Investing in Alaska: Supporting Causes That Matter
This article originally appeared in Homer News on October 25, 2016. We thank the Homer Community Foundation for inviting Nina to contribute to their series on philanthropy.


I can vividly remember the first time I began to recognize the importance of giving back to the community.

I was 17 years old and competing at the Alaska Cross-Country Ski Championships. As I crossed the finish line at 15 below zero, I was given a blanket by a volunteer and was truly thankful for his kind efforts. As I looked around the venue, I realized that there were over 50 individuals who were giving their time and talent to allow over 500 athletes take part in this competition.

Ten years later, I had the opportunity to learn from one of Alaska’s greatest philanthropists what it means to truly embrace and further charitable giving in our state. She taught me that donors wanted to give to good causes they care about and that they expected that those causes, in turn, would provide greater benefit to the communities that supported them. As a result of this individual’s influence, I visited over 20 schools and talked to students about the importance of following their dreams – and helped found the Alaska Winter Olympians Scholarship Fund at The Alaska Community Foundation, which provides support for the next generation of Alaskan athletes.

I give thanks to all the support that Alaska provided to me during my Olympic career and am grateful for the introduction to philanthropy that it first provided me.

It is now with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to serve as President and CEO of the Alaska Community Foundation, an organization committed to growing philanthropy across the state. These days, I have the chance to share some of the inspiring stories of giving in our local communities.

As many of us know, Alaska has a proud legacy of giving to others in times of need and supporting the causes we all care about. This legacy is alive and well today. Donors are continuing to support important causes, such as preventing suicide, providing safe haven for victims of domestic violence, and feeding and sheltering families in need. Despite uncertainty in our state’s financial future, donors are still giving to causes that invest in Alaska’s future, as they are equipping youth and adults with workforce development skills and awarding scholarships to students with big dreams.

Last year, more than 1,100 donors gave to these causes and more through The Alaska Community Foundation, and this year nearly 400 individuals have supported these causes so far.

In fact, we’ve experienced a dramatic increase in the number of individuals, families, corporations and charitable organizations that have provided thoughtful gifts in both long-term bequests and short-term donations. We are even seeing a noticeable increase in nonprofit agencies that are looking to provide long-term investments for the future of their organizations.

In communities across the state, Alaskans are practicing homegrown philanthropy in their own backyards. I have recently had the pleasure of visiting many Alaskan communities who are galvanizing their neighbors and supporting a diverse set of important causes at home. Already this year, in Seward, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and Kenai, ACF Affiliates have issued grants to causes such as senior care, the Special Olympics, public radio, food assistance, music opportunities for young people, and emergency services. The Homer Foundation, our partner, every year grants thousands to local needs, among them last year was a distribution of the “Homer Community Chest,” which gave emergency funds to families in need at the Community Food Pantry. These funds often serve as much-needed assistance to fill the gap between when an individual or family comes into need and when government assistance takes effect.

Communities are also investing in their future. In Kodiak, a grant to Kodiak Wyldlife allowed a youth organization to teach young people compassion and care for those less fortunate than themselves while providing needed food and supplies to homeless shelters in town. In Kenai, a grant to the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust is allowing the organization to implement a new program focused on maintaining healthy fish resources on the Kenai Peninsula into perpetuity – for future generations to know and enjoy. In Homer, the Homer Community Free Clinic Fund is an exciting new development aiming to provide free medical services to community members far into the future.

It has also been exciting to watch the momentum of the Pick.Click.Give. Campaign over the past several years. As in the past, it has continued to be a valuable resource, allowing all Alaskans to give to causes they care about and – for many – provides an entry into personal philanthropy. Despite the questions about the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend, Alaskans pledged $3.2M so far in 2016 and have increased their average pledge through PCG from $100 to $108 since 2015.

Stories and statistics like these give me hope for our state’s future. I believe that the partnership between donors who are committed to giving back to their local communities and the nonprofit sector which provides valuable programs and services will play an increasingly important role in the health of Alaska’s economy over the next five to ten years. The Alaska Community Foundation is committed to working together with our nine Affiliate organizations (Seward, Kenai, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Talkeetna, Chilkat Valley, Fairbanks, Kodiak and Sitka) and our four partners (The Homer Foundation, Bethel Community Services Foundation, Juneau Community Foundation, and Arctic Slope Community Foundation). Together, we enable Alaskans to give of their time, talent, and treasure to build communities that care – for today, tomorrow, and forever.