Expanding Philanthropy Efforts Good For All Alaskans

Year-end giving addresses immediate needs, but another kind of philanthropy takes a longer view and is equally important to communities statewide.

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) and Rasmuson Foundation recently announced the expansion of the Community Asset Building Initiative, a joint project that establishes community foundation funds across Alaska. The funds are officially “affiliates” of The Alaska Community Foundation. Affiliates combine ACF oversight of fund investments and philanthropic expertise with local input to establish priorities, raise money and guide grantmaking.

The initiative has already established affiliates in five locations: the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Talkeetna, Haines and Petersburg. Since ACF and Rasmuson Foundation first teamed up on the project in 2007, the collective wealth of permanently endowed affiliate funds has grown to $3.7 million. These regions benefit as endowment earnings fund local projects. People like Seward’s Tony Rollo catch the vision of “paying it forward” through community affiliate funds. Mr. Rollo recognized the Seward Community Foundation as a way to make a difference in his hometown. The $2 million he contributed at death to the fund will benefit Seward forever.

Projects funded by existing affiliates are as unique as the communities represented. Grants from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation Fund have provided support to Hospice of Haines and enabled the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center to digitize local historical photos. Youth, vulnerable populations and the elderly in the central Kenai Peninsula have benefited from that region’s fund. A Jessica Stevens Fund grant has helped Talkeetna area students learn about airplane refurbishment.

Each affiliate is overseen by a local advisory board that determines regional needs and priorities. Community members decide which projects are funded. To make the process as efficient as possible, administration of the affiliate funds is overseen by The Alaska Community Foundation.

The genius of the affiliate model is that it enables several layers of community to work together. Rasmuson Foundation matching grants jumpstart community philanthropy. Affiliate advisory boards identify priorities and make grants to solve problems at the local level. The Alaska Community Foundation adds economies of scale, knowledge and expertise to the mix. No part of the community has to go it alone. Everyone benefits.

The expansion will create affiliates in three or four more Alaska communities in 2012. The Alaska Community Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation will work in the New Year to identify those interested in establishing affiliates. No blueprint describes the “perfect” community. It’s all about imagination, energy, commitment, passion, and willingness to learn about this powerful model for philanthropy. Each new affiliate will need a visionary group of leaders who want to make a long-term difference where they live. Affiliates may be based in communities, or regions that have a sense of community.

With 280 component funds and over $30 million in grants made across Alaska since 1995, The Alaska Community Foundation is uniquely positioned to work with community affiliate funds. ACF manages over $50 million for individual philanthropists and organizations statewide. It helps individual philanthropists impact the future. It assists organizations that want to do good without the burden of record keeping, compliance, grantmaking, investment management, and oversight of endowments. It unites scholarship funders with worthy recipients and helps organizations assure sustainability through agency funds. The Alaska Community Foundation advances philanthropy to strengthen Alaska’s communities now and forever.

If you know a community that would be an ideal affiliate, please get in touch with The Alaska Community Foundation. And please, during the holidays and throughout the year, consider what you can give to the many organizations serving Alaska’s neediest residents.

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Susan Behlke Foley is an Anchorage attorney whose practice focuses on estate planning and strategic philanthropy. She is the current chair of The Alaska Community Foundation's board of directors.