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The Alaska Community Foundation

Developing permanent assets and growing philanthropy


The Alaska Community Foundation President and CEO Candace Winkler speaking to senators in Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of ACF

On the threshold of its 20th anniversary of giving in 2015, The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) has plenty to celebrate. As the central organization for donor advised funds, affiliate funds, nonprofit organizational funds, and field of interest funds, it represents the best of Alaska’s shared value of giving back to its communities, changing lives for the better.

Growing its corpus to $62 million, ACF has 297 different funds and grants close to $6 million annually to communities across Alaska through its many affiliates, partners, and donor funds. Gifts of kindness come to ACF in many forms—donations, bequests, property, life insurance, closely held stock, and other assets. When the money is pooled into invested funds, that money grows and becomes the nuggets of various funds that then provide grants based on specific charitable interests.

As a funding agency itself, ACF’s purpose is, “to connect people who care with causes that matter by encouraging and nurturing philanthropy.” Established in 1995, it was intended to assist individuals and organizations in creating charitable funds. “Rather than setting up a private foundation,” states Candace Winkler, president and CEO, “individual donors can set up a family fund through ACF reducing the burden of infrastructure, legalities, and other complexities. There is also a better tax benefit to the donor because the IRS enables the donors to deduct up to 50 percent of annual adjusted gross income for gifts to a donor advised fund at a community foundation versus only 30 percent for gifts given to a private foundation.”

Many Alaskans are familiar with the Rasmuson Foundation, which is a private family foundation that has grown to nearly half a billion dollars. However, many other long-time pioneering Alaska families have all taken advantage of the secure services of ACF to develop their family legacies through donor advised funds, including the Hickel, Norton-Cruz, Kaplan-Sather, and Eliason families. Many of these funds are endowed, which allows for continuing in perpetuity because the grants given will never dip into the principal.

“Private foundations are obligated to give a minimum of 5 percent in charitable grants,” Winkler explains. “Under ACF, the family funds are not obligated to give at all in any given year if they choose instead to grow the assets. In normal years, these funds will give away 4 to 5 percent in grants.” To ensure checks and balances, the ACF Board is responsible for setting the spending amounts to keep the fund endowed forever.

Susan Foley, attorney and partner at Foley & Foley, PC, has been on the ACF board of directors for eight years and served as chair in 2011 and 2012. At work, she counsels clients who want to leave a legacy. “I help them determine and attain their philanthropic and estate planning goals,” Foley says. Therefore, with the ACF board, she takes her role very seriously because she understands the donor’s view. “Endowments challenge us to balance Alaska’s future needs with a desire to work toward a better present. Donors to an endowment are, literally, ‘paying it forward.’ An endowment is intended to be a source of continuing income forever. ACF board members are entrusted with determining what should be disbursed now and what should be invested to make income for the future.”

Whether an individual, a family, a corporation, or another nonprofit, having a charitable fund with ACF takes advantage of economies of scale because the funds are comingled for investment purposes which provides for more growth potential and proceeds are allocated back out to each individual fund for the purpose of grant making, thereby ensuring the donors’ intent. Winkler says, “If an individual donor makes a gift to ACF, they still get the tax benefit, and they retain the ability to advise on the type of grant to give or charities to fund. This gives the donor’s money a life of years rather than a one-time donation to a group or cause.” These are called donor advised funds, and an ACF program officer will work with the donor on selecting charities and projects, while the board ensures that grants are in keeping with the original intent of the donor.


Various Funds and Grant Projects

As noted, ACF is the steward of 297 different funds. A great example is the Anchorage Schools Foundation (ASF), a field of interest fund at ACF, set up by founder and board chair Karin Wanamaker.

ASF was set up at ACF and is in its fifth year. Being under ACF allows the fund to meet its mission of serving the unique needs of teachers in the Anchorage School District without the foundation needing to be big enough to support a staff and office overhead. Wanamker is delighted with the arrangement. “ACF has successfully managed the fund and our grant making work so that the board could focus on our mission of enhancing the educational experience of students in Anchorage,” she says.

