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Permanent Fund charity program to get new focus

Posted: December 30, 2011 - 1:04am

ANCHORAGE — The Permanent Fund Dividend charity program is getting a new focus in 2012 with choices to better suit Alaskans wanting to donate, officials say.

Research completed in October revealed a discrepancy between the charities people said they wanted to give to and what they actually supported, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.

The program allows Alaskans to donate a portion of their Permanent Fund dividend to any of more than 400 nonprofit organizations when they file online. Alaska Public Broadcasting was the top recipient in 2011. Animal rescue groups filled out the top five slots, along with Bean’s Cafe and the Food Bank of Alaska.

“You’d think that the numbers would sort of follow the causes that people were most interested in,” said Jordan Marshall of the Rasmuson Foundation, which helps administer the program. “Like cancer research or the Red Cross, health, hunger, emergencies. But that’s not how it played out. More people gave to groups that help animals. Fewer people said they would give to arts and culture than actually did.”

Data showed that half the donors gave to more than one cause. Marshall said program administrators realized that focusing on the three main causes where people said they wanted to help could potentially reach new donors.

The new focus for 2012 will be on hunger and homelessness; emergency services; and youth and education.

Messages that will run on radio and television or in the newspaper through the filing period, Jan. 1 to March 31, will reflect that focus. Ads attached to Google searches also will be used, Marshall said.

“If you search for macaroni casserole recipes and you’re from Alaska, you might get an ad for something about people who are hungry,” he said.

Marshall said “value added” giving also is being used. For example, Exxon Mobil is matching up to $100,000 in donations made to higher education in Alaska.

The goal is to raise at least $2 million and increase participation in the program by 5,000 people this year.

Only Alaskans who file for their PFD online can participate. Last year, donations came from about 19,000 people, or 3.7 percent, of all applicants. They pledged more than $1.5 million.

Organizers would like to see the percentage of givers rise to 10 percent.

Nearly every Alaskan receives an annual Permanent Fund dividend check. The money comes from investment profits from the state’s multibillion-dollar oil-wealth savings account.

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