Trends in Alaska Philanthropy, and What a Funder’s Recent Commitment Tells Us

downtown anchorage. photo:  EQRoy/shutterstock

downtown anchorage. photo:  EQRoy/shutterstock

The top grantmaker in Alaska by a long shot, is the Rasmuson Foundation. This is a family funder that’s been around since 1955 and has approximately $652 million in assets. Each year, it pumps out around $25 million in grants, and its sole geographic area of giving is Alaska.

This summer, the Rasmuson Foundation approved grants totaling over $8.6 million, which is one of the largest amounts in the funder’s 62-year history. The largest sum of money from this round came in the form of a $3 million loan to Cook Inlet Housing Authority to provide working capital to develop workforce housing. This was part of Rasmuson’s commitment to the Southcentral region of Alaska, a big priority for the funder. Other grants in this region went towards building public restrooms at the fairgrounds for the Alaska State Fair, building a child advocacy center to serve the Mat-Su Valley, and expanding school-based health centers. Funding works a bit differently in Alaska than in other parts of the country, and infrastructure and equipment improvements here are incredibly important for foundations to pay attention to.

While the aforementioned grants focused on one particular region of the state, quite a few others have statewide implications. For example, Rasmuson supported efforts to develop a statewide data warehouse and quality improvement project for primary health care, a statewide automatic voter registration project, and a statewide program for arts-in-education and arts touring. To reiterate the need for infrastructure funding up here, a building renovation grant with statewide implications was awarded to renovate the Anchorage building of the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually impaired.

“These uncertain economic times in Alaska have put a strain on many of the programs that fill a critical role in our state,” said Diane Kaplan, the president and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation. “Making sure these programs are not just existing, but thriving, means more Alaskans have the opportunity to be safe, healthy and supported.”

Rasmuson’s recent support plays into some larger trends that we’ve been seeing in Alaska philanthropy as well. Overall in the state, human services and the environment have been the top concerns among funders lately. According to a report published earlier this year by Philanthropy Northwest, these issues accounted for 15 percent and 17 percent respectively. Compared to other parts of the northwest, funders of Alaska nonprofits have been paying more attention to arts and culture, and less to education and health.

In addition to Rasmuson, other big funders to keep an eye on in Alaska are the Mat-Su Health Foundation and the Atwood Foundation. But something else that's interesting is that more foundations in the lower 48 have been picking up a lot of the funding slack here too. Top out-of-state grantmakers that are giving to Alaska groups include the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in Washington, the Oak Foundation in North Carolina, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan, and the Sea Change Foundation in California.

But for Rasmuson, capital projects will continue to be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. As part of the funder’s Tier 1 grant program, it gives over 150 awards each year for capital projects up to $25,000. Tier 2 grants go towards large building projects of more than $25,000 and must broadly address Alaskan communities or have statewide significance.

RelatedAlaska Dreamin': Meet the Rasmuson Foundation and its Artist Residencies