The grant making is significant because the application process is handled completely by ACF. ASF recommends the grants to fund and is independent of the school district. ACF distributes the check and receives the grant reports. Sample projects include hydroponic gardening supplies for basil growing at Airport Heights Elementary; Yupik books for the library at Taku Elementary; math manipulatives for higher level math at West High; fabric and sewing supplies to create Kuspuks for the Native Charter School; and a rice cooker for providing food all day for hungry students in a classroom. “Our job is to give money to teachers who are doing great things,” says Wanamaker. “Three years ago we created an emergency fund, a project fund at ACF. Through this fund, we are able to meet emergency needs of students at six pilot schools in our community.”


Affiliates and Partners

Alaska has several local community foundations that have developed over the years, and nine of those groups have made the decision to become an affiliate of ACF, which means they have local leadership and presence without having to create their own costly legal infrastructure.

“We all know Alaskans who have done well and have retired out of state, taking their money with them and giving it to charities Outside,” Winkler says. “Having a local community foundation fund allows for the conversations to begin locally, with neighbors asking neighbors to give back to the community they both love.”

ACF adheres to the best practices of the National Council on Foundations—financial management, legal and IRS compliance, and infrastructure—but each affiliate determines the needs, priorities, and goals of their local community.

The Affiliate program began in 2008 with generous support from the Rasmuson Foundation. The Community Asset Building Initiative provided an incentive for community members to consider local donations with a match by the Rasmuson Foundation. The idea was, and is, to build local resources, local community foundations that then fund future community needs. The combined efforts allow for the permanence of local funds and community sustainability.

Affiliates of ACF include Chilkat Valley Community Foundation, the Jessica Stevens Community Foundation, Kenai Peninsula Foundation, Petersburg Community Foundation, the Seward Community Foundation, the Golden Heart Community Foundation, Greater Sitka Legacy Fund, Ketchikan Community Foundation, and the Kodiak Community Foundation. ACF also collaborates with and provides some support to three partner community foundations that legally have their own infrastructure and manage their own endowments but have some of their funds held at ACF: Juneau Community Foundation, Homer Foundation, and Arctic Slope Community Foundation.

“Because there are several local people who have done well, they come to find this as the best way to leave their money to their community,” Winkler says. “It is expensive to start a foundation on your own, but under the affiliate structure, donors can be assured that local voices will set community goals and funding priorities while the statewide structure ensures compliance and efficiency of resources.”

For the Seward Community Foundation, Board member Kim Reierson states, “In 2008 I attended a reception where the idea of creating the Seward Community Foundation was introduced to the community. I knew immediately that this was a good thing for our town. I had never heard of a community foundation before and the idea of creating a permanent endowment for our citizens was an exceptional idea.” This is the can-do forward thinking that is necessary to do the work. The Seward Community Foundation raised the $25,000 necessary in 2008 to receive the Rasmuson match, and in 2009, under a second match, the Foundation grew to $150,000 from the generous gifts and donations from residents in Seward and Moose Pass. Reierson says, “Along the way, the Seward Community Foundation received operational support from ACF. They gave us training and technical assistance and provided the administrative and financial infrastructure that we needed to operate. These services continue to be provided to us.”

It is ACF’s “strategy of using profits from investments to fund charity,” as stated in the Report to Alaskans, that appealed to one major donor. A long-time Seward resident, Tony Rollo, passed away and left the Seward Community Foundation a $1.9 million bequest. Reierson says that Tony was a well-known local, often seen at the grocery store riding his electric cart and eating ice-cream. He looked like a typical old-time Alaskan. “His financial advisor had told him about the Seward Community Foundation and how by bequeathing his estate to the foundation, he could give to his community forever. His response was, ‘That makes sense!’ Tony’s gift has changed Seward evermore,” Reierson says.

This bequest has assisted the Seward Community Foundation to truly be able to support its community and citizens for years into the future. With the help of ACF, it is in a position that would normally take years for a foundation to achieve. One of the project highlights listed is called “Senior Surf Camp 101,” a grant of $1,800 to the Seward Senior Center assists its residents in computer and Internet skills and has opened up a whole new world of connectivity for isolated seniors, some reconnecting with families Outside.

