Philanthropy Northwest

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Building Community (Foundations) in Alaska

Building Community (Foundations) in Alaska

November 11, 2014

by Allison Eltrich, Leslie Silverman and Kristen Holway

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) supports nine affiliate community funds throughout the state as part of the Community Asset Building Initiative (CABI), a partnership created in 2008 with the Rasmuson Foundation. Once a year, ACF invites the members of its all-volunteer affiliate boards to come together and share strategies to increase their local impact. ACF invited our consulting team at The Giving Practice to help develop and deliver this year’s gathering. This was an exciting opportunity for us to deepen our engagement with community foundations and their affiliates throughout the region.

ACF's affiliate funds are a brilliant model for supporting statewide community foundation work. Community-based volunteers make strategic fundraising and grantmaking decisions based on their unique local knowledge and community connections, while leveraging the intellectual and operational capacity of core ACF staff. As a result, the CABI program is developing the capacity and impact of community foundation affiliates across Alaska while deepening their local community networks and relationships.
Some highlights included:

  • ACF presented their strategic plan. We followed up by leading a workshop to affiliates identify the values and goals in their communities that align well with ACF;  “permanence” and “trust” rose to the top of the list.  
  • We also led sessions on affiliates how can “tell their story” when promoting their local fund, followed by a session on grantmaking practices that included a panel discussion of lessons learned since 2008. We were excited to learn, for example, that two affiliates have grown their “community chest” to now be able to offer multi-year grants, while others are thinking how they can be more strategic in their grantmaking.
  • A highlight of day two was an interview with Susan Foley, outgoing ACF board member of nine years, who shared reflections and advice from her experience with a fast-growing community foundation. “I believe in 100 years, people in your community will look back and see you as visionaries,” she said. “You may not be etched in stone but your community will be a better place because you were there.”
  • On day three, we were fortunate to have Susan Howlett join us to present an energizing and motivating workshop on fundraising. We all walked away with tangible and approachable methods of “making the ask” for our organizations. One of our “aha moments” was Susan’s observation that asking a person questions that let them connect to the work of your organization is the real “ask” in effective fundraising. This was a great reframe on how to engage community members in helping to build philanthropy that will address current and evolving local needs.

Susan Foley

Susan Foley shares her experiences as an ACF board member

The camaraderie and peer learning we experienced at this year’s ACF convening reaffirmed our belief that a connected network is the key to strengthening the power of community philanthropy. The ACF Affiliate Boards are made up entirely of passionate volunteers who are facing challenges and successes that are unique in their particulars and yet resonant with their statewide and national peers. During the final minutes of the convening we invited each participant to make an offer (in how they can help others) and a request in areas where they could use support or resources) – not surprisingly, many were rooted in staying connected to each other. With The Alaska Community Foundation at the hub of this network, these personal relationships are sure to continue to develop and grow philanthropy throughout Alaska.