2016 Annual Letter to Alaska

A message from Ed Rasmuson

“Fiscal soundness, like liberty, must be ever vigilantly defended and guarded.”

– Elmer Rasmuson, remarks at the annual meeting of the Trustees of the Permanent Fund Corporation, 1993

Dear Alaskans,

Readers will not be surprised when I say that little has changed regarding Alaska’s budget since my 2015 letter. Alaska continues to find itself in dire financial straits – oil prices remain low, the state’s constitutional budget reserves have been tapped to a dangerously low level and a solution to the $3 billion plus budget gap has not been adopted.


With the state at a critical crossroads, the Foundation took my father’s words to heart and, for the first time in its 60-year history, dipped its toe into the political waters with a broad based campaign designed to start a statewide conversation on the state’s financial challenges. Our goal was to educate Alaskans about the budget crisis, share facts and options, and explain the need for quick action.

We believe a sustainable fiscal plan can be achieved through a combination of four key components:

  • A restructuring of the PFD;
  • Creation of new sources of revenue;
  • Budget cuts; and
  • Revision of the state’s oil and gas tax credit system.

We spent the latter part of 2015 laying the groundwork for the campaign and began work in earnest at the start of 2016. Outreach and education efforts crossed all platforms – community presentations and town halls, social media, telephone polls and op-eds published in newspapers across the state.

We unveiled an online budget tool in March 2016 that gave Alaskans a first-hand glimpse into the budget’s complexity, and allowed them to try their hand at crafting a balanced budget. More than 15,000 Alaskans utilized the tool, with more than 1,300 submitting their own proposal.

Data shows that our efforts had an impact. Across the board, there has been an increase in the percentage of Alaskans who support the implementation of a state income and sales tax, a combination of cuts and new revenue, and a permanent reduction of the PFD as a means of balancing the state’s budget. We shared these findings with Governor Walker and Alaska legislators as well, giving them unbiased feedback on the pulse of Alaskans that can help guide them in their decision-making this session.

Yet the state’s fiscal challenges were not the only topic of discussion in 2016. The year was filled with many bright spots that epitomize the good work Alaskans are doing every day to strengthen their communities.

The Alaska Community Foundation Affiliate Program

Perhaps no other endeavor embodies the spirit of community more than our partnership with The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) and the creation of the Affiliate Program.

My father believed that the definition of a healthy community is one that invests in itself. The Affiliate Program was created to help communities do just that. By supporting local volunteer advisory boards in their efforts to grow permanent, geographically-based endowment funds, we’re empowering communities to identify their needs and fund projects and organizations that meet them.

The Affiliate Program’s goal is to increase community-based philanthropy through the establishment of local community funds. Since 2008, the Foundation has invested close to $5 million in the program, which has grown to more than $16 million in permanent assets, giving Rasmuson Foundation a 3:1 return on its investment. Because of that growth, coupled with the many good projects being funded in each of the nine Affiliate and four partner communities, the Foundation’s Board has committed to granting an additional $5 million to the program over the next four years.

Rasmuson Foundation and ACF will work to expand the Affiliate Program’s reach by adding five new community affiliates by 2019. ACF has dedicated staff in the form of an Affiliate Community Officer, an Affiliate Program Officer and nine Program Managers (one in each community). The Program Managers assist with day-to-day administrative tasks, allowing the Affiliate advisory boards to focus their time and attention on philanthropic efforts.

Tier 2 Grants

Our Tier 2 grant program continues to fund projects that demonstrate a broad-based community need, awarding $5.5 million in 2016 to 22 organizations across the state; each of these projects will strengthen community ties and expand opportunities for residents. The projects below exemplify the type of innovative ideas and community collaboration the grant program was designed to support.

Chilkat Valley Preschool will soon have a modern, functional space to nurture the minds of Haines’ youngest residents while creating connections with the city’s elders. Haines Borough will build a 1,416 square-foot addition to the Haines Senior Center to house the preschool, which will serve up to 24 three and four-year olds. Not only will the new space overlook the adjacent Tlingit Park and playground, but the co-location will deepen the preschool’s already existing relationship with the Senior Center. Children often visit the Senior Center for story time, and the two groups have already begun planning for increased interactions.

