Daily Sitka Sentinel
A new approach to charity was pitched to Sitka residents Friday at a meeting arranged by the Alaska Community Foundation.
Sitkans gathered in the Hames center to listen to a presentation about the idea of creating a Sitka affiliate of the ACF, which would eliminate some of the logistical overhead associated with creating and running an independent charitable foundation for the community, said ACF President Candace Winkler.
Earlier in the week ACF officials, joined by Rasmuson Foundation President Ed Rasmuson, outlined their program at a Channel Club luncheon for an invited group of Sitkans already engaged in charities and nonprofits.
ACF manages affiliate community foundations for a number of other Alaska towns. It works almost like a charity co-op. While a local board solicits donations for their community foundation and makes decisions on grant awards, ACF takes care of the management and investment responsibilities.
What this would do, said Winkler, is enhance the value of a donation by pooling it with other donations so that it can earn greater interest and be managed by an established team of professionals. Basically, less of the money would be spent on support staff to manage the trust and more would be earned from the investment because it would be part of a larger investment pool.
In a project they call a Community Asset Building Initiative, the ACF is trying to recruit four more communities, with an initial investment of $25,000 each, to create their own foundations under the umbrella of the ACF.
The $25,000, provided by a minimum of five donors, would be matched by the Rasmuson Foundation for up to $50,000. Along with the initial contribution to the fund, the community must submit a letter of interest and an application that includes four to eight community members willing to represent Sitka’s charitable interests. If chosen, – the selections will be made in January – Sitka would become a community affiliate.
Community affiliates, represented by those members from the community named in the letter of interest, distribute grants to charities and non-profits and also accept community donations to the fund. One advantage of being a community affiliate, Winkler said, is that the breadth of donations grows because the foundation has the capabilities to process almost any kind of gift.
“The staff is in place to accept things that sometimes give charities trouble,” Winkler said. “We can accept gifts like stocks...one time we even took a boat.”
Donations may also be made for specific causes, Winkler said.
These donations would be distributed based on the intent of the person who made the donation. For instance, if a donor made a large contribution intended to provide an annual gift to a local library, the money would be distributed as desired. The ACF would manage the trust fund and the paperwork associated with it so the philanthropist who made the gift would not have to.
Winkler said this would encourage greater donations for needs in Alaska while also allowing people to donate to areas important to them.
“The purpose of the Community Asset Building Initiative is to help and inspire those who have done well in Alaska to do something good for Alaska,” said Winkler, quoting Rasmuson President Diane Kaplan.
Winkler pointed to the Guggenheims, the New York financiers who developed copper mines in Alaska, as an example of a group who made their fortune in Alaska and gave it away elsewhere.
“We don’t see any trace of their success in Alaska. It’s all on the East coast,” Winkler said.
Winkler said having that philanthropic infrastructure in place will encourage wealthy Alaskans to give more to the communities that helped support them.
“This gives people the means to give back,” Winkler said.
Without outside help, setting up a community foundation is not easy, the ACF group said.
“Community foundations are one of the most technical things I’ve been involved with,” Chris Perez, program officer for the Rasmuson Foundation, said.
There are costs, associated with the ACF, but Perez said those costs are much lower than the Rasmuson Foundation sees.
Those expenses, according to Winkler include a 0.65 percent fee from any returns on a fund, that goes toward administrative costs, as well as a 1.5 percent fee for investment management.
During the presentation, Winkler fielded a number of questions from people who were curious of how specific donations would work and whether or not the large fund would draw away from present donations to charities.
Many of the concerns were addressed with the answer that, no matter the structure of the charity, the donor’s intent is the top priority. What that means is that, by law, if a gift is made to the trust with specific intent, then that intent must be honored. The only involvement the fund would have, Perez said, is to manage the logistics.
“Nothing trumps donor intent,” Perez said.
As for the effect on other charities, Winkler had no specific data but said that, anecdotally, they had heard only positive feed back. One way that ACF encourages specific donations is by qualifying community foundations for Pick Click Give contributions by Alaska Permanent Fund dividend recipients.
Pick Click Give allows people to make small online donations. Many charities in Sitka already use this system. Last year it accounted for $62,300 in pledges to 12 different non-profits in Sitka, according to a fact sheet provided by Winkler.
In 2000, ACF had a $500,000 endowment and gave away $16,000 annually. The endowment has grown to $58 million and now awards $5 million annually.
If Sitka applies to be a community affiliate it will have to submit a letter of interest by Sept. 30. The ACF will host training for possible community representatives in October, and the final application is due Dec. 31. Willow Moore, of Brave Heart Volunteers is leading the effort. The announcement of the new community affiliates will be Jan. 15.