Following her daughter’s death in 2006, Bett Jakubek wanted to donate money in Milisa’s memory.
“I would have given the money to some kind of memorial fund had there been one in place,” she said. “And there was not, so what I did was, my husband and I decided that we would divide the money up that had been given in her name to the different organizations in town that she had been involved in.”
But, she said, it would have been better to keep the money in one big chunk, invested in a way that the interest could be used year after year for local needs. That sparked an interest in the concept of a community foundation. Jakubek returned to school after retiring, and earned a certificate in nonprofit management and development.
“ One of my questions in my learning was to learn about community foundations and their ability to impact small communities in particular, somewhere like Ketchikan, and assuming that the people in Ketchikan knew what their needs were better than people from afar, or government agencies,” she said.
Through her studies, she talked with officials at the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska’s largest charitable organization; and the Alaska Community Foundation, the umbrella group for numerous state funds and endowments. They asked her to see whether a community foundation would work for Ketchikan.
“After quite a bit of research, and an opportunity for four of us to go up to Anchorage and learn about community foundations in general, and specifically about the workings of the Alaska Community Foundation, we realized that it was a great opportunity,” she said.
The statewide organizations take care of investing donated funds, as well as legal and financial issues for the affiliates. The local boards decide what the community’s needs are, and distribute funds once the endowment starts earning interest. As a new affiliate, the Ketchikan Community Foundation has a big incentive to raise money.
“If we are able to raise $25,000 locally of unrestricted monies, then Ed Rasmuson and his foundation say that they will give us $50,000, and in addition to that another $5,000 that we can grant back to the community to charitable works,” she said. “And he will do the same thing in 2014.”
That’s a hundred thousand dollars in the first two years, a pretty nice kickstart for the local group. And Brooklyn Baggett of the Alaska Community Foundation said more is possible.
“We have five current affiliates that the Rasmuson Foundation has been offering match grants to every year since they started, so it’s definitely an ongoing opportunity,” she said. “I think that they like to give a bigger one at the start to try and help really grow the initial endowment for the community.”
Baggett said the affiliate model provides local control and oversight for grant funds.
“The local people obviously know tremendously more than we could ever know because they’re there every day and they can see the needs of the community and try to figure out grant opportunities that will help support the community,” she said.
The next step for the Ketchikan Community Foundation is to form an advisory board. Jakubek and the other organizers, George Shaffer, Dawn Allen-Herron, Agnes Moran, Tom Shultz and Sue Pickrell have heard from many people who are interested in supporting the foundation. From that pool, the six organizers hope to select between nine and 13 advisory board members.
Jakubek said one big goal will be to gain widespread support, rather than just one or two people donating large chunks of money. She would prefer smaller donations from many residents.
“People who have a heart for Ketchikan, who feel this has been a good place to raise their families, who have maybe made their livelihoods here and want to give back,” she said. “Thinking in the long view, like this is building an endowment, kind of like a permanent fund. We get out dividends back every year personally, this will be a way for Ketchikan as a community to get a dividend back every year that can be spent for whatever our needs are.”
In addition to Ketchikan, new affiliates have been formed in Sitka, Kodiak and Fairbanks. Other affiliates have been operating in the Mat-Su, Chilkat Valley, Kenai Peninsula, Seward and Petersburg.