Creative Solutions: An Alaska Funder Gives Bigger and in More Targeted Ways

photo: Russ Heinl/shutterstock

photo: Russ Heinl/shutterstock

Around this time last year, we highlighted the local giving of the Rasmuson Foundation because it gave over $8.6 million in grants, which was one of the largest amounts ever awarded in the foundation’s history. Summer is always a big time for Rasmuson grantmaking because the board meets in June to approve grants over $25,000. This year, the foundation exceeded $11.4 million with its summer grantmaking—with indications that the funder’s giving is becoming greater and more targeted towards specific missions.

Rasmuson, a funder that is solely focused on Alaska, split its most recent awards among just 16 projects. For comparison, last summer’s $8.6 million went to 18 organizations. Also, the top-earning program this year (the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program) received $5 million compared to last year’s $3 million top grantee (the Cook Inlet Housing Authority in the form of a loan). The new $5 million grant to the University of Alaska Foundation will help the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program establish an acceleration academy for high school students in Anchorage.

Lately, the foundation has really been looking to support creative solutions that that bring new ideas to Alaskan communities. The foundation’s vice president of programs, Alexandra McKay, said:

These grants show the ways — large and small — that Alaskans find solutions to problems, whether it is building a portable clinic for a community like Kivalina that needs to be relocated or an organization like ANSEP that is creating pathways for students from middle school to college.

It has always been interesting to see how Rasmuson’s arts and culture funding has evolved over the years. Although the demand for basic needs funding in Alaskan communities is strong, Rasmuson never loses sight of its arts and culture mission with sizable grant commitments.

For example, the funder recently gave a $1,298,000 three-year grant to Museums Alaska and a $1,340,000 four-year grant to the Alaska State Council on the Arts. These grants are going towards things like helping local museums acquire artwork and helping local organizations establish arts education and cultural heritage programs. However, other funding has gone to individual artists, such as Ricky Tagaban, a Chilkat weaver and drag queen from Juneau who is weaving a robe modeled after an artifact from his father’s clan.

A final thing to note about Rasmuson’s recent giving is how it is scattered across Alaska, a huge state that spans 663,268 square miles. Although Alaska is sparsely populated, addressing the varying needs of such dispersed and diverse communities i a challenge. The funder awarded a Southeast Alaska grant to help a science center in Sitka Sound renovate a building, and it gave the Maniilaq Association nearly a million dollars to expand a health clinic in the 500-person town of Kivalina.

Meanwhile, other grants are assisting the only emergency shelter in Interior Alaska, helping to create a therapeutic court to protect children age three and under, and establishing programming and outreach for a musk ox farm. However, the lion’s share of grants still tend to go to South-Central Alaska nonprofits in Anchorage, Palmer, Anchor Point, and nearby towns.

The next board meeting to consider grant requests of $25,000 or more will occur in November, and it is necessary to contact the staff prior to submitting a letter of inquiry. View a list and descriptions of all recent Rasmuson grants here.