Diane Kaplan (center) is joined on June 13, 2019, on stage by friends, colleagues and her husband, Mel (sixth from left), at the Grantmakers in Health celebration of her Terrance Keenan Leadership in Health Philanthropy Award. Faith Mitchell, president and CEO of Grantmakers in Health, is second from left. (Photo by Sven Haakanson, pictured far left)
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For Immediate Release

June 13, 2019
Contact: Lisa Demer, 907-334-0529

Rasmuson Foundation is proud to announce that President and CEO Diane Kaplan has received a prestigious national leadership award from Grantmakers in Health, a nonprofit that helps funders work to improve health of all people.

The Terrance Keenan Leadership Award in Health Philanthropy, named after an executive who led the field for more than four decades, was presented to Kaplan on Thursday in Seattle. The award recognizes an individual who does more than find ways to support projects financially. It honors someone who takes risks and embraces innovation in seeking solutions to difficult problems.

Kaplan’s grassroots philosophy, partner-centered approach and willingness to address deep-rooted Alaska challenges all were cited by Grantmakers in Health in its announcement of the award. She became the Foundation’s first employee in 1995 and since 2001 has served as president and chief executive officer.

“Under Ms. Kaplan’s leadership over the past 17 years, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska’s largest philanthropy dedicated to improving life for Alaskans, has grown from supporting important capital projects to taking on some of the state’s thorniest, long-standing challenges, such as homelessness, excessive use of alcohol, and access to health care,” Grantmakers in Health said in announcing the award.

Rasmuson Foundation last year launched an initiative to target homelessness in part through new partnerships for housing and supports designed for individuals who have been on the street. On the issue of alcohol, the Foundation convened leaders in 2009 to work on how to address a problem so big. The result was Recover Alaska, which aims to reduce alcohol’s harm through public health messaging, policy changes and a shift in social norms around drinking.

Back in 2000, the Foundation worked with tribal health partners to establish a groundbreaking dental health aide therapist program, which sends trained therapists to rural communities to provide a variety of oral health services. This program came about despite intense opposition and lawsuits from dental organizations. It has made a dramatic difference in oral health in areas where a dentist rarely visited. Grantmakers in Health noted how Kaplan “leveraged partnerships, assessments and funding to build support for the program.”

Aurora Johnson and classmate Kimberly Baldwin are seen here in New Zealand in 2005 during their training as dental health aide therapists. At the time, they had to leave the country to get such training but now it is offered in Alaska. Under Diane Kaplan’s leadership, Rasmuson Foundation became an early supporter of the DHAT program.

Grantmakers in Health underscored Kaplan’s practice of convening community members and experts to help with solutions.

“In a state with hundreds of tiny villages separated by vast distance and difference in language, culture, and law, Ms. Kaplan is known for practicing true grassroots philanthropy, organizing the foundation’s planning around listening sessions, where staff, trustees, and advisors hear directly from community members,” Grantmakers in Health said.

“Diane is a visionary leader, unafraid to tackle the toughest problems requiring complex approaches and partnerships,” Nancy Kaufman, principal of The Strategic Vision Group, said in her nomination of Ms. Kaplan. “She cares deeply about those experiencing health disparities and boldly refuses to work from the top down, preferring collaborations with community voices and leaders.”

Kaplan said her work for Alaska is continuing, with help from many.

“One of the most important roles of a foundation is to put the right people in the room to work on solutions,” Kaplan said. “That’s how so many of our strongest initiatives began including our current work on homelessness, which is in early stages but holds so much promise. Truth be told, this recognition wouldn’t be happening without so many smart — and hardworking — partners. It’s humbling to be singled out.”

Earlier this year, Kaplan received the Anchorage ATHENA Society’s 2019 Leadership Award. That’s the highest honor of the society, part of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. This year, she also received the Tribal Ally Award of the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. In 2006, she received the Alaska Federation of Natives’ Denali Award, which recognizes a non-Native individual who has contributed to the growth and development of the Alaska Native community’s culture, economy and health.

Faith Mitchell, president and CEO of Grantmakers in Health, is seen with Diane Kaplan on June 13, 2019. (Photo by Sven Haakanson)

Kaplan has a long history of board service and volunteer work. Currently she serves on the boards of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, The Alaska Community Foundation, and United States Artists. She is also a member of the Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council and the Anchorage Rotary Club.

The late Terrance Keenan was a leader with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for more than 35 years. Under his direction, it became the country’s biggest health care philanthropy.

About the Foundation
Through grantmaking and initiatives, Rasmuson Foundation aims to promote a better life for all Alaskans. Main funding areas are the arts, housing, homelessness, education, healthcare and development of communities and organizations. The foundation was created in 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband, E.A. Rasmuson.