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PFD online application opts for charitable donation

By Christi Hang – Fairbanks News-Miner – January 8, 2009

FAIRBANKS – Helping others has just become easier, thanks to the new “Pick. Click. Give.” program.

Alaskans applying online for the 2009 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend now have the option of giving some or all of their dividend to nonprofit organizations in the state. As of Wednesday, 170,000 Alaskans have submitted permanent fund data electronically.

There are more than 330 organizations statewide participating in the Internet donation program, with nearly 30 based in Fairbanks. Donors can choose to give to one or more groups.

Alaska Giving Coalition Chairman Jim Caldarola said looking at tax return data, Alaska is behind the nation when it comes to the number of people donating and the amounts given. The purpose of the program is to increase both participation and funds donated.

“We saw this as an opportunity to grow philanthropy in Alaska,” he said.

The program is a project of the coalition, with help from the Rasmuson Foundation and The Foraker Group. It was approved by the Alaska Legislature in 2008 and will run for at least the next three years.

The nearly 30 eligible nonprofits in Fairbanks encompass a variety of interests, including academics, the arts and social services.

Ronnie Rosenberg, president of the Fairbanks Animal Shelter Fund, hopes the new method will appeal to present donors and attract some new ones as well.

The fund provides supplemental services to the animal shelter. The majority of money goes back to extra veterinary services, animal food, equipment and other services needed by the shelter.

“We hope people take advantage of this opportunity because it’s easy and convenient,” she said.

When it comes to operating costs, Samantha Kirstein, executive director of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, said her organization has one of the smallest budgets of the local nonprofits.

“We’re a community food bank that is supported locally and working locally,” she said.

The biggest expense for the food bank is utilities and vehicle upkeep as one of the big components of the food bank is to collect surplus food, create food packages and deliver them to Fairbanks and North Pole locations.

Another local nonprofit that deals with food is Calypso Farm and Ecology Center.

Christie Shell, assistant director of the center, said Calypso is focused on teaching and encouraging sustainable agriculture practices through workshops and programs for the whole community. There is a focus on getting students out into the gardens. The center has a School Yard Program, which sets up gardens for area schools and a summer garden program for teenagers. They also host field trips for classes to the center.

Also serving area students is the Fairbanks Tennis Association. Association President Mary Matthews said 500 young tennis players get the opportunity to hit the courts during the summer and the number is doubled during the school year because of after-school programs. While the majority of its programs are geared to students, Matthews said the association is a community one and is focused on providing tennis opportunities for the whole community.

“We’re happy for the opportunity to be listed on Pick. Click. Give.,” Matthew said.

Instead of tennis, Dance Theatre Fairbanks wants to bring quality dance to the community. DTF President Mike Walsh said the organization strives to bring dance and performance opportunities to everybody in the community regardless of shape and size.

“Everybody wants to dance,” he said.

The organization also is focused on renovating its space, the Firehouse Studio, and building the Edna Wise Firehouse Theatre. The studio is downtown and Walsh said it is in a good location to bring the arts back to the area. In addition to dance lessons held there, it’s not uncommon to see yoga classes for pregnant women, theater performances and tae kwon do classes. There was even a wedding held there once.

Walsh said overall, the long-term goal is make DTF a more sustainable nonprofit.

One of Fairbanks’ oldest organizations, Fairbanks Concert Association, also is in the donation program. The association doesn’t have any expectations but it hopes the program will create a new revenue stream, said Executive Director Anne Biberman. In addition to presenting diverse acts to Fairbanks audiences, the association creates school programming and workshops for the community.

Biberman said individual donations are a critical piece of funding because ticket sales account for half of the funds needed to keep the association operating.

Donors also can choose to give a part of their dividend to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Caldarola said all University of Alaska campuses are eligible.

Many nonprofit leaders said their organizations will not see money from the program until October and while it is nice to have a new outlet to raise funds, they hope donors also donate directly to the organizations so they will be able to use the money sooner.

Biberman said she hopes people consider donating to not just her organization but any nonprofit because they benefit the community in various ways.

“Nonprofits are the lifeforce of the community,” she said.