Hydrocarbons Pave the Way for Pick.Click.Give.
A statewide giving campaign
facilitated by oil royalties
By Amy Newman
Seward85 | iStock

s of February 28, the market value of the Alaska Permanent Fund was $75.6 billion, of which $52 billion is principal, or the seed that grows investment earnings. Today, approximately one-third of the principal comes from earnings redeposited as inflation proofing, one-third comes from special appropriations, and one-third comes directly from the constitutionally required minimum of 25 percent of oil royalty proceeds.

Alaska Permanent Fund earnings come from investments in stocks, bonds, equities, and real estate, but the investment dollars come from—and started with—oil, specifically an initial deposit in 1977 of $734,000 that launched the fund.

Thus every dollar paid out of the Alaska Permanent Fund has ties to Alaska’s oil industry. The highly anticipated annual dividends are only possible because of the North Slope’s vast resource wealth, and they disperse monies generated by oil operations through every community in the state.

Aside from Permanent Fund Dividends (PFD), direct and indirect jobs and wages, and other oil and gas industry spending, oil money also flows to Alaskans in the form of philanthropic donations directly from oil field owners and operators. ConocoPhillips Alaska typically contributes $3 million to $5 million each year. Hilcorp Alaska donates on a similar scale, but the company lets employees choose which causes to support. The 2021 Christmas bonus gave each Hilcorp employee $25,000 for individual donations, pumping an extra $16 million to Alaska nonprofits that year.

The same giving strategy lets every Alaskan, working for Hilcorp or not, support their favorite charities while applying for the PFD. Along with questions designed to confirm eligibility, applicants are asked one simple question that can have a huge impact:

Do they want to donate a portion of their PFD to an Alaska nonprofit?

The late Representative Bill Thomas of Haines introduced legislation in 2008 to create the PFD Charitable Contributions Program. The idea was to give Alaskans an easy and convenient way to support eligible nonprofit organizations, the University of Alaska campuses, and community foundations through their PFDs while capitalizing on the collective impact of those donations.

“We wanted to grow the total number of givers in Alaska, increase the amount that was given by Alaskans, and raise the understanding and knowledge of the power of individual philanthropy,” says Laurie Wolf, president and CEO of The Foraker Group, which drafted the legislation that became the Pick.Click.Give. program.

Former Governor Sarah Palin signed the bill into law in May 2008, and in 2009, the first time Pick.Click.Give. appeared on the PFD application, Alaskans donated $468,067 to 333 eligible organizations. In 2010 former Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill that removed the three-year sunset provision and made Pick.Click.Give. a permanent fixture in Alaska’s philanthropic landscape.

Fourteen years later, Pick.Click.Give. averages $2.3 million in contributions each year. The program is currently administered by the Alaska Community Foundation and the Alaska Department of Revenue (DOR), but its creation was a group effort.

“It was a team sport,” Wolf says. “It took government and for-profits and nonprofits all working together to make that happen. That’s something at Foraker we really believe in, and this is just such a great example of that. It’s never just one group, it’s always a team effort.”

Creating a Culture of Philanthropy
Pick.Click.Give. was born from the Alaska Giving Coalition, a loose affiliation organized by The Foraker Group in 2005, says Wolf. It comprised an “intersection of philanthropic organizations,” including United Way, community foundations, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the Alaska Funders Group, an informal collaborative of corporation and foundation funders that included the Rasmuson Foundation. At the time, Alaska had one of the lowest rates of charitable giving in the country, something the coalition wanted to change.

“One of our original goals was to raise the level of awareness of a culture of philanthropy, so really building that culture of individual philanthropy in Alaska,” Wolf says.

Wanting to impress upon Alaskans the collective power of individual giving, the coalition looked at creating a statewide campaign to increase individual philanthropy. The Foraker Group had begun researching statewide philanthropy campaigns in 2002, and the coalition realized that Alaska already had a successful campaign that was a natural fit for their philanthropic efforts.

“That was really the genesis of trying to come up with an idea,” Wolf says. “And a natural connection was the PFD. That was a uniquely Alaskan tool in our toolbox, so that seemed like an obvious connection.”

