Empowering and equipping youth with the necessary tools to pursue their unique career goals is the primary focus of Alaska Airlines’ Foundation (AAF). After nearly three decades of operation, the organization has continued to expand its work and impact specifically in Alaska, Hawai'i, California, Oregon and Washington.
Tim Thompson, who now sits as the executive director of AAF, describes the airline’s journey into philanthropy.
“The foundation, established in 1998, focused on grants supporting education and workforce development programs, with four grants distributed the following year in Alaska and Washington. Over time, we have expanded to include California, Hawai'i and Oregon.”
AAF’s early grants were in the tens of thousands annually. Now the foundation gives anywhere between half a million to $750K each year, a result of their regional growth, expansion and continued programmatic giving. In 2018, the foundation began a two-year process during which they re-evaluated their approach to philanthropy and were prepared to launch when the pandemic started.
“The foundation’s board of directors envisioned a more holistic approach to how we could complement the corporate philanthropy at Alaska Airlines, especially as we continued growing,” says Tim. “Over the next two years, we refined our scope and shifted from education and workforce development to young people and career pathways. We partner with organizations focused on equipping the next generation of leaders with the knowledge and skills to provide pathways for success. After the pandemic pause, we’re back on track supporting young people, especially those in underserved communities.”
In tandem with the foundation’s growth, there has been an increase in funding requests. However, despite the heavier workload, AAF has intentionally kept their application simple to not deter organizations from applying.
“Our application is completely digital and available online. We know many organizations allocate their limited resources in completing a number of grant requests throughout the year. It can be very time-consuming,” says Tim. “We were very mindful in putting together our grant request application to be easy to navigate but detailed enough to make determinations on program support. Our goal was to make sure we capture the organization’s mission, services they provide, budget and goal outcomes for the program.”
In addition to their easy grant application, AAF has a unique approach towards their grant giving. No matter the amount, half of the funds from each grant are unrestricted, providing the recipient organization with more flexibility around how the money can best be used.
“Fifty percent of the gift is unrestricted, and the other half is used as programmatic dollars,” Tim says. “With an unrestricted portion, our intention is to provide nonprofits space to use the funds to support the overall organization. We know our partners are in the best position to determine where the dollars will have the most impact outside the programmatic dollars. Plus, having half the funds unrestricted means we are supporting the program and the organization overall.”
Though the foundation has grown, it is still a small private foundation, a characteristic they see as beneficial because of the ability to connect with recipients on a more personal level. Each region the foundation serves has a representative who sits on its subcommittee, a practice they believe will help them maintain and strengthen their community relationships.
“Expanding into new regions can have issues in understanding the local sector but we have addressed that through our community connections,” Tim says. “Whether it is Oregon, Hawai'i, Washington, California or here in Alaska, the foundation is partnering with organizations with a clear vision of equipping the next generation of leaders with strong pathways for success."
To wrap up his thoughts, Tim had this to say:
“The Alaska Airlines Foundation is committed to supporting young people in the communities where Alaska Airlines flies and to those organizations that have deep and established roots in the community. While we support programs based around careers in aviation, we also provide grants for other career pathways, such as construction, the environment, leadership, IT, engineering, tourism; the list goes on. Collaborating closely with our community partners, the Alaska Airlines Foundation is focused on programs, partnerships and initiatives that inspire, empower, engage, and equip young people to connect to careers."