Foundations focus funds for philanthropic feats

Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There are two organizations that have been helping provide money for Juneau causes for several years, yet have flown under the radar for the most part. The Alaska Community Foundation, and its companion group the Juneau Community Foundation, has been continuing cooperation in its efforts to designate funds for various causes.

A community foundation is a nonprofit that works with individuals and organizations in designating money they wish to give out, such as grants or charitable contributions. These gifts can be directed at a specific entity or to a general cause.

Juneau Community Foundation executive director Ken Leghorn explained they basically create funds for the benefit of local charities by pulling together the money. He said the Juneau bureau was formed in 2005 and now manages about 30 different funds on behalf of donors and organizations.

"This is not a charity unto itself. It's a vehicle that provides a means for organizations and individuals to be philanthropic either through a short-term donations or a longer-term fund," he said.

"One way to think of it is if United Way is the checkbook then the foundation is the savings account," said Alaska Community Foundation CEO Candace Winkler. "We grow assets that are permanent and use that to address community needs."

Leghorn said in the last three years, the Juneau Community Foundation has given away about $100,000 a year.

"Our overall goal is that Juneau remains healthy, sustainable and vibrant in perpetuity for a long, long time," he said.

Sioux Douglas, president of Juneau Community Foundation, said there are a few ways it does this, such as donor advised funds and field of interest funds.

Donor-advised funds are created by individuals who wish to give through the community foundation to receive certain tax benefits and collaborate with the foundation to direct the grants.

Douglas gave an example of the Grace Akiyama Scholarship program, which was started through the foundation by her husband, Henry Akiyama. She said he had contributed $100,000 to endow scholarships for the Alaska Youth Choir. She said the Juneau foundation now gives $3,000 to $5,000 a year for the scholarships.

Field of interest funds are contributions made for a general cause rather than a specific group. The foundation determines where to distribute these funds in the chosen area. She said some examples include funds for help with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and another for youth sports and activities that was just launched by a grant from Fred Meyer.

"We anticipate that will become one of our most active funds," Douglas said.

Leghorn said the foundation also works with lawyers for those who wish to bequeath to local causes after their deaths. He said lawyers call on the foundation often.

"It's important to realize that anybody who has lived in Juneau can give back to the community through their will, regardless of their ability to give now, so we encourage people to make a will and designate," Leghorn said.

Winkler took over as chief executive officer of the statewide foundation in May. She explained the importance of the statewide and local organizations working together is it's integral to get a better understanding of individual community needs. She said this partnership has been in place since the Juneau office's formation.

"We look at our role in partnering as a community foundation to grow philanthropy like permanent endowments for communities to address needs they identify and other worthwhile projects to make their communities stronger," Winkler said. "We're glad we're able to provide support and augment those needs with investments."

Leghorn gave another development of the Juneau foundation through the Youth Action Committee, where students in both Juneau high schools raise grant money and make deals with the community on how to issue it for causes helping at-risk teens. YAC's adult advisor, Peter Jurasz, said the students have to distribute $14,000 for the cause by the end of the year.

Leghorn said the foundations here are relatively young, but community foundations have been around for more than 100 years and have presences in every state. The statewide organization manages around $40 million of charitable funds. The Alaska Community Foundation also launched an affiliate program in 2008 for smaller communities, such as Haines and Petersburg, that cannot sustain stand-alone foundations but can work with the statewide one to manage local contributions.

Leghorn said this effort was funded by the Rasmuson Foundation to promote philanthropy across the state.

Winkler described the state's role in these affiliates is to support the activities and work on administrative details of the smaller local boards that set agendas and focus on directing the activities and creating community funds.

Winkler said the Alaska Community Foundation awarded $6.5 million in the state last year.

Information can be found at and www.alaska

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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