But first, the coalition needed to know whether tying a charitable contribution program to the PFD would achieve its desired goal. In 2008, the group commissioned the McDowell Group to research not just how Alaskans spent their PFD but whether they would use a charitable program tied to it.

“Nobody had ever asked that question before,” Wolf says. “McDowell tried to figure out [whether] people would be charitable with their PFD. We got enough information back to tell us, yes, if we created this program, people would use it.”

At the same time the coalition was developing the program, the Alaska DOR was encouraging Alaskans to move away from paper PFD applications and instead apply online. Encouraged by the McDowell Group’s findings, the coalition tailored Pick.Click.Give. to align with the state’s efforts to increase online filings.

“We had the idea to make [Pick.Click.Give.] an online program so you couldn’t participate if you used paper,” Wolf says. “It met the state’s goals of trying to move people into the online application, and it met our goals of trying to connect it to giving philanthropically.”

“Many parents use Pick.Click.Give. to teach their children about charitable giving, and a good percentage of our donors are young people.”
Ronnie Rosenberg
Board President
Fairbanks Animal Shelter Fund
Wolf and The Foraker Group took the lead in drafting the legislation. Foraker hired a lobbyist to garner legislative support, and the Rasmuson Foundation and The Foraker Group crafted the initial marketing campaign to name the fledgling program.

“We were calling it ‘Give cash, make change,’” Wolf says with a laugh. “We were not marketers.”

Administration and management of Pick.Click.Give. was parceled out in the early years, says Jessie Lavoie, director of programs and grants for the Alaska Community Foundation. The Foraker Group handled nonprofit education and outreach until 2019. The Rasmuson Foundation housed the program manager and covered the first three years of administrative costs, and United Way handled disbursements, she says. The Alaska Community Foundation stepped in to help with marketing and outreach in 2015 and assumed full control of the program in 2018.

“We brought all the pieces and the person managing the program into the foundation,” Lavoie says. “We realized that all the pieces needed to come underneath one roof for the consistency of the program.”

But Lavoie says Pick.Click.Give. remains a group effort.

“Those partners from the beginning are still very much partners of ours,” she says. “Facilitation of the program all falls within the Alaska Community Foundation, but those partners go to Juneau to educate, or if there’s a big initiative coming our way, they’re there to back us up 100 percent.”

Program costs are covered by a “coordination fee” amounting to 7 percent of Pick.Click.Give. donations.

Choose Your Own Charity
Though there was initially talk in the legislature of limiting the types of nonprofits that could participate in Pick.Click.Give., Wolf says the coalition worked to keep politics and ideology out of it.

“We worked pretty hard to keep it open to all charitable organizations,” Wolf says. “People are picking organizations from a wide variety of missions, and politics don’t have a place there. People are choosing what they care about, and that’s what we cared about. We didn’t want it to be policed in advance. We didn’t want it to be censored in advance.”

While politics may not be part of eligibility, nonprofits must meet a set of statutory criteria, Lavoie says, and organizations must apply annually to ensure their continued compliance.

Every nonprofit included in Pick.Click.Give. must have been granted tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3) by the IRS, Lavoie says. Organizations must be governed by a volunteer board of directors or advisory board, a majority of whose members must be Alaska residents; this allows local chapters of national organizations, such as the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross of Alaska, to participate. The services or aid that organizations provide must be in-state, and a minimum of $100,000 or 5 percent of its total annual receipts, whichever is less, must come from charitable donations.

“If the organization is entirely grant funded, that knocks them out,” Lavoie says. “Private foundations are also not eligible because they’re funded by one person.”

Donations made through Pick.Click.Give. are unrestricted, which allows organizations to use the funds however they see fit.

“That’s kind of the beauty of this program,” Lavoie says. “There’s no way for people within their PFD application to say they want their money to go toward a certain thing. Often, PFD contributions go toward keeping the lights on, paying the rent for their brick-and-mortar location, salaries, office supplies, things that don’t necessarily appeal to people all the time—they’re not the sexy things to fund. Pick.Click.Give. helps fill that gap for a lot of those programs.”

