, a series of improvement recommendations were universally endorsed. While great progress has been made in a short amount of time, much work remains, and it is too early to determine what the future might hold.

Second, rural Alaska Natives currently suffer from a rate of tooth decay 2.5 times the national average because, in general, they do not have access to the same type of oral health care that most Americans enjoy. What is today known as the Dental Health Aide Therapist program began in early 2002 as a $15,000 Foundation-supported dental health assessment to explore how to deliver high quality oral health care to rural Alaska. Led by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the program has galvanized policy makers, the Denali Commission, foundations across the country, the dental community, and Alaska Natives to support adapting a model of dental care used in 50 countries worldwide to reverse these high rates of tooth decay. In 2006, there were eight therapists practicing in their communities, with nine more on the way. Importantly, an in- state training program was begun. This program will not only improve people’s health, it will also create community-based, sustainable jobs in rural Alaska.

Finally, from educational, recreational and safety perspectives, a swimming pool is an important part of school and community life in an island community like Petersburg. A 1999 feasibility study began a seven year process to replace the community’s swimming pool facility. During this time, the estimated price of the facility tripled. However, because it was a community priority, voters twice passed general obligation bonds which were complemented by federal and Foundation monies. In 2006, an enthusiastic Petersburg community opened its new aquatics center.

In 2006, the Foundation continued its strategy of partnering with communities of Alaskans as we awarded $27,590,000 for 268 grants across the state, and paid out $25,512,052. Our work continues to recognize individuals who, through their work, make Alaska a great place to live. Health and human service nonprofit CEOs Virginia Baim, Patricia Branson, Dennis McMillian, and Brenda Stanfill received awards from the Sabbatical Program. Independent expert panels selected 32 Alaskan artists from across the state to receive Individual Artist Awards for their work. Weaver Delores Churchill of Ketchikan received the 2006 Distinguished Artist Award in recognition of her lifelong accomplishments in the arts. Moving into their third and fourth years respectively, these important programs continue to be shaped both by outreach activities and recipient feedback.

We awarded 41 large grants of strategic importance to organizations across the state. These included Providence Health System to support the new cancer center located in Anchorage and Southcentral Foundation for a nationally-recognized Telepharmacy Network Project which will provide automated pharmaceutical dispensing units at 28 rural health clinics. We awarded a challenge grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to reinvigorate the undergraduate fisheries program over the next five years. We were one of a large group of funders of the Alaska Rural Teleradiology Network, designed by ASHNHA Program Services Company to serve 12 rural community health centers. Finally, we partnered with Northwest Arctic Borough, Maniilaq Association, NANA, and University of Alaska Chukchi Campus to support construction of the Sulainich Art Center in Kotzebue.

At the same time, we took great pride in awarding 78 small capital grants during 2006 to organizations such as American Lung Association of Alaska for a public exhibit of the history of tuberculosis in Alaska; Hope and Sunrise Historical Society for restoration of historic buildings in Hope and improvement of the museum grounds; the LeeShore Center in Kenai to replace the transitional living center’s roof; the Camai Medical Center in Naknek to purchase trauma stretchers, surgical lights and cabinets; the City of Nulato for the renovation of its teen recreation center; and Willow Area Seniors for a backup generator.

Since 1955, the Foundation has awarded approximately $132 million for over 2,050 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 both continue and strengthen our commitment to Alaska relies on well-managed resources. In 2006, our assets grew to approximately $572 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 a 15.03% 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.

Passion and commitment drive “communities” across Alaska to undertake projects or begin programs designed to enhance the quality of life for Alaskans. What begins as a concept works through the enigmatic yet necessary community process. That process can be long. It can be challenging. While one of the possible outcomes is no progress, often the result is more thoughtful and of much higher quality than that originally envisioned. In the words of 20th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin, “Patience is also a form of action.” As the Foundation, in partnership with the myriad of communities across the state, focuses increasing effort and resource on more complex issues, Rodin’s observation serves as a constant reminder of the importance of the community process.


Edward B. Rasmuson
June 1, 2007
2006 awards