Responding to the Challenges Ahead
by Jacqueline Dailey
For many years, Alaska’s State government has relied on oil as its main source of revenue. With oil prices at a 12 year low (currently at $34.30 per barrel, down from $66.80 one year ago or -48.65%) the state faces a large deficit. What does this mean to Alaska and the many organizations such as RurAL CAP who receive funding from the state to support our programs? For the past several months, the Foraker Group has been convening sessions throughout Alaska on the challenges facing our economy and the potential impact on organizations like RurAL CAP. The Rasmuson Foundation, First Alaskans Institute and the Alaska Department of Revenue and other important partners have joined the discussions. According to Laurie Wolf, President at the Foraker Group, “The sessions have explored how our sector can be part of the solution rather than continuing to accept the subtle and sometimes not so subtle message that we are part of the problem.” Ms. Wolf suggests the following best practices are a few things that nonprofits can offer to our partners in state government:
- Diversify your funding base – it’s too risky to rely on a single funding source.
- Plan for the future – know who you are and where you are going.
- Make values-based decisions – this applies to every decision from programming, to staffing, to board composition, to budgeting.
- Have your internal house in order and focus on effectiveness and efficiency.
- Seek new ways of doing your work and look for the most leverage to make every dollar and every effort count.
- Use your collective voice for change.
“Our power is in our collective voice. When we look at our economic impact as a [nonprofit] sector it is profound. We are 12% of the workforce statewide and more than 50% of the workforce in rural and remote Alaska. We conservatively accounted for $2.5 billion in wages and helped to create 63,000 jobs. By comparison, the oil industry accounts for $6 billion in wages and 110,000 jobs and the fishing industry generates $1.6 billion in wages and 78,000 jobs. Surprising isn’t it? At the same time the workforce in the state rose 5.2%, our sector rose at 22%.” – Laurie Wolf, President, The Foraker Group
While the oil price drop is a challenge, Alaska is well-positioned to weather the economic uncertainties we are facing. Many of us lived through low oil prices during the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps what is different now is the growing commitment of working together in a more concerted and deliberate way to find lasting solutions to the state’s fiscal challenges. This will involve bringing the right people to the table and collectively honoring Alaskans priorities.
Although 2016 will be a challenging year in terms of absorbing significant cuts in state capital budget funding, RurAL CAP’s core programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, supportive housing and youth development are stable. Federal funding for programs such as the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) and Head Start are strong. Funding support from the Rasmuson Foundation and other private sources are also strong. The loss of funding in the agency’s weatherization program will impact the number of homes we are able to weatherize in northern and western Alaska, Anchorage, and Juneau in the coming year, along with reductions in program and administrative staff.
As we reflect, what Alaskans really want are the basics for their families and communities. This includes a safe community, a warm home, the ability to continue age-old cultural and traditional food gathering opportunities and good health. It is important to continue working with local organizations and partners to develop the plans and actions for solutions that work for them. We have been through tough times and have endured by collaboration.
As the President of the RurAL CAP Board, I am confident that we can work together to find solutions to the state’s budget challenge. Our Development team is working to diversify the agency’s funding base. Our newly adopted strategic plan defines who we are and where we are going. The Council on Accreditation (COA) process is helping us focus on best practices, outcomes and efficiency. COA is an in-depth self-review of the agency against currently held best practice standards. And, we are asking staff for their input on new and different ways of doing their work to help leverage every dollar.
We are grateful and appreciate our many partners for engaging with RurAL CAP to fulfill a vision shared by many: Healthy People, Sustainable Communities, Vibrant Cultures and look forward to fulfilling our mutual objectives.