TANANA CHIEFS CONFERENCE
April 2, 2009
I became acquainted with Alaska's Tanana Valley at the age of 15, in 1992, as a member of World Horizons, a sort of "junior peace corps" for teenagers. I went back in the summer of 2007 and interned at another Fairbanks nonprofit, the Cultural Heritage and Education Institute. There, I tried to pull together an institutional collaboration with several local stakeholders, an effort that was unsuccessful due to a lack of overall resources, a charged political atmosphere, and a lack of trust or proven track record specifically with respect to one of the entities involved - me, the outsider in Indian Country, and the tiny one-man nonprofit that I interned for. Throughout that process, as I approached the Tanana Chiefs Conference and made my pitch, I was struck by how constructive their perspective was.
I admire the Tanana Chiefs Conference for its organizational effectiveness in the Fairbanks community. From my vantage point, they are totally above board. Their staff carry out their mission with only the best of intentions for individuals, stakeholders, and the community at large. While that may sound obvious and easily taken for granted, Fairbanks is a complex environment and it can be very difficult to hold institutional collaborations together. In this environment, the Tanana Chiefs Conference has earned a reputation as a solid Partner, and an internally supportive place to work.
And let's not forget impact. Their service to the community is fantastic from my perspective. Most of what they do is social, but there's also a huge and positive environmental impact. For example, they have their own GIS shop. And, they promote a sustainable value system.
My only criticism relates to capacity, and it's more an understanding and a recognition than a true criticism. As wonderful a Partner as the Tanana Chiefs Conference can be, they are rarely in a position to say "yes" to an external initiative or new partnership. Most of their priorities are internal - they prioritize their core services and the existing demands on their infrastructure, and there seems to be little in the way of discretionary resources.
Surely there's funding out there that would help them do more? Because they do it so well, and it's a shame that they're maxed out for lack of additional resources. Makes me wonder what other financing mechanisms might be available, particularly on the environmental side of things. All it takes is 10% of their existing capacity - just that amount would allow them to do more. Perhaps an organization that has a strong cross-cultural effectiveness and some credibility in this area could step in? Also, I wonder what is out there in the way of resources ranging from consulting to leadership retreats to training that would help them do more with what they already have, and do it even more effectively.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
medical care, social services, environmental services, and general community goodwill and high regard.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Do lots of staff development in the interests of broader and deeper capacity, stronger individual core competencies in areas like high-level project management, for example. Re-examine priorities in order to do more. Do leadership retreats.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
A refreshing and constructive perspective on how to make a particular Partnership work, and an honest and transparent perspective on why the Tanana Chiefs Conference would not participate.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
Public facing staff were all kind and competent. Spoke by phone to an environmental scientist and GIS expert. And I cannot forget the many members of the public who referred me to the Tanana Chiefs with respect.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
Solve environmental problems that face today's Athabascans, including melting permafrost that turns entire towns into swamplands. Foster adaptation and resilience, but on Athabascan terms. Teach financial life skills, but also on Athabascan terms.
Ways to make it better...
The organization had stronger capacity in my area. Also, if the organization were more open to hiring and/or collaborating with non-Athabascans.
In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...
External. In the big picture.
One thing I'd also say is that...
Keep in mind however that my impression is based on a particular outside experience, narrowly defined by a single project and only a few conversations. Would be very interesting to hear their response. Also keep in mind my overall positive impression.
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Volunteer & field work at age 16, followed by internship 16 years later.