Rasmuson staff reflect on powerful time at Juneau conference: Native perspectives of complexity and change; diving under the boat of philanthropy; and the fear and thrills of zip-lining.

Rasmuson Foundation staff traveled to Juneau the first week of October for the annual Philanthropy Northwest Conference and extracurricular activities designed to foster teamwork and camaraderie. The theme of this year’s annual PNW conference was yaakw tayiwú, a Tlingit phrase that translates to “underneath the boat.” The phrase was chosen because it conveys the complexities and challenges inherent (though not always obvious) in the philanthropic landscape.

Conference sessions focused on topics such as public-private partnerships, the challenges of smaller foundations, policy trends, and partnering with Alaska Native groups. Several Native leaders gave powerful talks, including a keynote address by Willie Iggiagruk Hensley.

Conferees were treated to a large Native foods dinner, hosted by Sealaska Heritage Institute, Sealaska Corp. and Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood. Another evening, local families hosted dinners for small groups of conference participants.

Rasmuson Foundation staff also had fun, enjoying team-building activities together. The zip-lining especially was a big hit. The following are impressions shared by staff:

What struck me the most was the theme of community interwoven into our three days in Juneau. As a new staff member, the trip provided me an opportunity to deepen relationships with my coworkers and see the inspiring work of local grantees first hand. The Arts Walk, in particular, left me with a greater appreciation of the power of the arts, and really people, to create community. But most powerfully, the session with Liz Medicine Crow and Sarah Dybdahl on giving and reciprocity in Native culture turned my notion of community upside down and left me humbled, inspired and with a new understanding that community starts with me.

Emily Bokar, Communications Associate

Have you heard the news? The Jeff Baird Foundation is officially open for business. The endowment is a work in progress, but as was recently reinforced, being cash-challenged is no reason to curtail my inner philanthropist. Of all the wonderful speakers I had an opportunity to listen to at the Philanthropy Northwest Conference, it’s the words of David Katzeek I’ll pause to reflect on. David is a leader of the Eagle Thunderbird Clan of Klukwan. He’s an elder, commands the attention of a room and set the conference tone as the first speaker.

Philanthropy, he said, is love, and you don’t have to be a millionaire to love. Philanthropy is offering a kind word to a stranger. It’s picking up trash on the way to your car. It’s sharing your successes with others, and having the courage and self-awareness to develop your talents – whatever they may be – and give them to your community. In other words, philanthropy is something we all have the power within us to do, and, by the way, something Alaska Native communities have been excelling at for 10,000 years. What a great reminder for a conference that included some of the largest Foundation’s in the world. So the Jeff Baird Foundation is accepting applications. Let’s do something amazing.

Jeff Baird, Program Associate


I have at least a hundred special memories from the retreat and Philanthropy Northwest conference and it’s impossible to list them all so I’ll just highlight two – the zip lining adventure with my fellow Rasmuson Foundation staff members and dinner in the home of the Mallott family. On a daily basis, the staff works incredibly hard on serious issues so it’s awesome when we get a chance to cut loose and play together. While flying through the forest on a gorgeous sunny day, we laughed, sang, whooped, and cheered – not just another day at the office! And although I’ve been to many industry conferences over the years, this is the first time to my knowledge that a conference dinner was actually a number of small group meals hosted by local residents in their homes. It was a risky idea but it worked beautifully thanks to the generous hospitality of families like the Mallotts who served not only delicious locally harvested seafood but also genuine warmth and stimulating conversation. These two experiences sum up what I love about philanthropy: it brings people together who are thoughtful, generous, and like to have fun.

Sammye Pokryfki, Vice President of Programs


Philanthropy Northwest is a wonderful resource! Really great opportunity to learn about collaboration among funders, and grantees, and get a better perspective of how powerful collaboration can be, but also how difficult it is to bring all parties together. Thank you to the Native American leaders who shared their culture, stories, food, and warm hospitality with us in Juneau!

Barbara Bach, Director of Grant Management and Operations


Color, rain, umbrellas, “Before I die, I want to:” (giant chalkboard mural fed by spontaneous — and temporary — public response), Baranof, Mendenhall, swimming pool, vans, laughs, cell phones, zips, raincoats, Alaskans, salmon, Centennial Hall, modern, Native, Rainbow run, Pel’meni, reunion, story, Willie Hensley, history, inspiring, challenging, busy, art, dinner, philanthropy, dancing, kids, walking, homegrown, mentors, rural, urban, tears, who was the hero?, working, sharing, Excellent.