Another example of what Seward Community Foundation funding means to nonprofits, Reierson says, is the Seward Boys & Girls Club’s summer DaVinci camp. “This is a four-week summer program for elementary school children that combines the arts and sciences to help them learn about the world around them during summer break. While the director of the Boys & Girls Club does an excellent job, this camp would not be possible without Seward Community Foundation funding.”


The Philanthropy Hub

In its new offices on the ground floor of the Calais I Building in Midtown Anchorage, ACF has developed the Philanthropy Hub, a space for ACF and other funders to be housed together, again, combining resources and making efficiency of infrastructure.

The Hub was the brainchild of Winkler when it became obvious ACF had outgrown its office in Downtown Anchorage. As the anchor organization in the Philanthropy Hub, ACF provides physical and technology infrastructure, conference space, and reception services to other groups and then charges rent to cover a portion of the shared expenses thereby reducing some of its own costs and that of the other groups. Thus more resources can go into the mission critical components of grant making. Almost all of the furniture and office components were donated by Conoco Philips and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and the Rasmuson Foundation invested in the space to help bring down the rent. “The Philanthropy Hub is an important and growing resource for the community that ACF serves: our state of Alaska,” Foley says. “It’s a place where Alaskans can work together for a better future. That’s a legacy of hope; an experience that’s all too rare.”

The Anchorage Park Foundation is part of the Hub. It started as a project fund at ACF in conjunction with the Municipality of Anchorage, but as donations increased, the grants increased, so they found themselves requiring more staff, and eventually it grew into its own nonprofit. “We joined the Philanthropy Hub to be a part of growing philanthropy in Alaska. Though we focus on parks and trails with our investments, the essence of our work is community building. We came to the right shared space—working with other community leaders sparks a natural synergy for creating a culture of giving,” says Beth Nordlund, executive director of the Anchorage Park Foundation.

The Hub also houses Pick.Click.Give., the Pride Foundation, the Alaska Children’s Trust, Alaska Kidney Foundation, and two consultants that work with nonprofits, Denali Daniels and Associates and Rider Consulting. When the ACF was looking for space, Winkler says, they were also looking to accommodate a large conference room. As an incubator of many unique projects, ACF hosts “Conversations About Causes That Matter” out of its offices and larger local venues. “We want people to engage in their community, to make their community stronger,” Winkler says. “Conversations are another way to get topics to an informed community, to give back to the community, to get groups connected.” Topics have included healthcare, early childhood education, family philanthropy, teen suicide, and the intersection of art and health. ACF has also hosted several of the Ted-talk speakers in the past several years.

After receiving a Knight Foundation grant to start Town Square 49, which ACF helped to frame and shape in partnership with Alaska Public Media, ACF received additional funding from the Knight Foundation to work with the local newspaper for a year to produce more data driven reporting. Using the Recover Alaska topic, ACF is funding a reporter and a photographer to cover substance abuse for one year. Winkler says this would give people an ability to understand the issue of alcoholism and substance abuse on both a statewide and a local level.

The community-minded Conversations About Causes program invites the general community to attend. The talks vary in structure and facilitation, Winkler notes, sometimes hosting a panel or a single speaker. Locally, thirty to sixty people usually attend, and ACF will videoconference or make pod casts. The idea is to get experts and knowledgeable perspectives on the topics. About a year ago, ACF hosted a Community Building Event with 150 people from fifteen different communities where facilitator Louise Van Rhyn helped participants see how they could uniquely contribute to the shared community of Alaska. The idea is to connect with everyone to recognize what they contribute to their community and how to do more.

Foley points out philanthropy stems from two Greek words: philos (love) and anthropos (mankind). “Philanthropy is, literally, the love of mankind,” she says. “As the culture of philanthropy becomes more and more prevalent, I hope philanthropy hubs will be established in communities throughout our state.”

Laurie Evans-Dinneen writes from Anchorage.

This first appeared in the December 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.
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