2013 Annual Letter to Alaska

A message from Ed Rasmuson

Dear Alaskans,

Benjamin Franklin once famously remarked that, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Truer words are hard to come by. Preparation is critical to meet the future with any measure of confidence, so this year we cast a spotlight on ways the Foundation and its partners plan for Alaska’s future.

The origins of charity in this country, “to bear one another’s burdens” as Massachusetts Bay Colony leader John Winthrop wrote in 1630, stem from both the religious beliefs of the colonists and the sharing values of America’s indigenous people. We can, by voluntarily working together, relieve suffering by sharing our assets. Many early foundations in this country not only practiced charity, but also created institutions for long-term benefit, like schools and hospitals and libraries. Franklin left his own fortune in a trust designed to gather interest for 200 years before being disbursed for education in his native Boston and adopted Philadelphia.

The challenge for Rasmuson Foundation, as Alaska’s largest philanthropy in one of the country’s youngest states, is to do both; we must remain responsive to Alaska’s immediate needs and look upstream to change systems if we want to create opportunities for a better quality of life.

The word upstream means many things in Alaska. For those who study salmon, upstream is a destination that requires magnificent feats of energy, literally swimming against the current so that life can continue. In the oil industry, upstream refers to the activities preceding the first drop of oil coming out of the well. In both cases, the events that happen upstream define the probability of future success.

One of Rasmuson Foundation’s first experiments in upstream grantmaking was our investment in the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Dental Health Aide Therapists (DHAT). The program has improved oral health care in rural communities by changing how care providers are educated. Last year, 12 years since our first investment in DHATs, Foundation Vice President Cathy Rasmuson delivered a keynote speech at the 2013 DHAT graduation. The DHAT program was born from a realization that if we had the right vision, worked with key partners, and stuck with it for years, we could, over time, help provide much needed oral health and living-wage jobs to rural Alaska communities. Today, 21,000 Alaskans each year receive services from an Alaska DHAT.

A scan of the attached 2013 grants list highlights other upstream strategies. They include our continued support for The Foraker GroupPick.Click.Give., and the Pre-Development Program. And a new fund at the YWCA will provide for the health of Alaska’s women veterans; it is named in honor of the fifth director of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, my stepmother Mary Louise Rasmuson.

Last year also marked our public launch into the development of urgently needed housing, work we support across the state and in Anchorage as a member of Housing Anchorage. And our strategic investment in the Recover Alaska collaborative has yielded increased attention across many sectors in Alaska to the costs associated with overconsumption of alcohol.

While we launch a new era of proactive social investing, we retain a robust portfolio of responsive grantmaking that was my father’s pledge to all Alaskans. In 2013, Rasmuson Foundation made grant awards in 57 Alaska communities, from Barrow to Yakutat, Togiak to Tok.

The dedication and grand re-opening of Chief Shakes Tribal House and carving shed in Wrangell was a watershed moment for a vibrant community that prioritized renovation of its cultural treasure ($450,000 Tier 2, Nov. ’11). So, too, was the grand opening of Arctic Slope Native Association’s new Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow ($333,000 Tier 2, June ’13), which had been on the Indian Health Service’s nation-wide health facility replacement plan since 2004. The Foundation supported the new optometry clinic there. These were just two of 46 Tier 2 grant awards in 2013, and both epitomize the community support, leverage and forethought we celebrate at Rasmuson Foundation.

Twenty-thirteen was a banner year for our Tier 1 program, which awarded 164 grants — a record for the Foundation. And as the attached list shows, the Foundation was able to extend commitments to the Sabbatical Program and the Arts Initiative.

These investments were made possible in part because 2013 was a exceptional year for our endowment performance. At year end, our investments were valued at approximately $616 million, a major turnaround from early 2009 when the endowment slipped to less than $400 million. The increase in the Foundation’s endowed assets translated into more grants awarded – more than $33.5 million – than any previous year of Rasmuson Foundation’s 59-year history. And not a moment too soon, it turns out, because while the markets appear to have rebounded for the time being, calls for help from the community’s most vulnerable populations are at an all-time high.

But perhaps the most memorable event of 2013 for my family was the sunny dedication of Lile’s Garden ($337,000 Tier 2, Nov. ’11) at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Named after my mother, the garden includes hardy perennials arrayed in swaths of colors and textures reminiscent of a piece of Athabascan beadwork. The dedication also doubled as a family reunion of sorts, with both of my sisters Lile and Judy, our children and grandchildren, plus Foundation staff and friends. It was a lovely occasion the memory of which will be cherished for years to come.

Dad wrote in his vision for Alaska that the Foundation was created to support nonprofit organizations that strive to improve the quality of life for people throughout the state. It is a tall order: ‘quality of life’ eludes both precise definition and a clear road map, but demands more emphasis on upstream approaches to achieve long-term results. How we pursue those results is just as important as what we support.

While the Foundation pursues an upstream approach in additional ways, there will always be a firm place for working with our nonprofit partners to meet Alaskans’ needs in the here and now. That’s what Jenny Rasmuson and her son Elmer envisioned.


Ed Rasmuson, Chairman