The Fairbanks Animal Shelter Fund is one of those programs that relies on Pick.Click.Give. donations to fill the gaps. The group uses funds to support the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Animal Control Department.

“The money provides veterinary care, supplies, and equipment not included in the borough budget that directly helps the animals in our care,” says Board President Ronnie Rosenberg. “We are an all-volunteer charity with no paid staff, so for us this program is especially impactful.”

“Often, PFD contributions go toward keeping the lights on, paying the rent for their brick-and-mortar location, salaries, office supplies, things that don’t necessarily appeal to people all the time—they’re not the sexy things to fund. Pick.Click.Give. helps fill that gap for a lot of those programs.”
Jessie Lavoie
Director of Programs and Grants
Alaska Community Foundation
The Collective Power of Individual Giving
Animal welfare organizations are perennially popular recipients of Pick.Click.Give. donations, such as Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue, Friends of Pets, the Alaska SPCA, and the Alaska Zoo. “Animals” is one of six main categories in the program’s “Pick Tool,” along with Community, Education, Emergency & Humanitarian, Health, and Youth organizations.

Alaska Public Media, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, and Planned Parenthood often receive the biggest pledges each year.

Bean’s Café is also consistently one of the top recipients of Pick.Click.Give. funds. “Being local and grassroots, we are heavily reliant on donor dollars,” says Diana Arthur, development and communication director for the Downtown Anchorage soup kitchen. “We usually provide about one meal per dollar that comes in the door, give or take. It’s something that we count on and that we are so grateful for because it just allows us to keep feeding more people.”

Arthur says that despite seeing annual donations dip by about $30,000 over the past few years, Bean’s Café still receives roughly $70,000 per year from Pick.Click.Give., all of which goes toward providing meals to those in need.

Dalmatian dog with stick in mouth roaming on a trail
Pick.Click.Give. carries a Great Dane-sized chunk of Alaska SPCA’s budget as the organization’s single largest fundraising stream. About 800 PFD filers donate $40,000 annually.

RLTheis | Envato

“All of our Pick.Click.Give. money is funneled to Bean’s Café, and it is used for operations in terms of food and supplies,” she says. “We never use donor dollars for administration fees. All of that money goes directly to feeding people, 100 percent.”

For the Alaska SPCA, Pick.Click.Give. is the organization’s single largest fundraiser; more than 800 annual donors help raise $40,000 annually on average, says Executive Director Kelly Donnelly.

“We spend about $50,000 each year on shelter pet care,” she says. “Each pet that gets adopted out costs us about $1,440. Pick.Click.Give. picks up the lion’s share of those expenses, so it’s not an overstatement to say that it changes the lives of pets who come through our doors.”

Room to Grow
Pick.Click.Give. donations have benefits beyond directly supporting nonprofit organizations. Donations remain in the community, which directly benefits the local economy, Rosenberg says, and the program is helping to build the next generation of philanthropists.

“Many parents use Pick.Click.Give to teach their children about charitable giving, and a good percentage of our donors are young people,” she says.

And there is room for growth: out of approximately 625,000 PFD applicants last year, less than 4 percent donated any portion at all, as little as the $25 minimum increment. Its best year, in both monies raised and the number of individual donors, was 2015, when 33,421 Alaskans contributed slightly more than $3.22 million, according to Alaska DOR statistics.

In an average year, 24,356 individual donors pledge roughly $2.33 million. The average donation per individual is $103.86, with an average gift of $60.78 to nonprofits.

“[This year] being the exception so far, the higher the PFD doesn’t necessarily mean more in individual gives, but more individuals give,” Lavoie explains. “So we have more participation [in higher PFD years], but those that are participating with a large PFD don’t necessarily give as much as in the lower years.”

Through fluctuating PFD payouts, a statewide economic recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has proved stronger than statewide giving campaigns the coalition researched almost twenty years ago.

“Interestingly, those other statewide programs we researched in the early days, they don’t exist anymore,” Wolf says. “So Pick.Click.Give. has staying power that is unprecedented. It’s weathered all the economic storms, low PFDs and high PFDs, all the things.”