The 2015 Kids Count found that Alaska has the highest rate of teens age 16 – 19 who are either unemployed or no longer attending school – 11%, almost triple the 4% national average. To help place Alaska’s most at-risk teens on the road to becoming financially stable adults, Anchorage-based Covenant House Alaska will partner with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an alum of our annual Alaska Grantmakers Tour, to implement the Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential Initiative. 

Over the next three years Covenant House will help an estimated 240 homeless youth achieve their high school equivalency, prepare for post-secondary education and give them the skills and training they need to enter the workforce. The initiative will be life-altering for those youth who participate, giving them the education and skills they need to achieve financial stability as adults. It will also indirectly impact all Alaskans by increasing productivity and reducing the burden on government aid programs, health care and the criminal justice system, which are all associated with a life of poverty. Over the last decade, Rasmuson Foundation has awarded Covenant House with multiple Tier 2 grants, including $1 million in 2011 to construct a new shelter and $75,000 in 2014 to further renovate their facility.

A new Gambell Presbyterian Church & Community Center opened in 2019.

The 700 residents of Gambell, a small, Yupik village located on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, will see a dream 18-years in the making come to fruition with the completion of the 5,220-square-foot Gambell Presbyterian Church & Community Center. The project, spearheaded by the Presbytery of Yukon, Inc., has already garnered impressive community support – more than 64 churches, 130 individuals and various groups and businesses have donated $2 million in cash and in-kind services – owing to the expansive needs the community center will be able to meet. The community center will house the village food bank, elder nutrition program, and youth and language learning center, and it will serve as temporary housing, emergency response center and Wi-Fi hotspot for villagers.

Ten-year restropective of arts and culture in Alaska

The belief that art improves quality of life has always guided the work of Rasmuson Foundation. To celebrate the richness of Alaska’s arts and cultural assets and our investments over the last decade, we created the “Ten Year Retrospective of Arts and Culture in Alaska.” The retrospective, which seeks to cultivate greater public interest in the arts and highlight artistic talent from across the state, evolved into two major projects – a curated touring museum exhibition, and a ‘coffee-table’ style art book/catalog.

Creative Alaska: A Ten-Year Retrospective of Support for Alaska Artists, 2004-2013. (University of Alaska Press, 2016.)

Dr. Sven Haakanson, Jr. who was born and raised in Old Harbor, Alaska, and now works with the University of Washington’s Burke Museum, curated the touring exhibit, “Living Alaska,” which features contemporary visual art collected through the Foundation’s Art Acquisition program. The exhibit opened at the Anchorage Museum in November 2015 before traveling to Fairbanks’ Museum of the North, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Pratt Museum in Homer, and Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska.

Dr. Haakanson and Amy Steffian, Chief Curator at the Alutiiq Museum, served as co-editors of the book, Creative Alaska, which includes the first 10 Distinguished Artists named through the Individual Artist Award program since 2003, as well as Fellowship and Project Award recipients over the same 10-year period. You can find copies of the book at Alaska libraries, and it is available for online purchase through University of Alaska Press, most online retailers, and local bookstores. Thank you to the Anchorage Museum and Museums Alaska for providing additional project support on the retrospective.

Our acclaimed Alaska Grantmakers Tour celebrated 20 years of bringing influential foundation leaders to Alaska to learn about our state and increase philanthropic giving to our organizations. The Tour has taken 142 representatives from 78 foundations and organizations on a 5 ½ day tour of Alaska’s rural and urban centers, giving them a first-hand look at Alaska’s unique needs and allowing them to hear directly from nonprofit, government, tribal and private sector leaders.

Grantmakers Tour of Alaska

Data shows that Tour alumni have gone on to invest approximately $110 million in Alaska organizations – like the partnership between Covenant House Alaska and the Annie E. Casey Foundation I mentioned earlier – an amount equal to 40% of the Foundation’s own investments. Yet the Tour’s impact is more than just financial – we know that the relationships we have built continue to raise Alaska’s philanthropic profile across the United States.

Alaska’s fiscal future remains uncertain, but Rasmuson Foundation will continue its work of celebrating Alaska’s achievements and serving as a catalyst for change. We’re proud to have awarded more than $300 million in Alaska. No matter what happens, helping others will always be an Alaskan tradition.


Ed Rasmuson, Chairman

List of 2016 Grants and Initiatives