Aleesha Towns-Bain, Program Officer


This was, by far, the best staff retreat I’ve had the privilege to attend since starting at the Foundation. There were many memorable moments. From zip lining at Eagle Crest with my colleagues, to the Philanthropy Northwest Annual Conference, which gave me a deeper understanding of the issues our program staff deal with daily. I enjoyed hearing the Native tribal leaders and came away with the utmost respect and admiration for their resolve to make Alaska a better place for all of us. I appreciated being reminded that philanthropy comes from the heart and not from our pocket books. Another memorable moment was watching the children perform their Native dances. I felt their pride in their community and their heritage. Thank you to all those who helped organize and make this conference as successful as it was!

Carmen Goodwin, Grants Accounting Associate


The staff retreat was a “zipping” good time. I already knew what a “high flying” team I was joining but what I didn’t know is that they were going to have me jumping out of trees and throwing axes. Philanthropy Northwest provided me with an opportunity to experience what a gathering of philanthropists is all about. I suppose I expected it to be a group of very smart people who have answers to the world’s toughest problems. What I got was a group of very smart, hardworking professionals who listen to and support other smart, hardworking professionals from all sectors to come together to solve the world’s toughest problems. The warmth and the enthusiasm I felt from this group have energized me. The entire event was a team building exercise to be reckoned with from the Rasmuson team to the larger philanthropic team and I am incredibly grateful to be a part of it!

Emily Bass, Program Assistant


Two things stood out for me:

Shared learning – we did a very unusual thing this year for our staff retreat – engaging staff in a conference with their philanthropic sector peers. Our motivation was simple – because of our relative geographic isolation and the limited opportunities for direct engagement with peer foundations, we rarely have the opportunity to share knowledge directly with our peers. It was therefore genuinely pleasing to be able to provide opportunities for all staff to mix with their colleagues from across the sector and enable staff who normally don’t participate in the full range of professional learning activities to engage and interact with thought leaders. Those experiences inspired us as a staff and will enable us to interact more confidently and effectively with colleagues at all levels from other Foundations.

Making fear fun – most of us have an innate fear of heights – whether we suffer from vertigo or not, few people are naturally inclined to want to jump off a cliff or other precipice. Ziplining is thus a truly unnatural behavior and yet it is exhilarating! As self-appointed expedition photographer, I had the rare opportunity to observe colleagues confront and overcome heart thumping, gut wrenching, lung busting, knee trembling fear. We have some of those behaviors on film! However, after the initial terror filled adrenalin rush that seemed to afflict everyone in a very primal way, it was amazing to watch social coping skills kick in – shared terror it seems greatly reduces individual anxiety – the collective pulse after the third run was probably 120 over 70! By the end of the zipline runs, I’m sure that staff could easily have walked barefoot over hot coals . . . there was even talk of skydiving next year . . .

Ian Dutton, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer


Juneau and its lovely residents pulled out all the stops in welcoming Philanthropy Northwest Conference attendees. In addition to all the advance planning and legwork put in by the host committee, the hospitality provided by the locals upon our arrival was second to none. On one evening, members of the community literally invited us into their homes for warm, informal conversation and dinner. On another, the local Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood and Sealaska Heritage Institute prepared a traditional Native foods dinner. I was particularly appreciative of the words of welcome from Tlingit elders David Katzeek and Paul Marks, representing the Eagle Clan and Raven Clan, respectively, who were joined by Aak’w Kwáan tribal leader Rosa Miller in welcoming the plenary to the region.

And perhaps most memorable was the keynote speech delivered by William Iggiagruk Hensley, “A Personal (and Political) History of Complexity and Change,” who was introduced by Rasmuson Foundation Board member Anthony Mallott. Rarely have I witnessed a more intimate and comprehensive telling of Alaska history, and rarely have I been so deeply moved. And, just when you thought you’d seen it all, First Lady Sandy Parnell welcomed conference sponsors to a reception held in the Governor’s residence; dozens of locals rolled out the red carpet for personalized tours of Juneau’s myriad sites and services; and conferees were treated to reflections offered by Southeast dignitaries Rosita Worl, Byron Mallott, and Albert Kookesh. A hearty tip of the hat is also due to the servers and management at Centennial Hall, to the PNW staff, its board, and to the several hundred Pacific Northwesterners who all brought their “A” game to Juneau.

Jordan Marshall, External Affairs Manager