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Business/Economy

Alaska nonprofits try to do more with less amid oil slump, economic uncertainty

  • Author: Hope Miller
  • Updated: June 23, 2016
  • Published May 29, 2016

Nonprofits in Alaska are bracing for less financial help from some of their largest donors as the state grapples with a multibillion-dollar deficit and oil companies try to minimize their losses. 

"I can tell you 100 percent that we are seeing an increased need for our services all across the state," said Thomas Brown, spokesman for the Salvation Army in Alaska, which is active in 18 communities across the state. "Rental assistance, housing assistance, things like that."

Salvation Army's Older Alaskans Program, which includes Meals on Wheels, saw its waitlist jump 35 percent, to about 80 people this spring. Brown says that was a side effect of state budget cuts — specifically the state Senior Benefits Program, which is for low- to moderate-income Alaskans 65 years old and up.

"We're having to curtail certain programs," Brown said. "We're not ending anything. But there are certain logistical functions of certain programs that need to be scaled back."

Lisa Aquino, executive director for Catholic Social Services, echoed some of the same sentiments as Brown, saying CSS is preparing for drops in donations and grant funding. But she added that the nonprofit, known for its assistance to the homeless, has loyal donors. 

"I've really seen people coming together," Aquino said.

For many groups in Alaska, financial help from oil companies is a big boost. But the oil slump is forcing some of those companies to scale back on philanthropy.

Oil companies and oil industry support businesses contributed 35 percent of the $5.8 million raised during United Way of Anchorage's annual workforce campaign in the fall of 2015, according to a brief in the April edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

"While this amount is down 12 percent from 2014 due to turnover and the economy, it is still a substantial and critical amount contributing to crucial efforts and needed supports being provided throughout Anchorage," says the article, written by United Way of Anchorage.

In the first quarter of 2016, ConocoPhillips Alaska saw a $52 million loss in income, before income taxes.

The company is "still planning to invest $3 to $4 million in Alaska nonprofits and communities this year, said spokeswoman Natalie Lowman. In 2015, $5 million was donated. When crude oil prices reached over $100 a barrel in 2014, it was $6 million.

"We're still really supporting nonprofits, we just have to be strategic about how we do that and try to support longstanding events that we've had," Lowman said, using the oil company's yearslong sponsorship of the Anchorage Mayor's Marathon as an example.

BP Alaska is another big oil-company donor for Alaska. It donated $4.5 million across Alaska in 2015 and $5 million in 2014, according to spokeswoman Dawn Patience. The energy giant has endured local layoffs recently and announced last week it was putting its Alaska headquarters up for sale with plans to lease it back from a buyer.

Royal Dutch Shell previously matched contributions during Kaladi Brothers Coffee's New Year's Day tradition where all sales go to an Alaska charity, but Rasmuson Foundation and other businesses stepped in this year after Shell's Arctic oil prospects disappointed and the company said it was leaving Alaska for the "foreseeable future." The company's departure also meant veteran musher DeeDee Jonrowe lost a big sponsor in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 

Alaska isn't the only place where charitable donations and the organizations that rely on them are being affected by the oil collapse. Nonprofits in the Texas energy hub of Houston have also scaled back.

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