By Kris Capps
Fairbanksan Heather Lambert is very comfortable asking for donations for good causes. Now that she is on Golden Valley Electric Foundation's Board of Trustees, which administers the Good¢ents Program, she finally has the opportunity to give money to good causes.
“I’m super excited to be on the give side,” she says. “Any person who has ever been known to ask, should also get the opportunity to give.”
Heather is one of 6 volunteer trustees, who meet four times annually to review grant requests from non-profit agencies in the Interior. The money donated comes from GVEA members who participate in the Good¢ents Program by rounding up their monthly electric bills to the nearest dollar. It costs participating GVEA members about $6 a year. The program, which launched in 2011, has donated over $1.4 million dollars to non-profit community programs, throughout GVEA’s service area.
The trustee board is a diverse group which includes members from the Fairbanks, Healy, and Delta areas. Heather is one of the trustees from Fairbanks but she says it’s important that outlying communities have a voice on the board as well.
Trustees from around GVEA’s service territory include Chris Bunch, Heather Lambert, Mike Cook, Bernard Gatewood, Bobbie Ortiz, and Paula Newton. Good¢ents trustees receive no payment for service on the board and donate their time.
“It’s a very thoughtful group,” Heather says, of her fellow trustees, who carefully examine every qualified Good¢ents application. Requests have remained steady at about 8 to 10 applications per quarter, she says.
“Some of them are a no-brainer,” she says. “Others, we spend more time contemplating. If we see that the project is only going to affect three Golden Valley members, it doesn’t make sense.
“Something that affects a ton of people, we’re down for it.”
The trustees are a respectful group, she says.
“The chair encourages the conversation equally with everybody and we listen to each other,” Heather says. “How we make decisions is so pleasant and almost always super cordial. We can completely disagree with each other, but after hearing each other’s opinion, we are able to come to a consensus on our decision.”
She loves the fact that the program is community-driven.
“It’s because of the Golden Valley members that Golden Valley is able to do it,” she says. “We’re trying to be super good stewards for members of Golden Valley and our communities.”
“We try to think of what would make the most impact for that organization and how needful it is,” she says.
Heather has experience with community programs. A REALTOR® for the past 27 years, she has the flexibility to donate time to programs she believes in. She was one of the founding members of the Fairbanks Children’s Museum and often donates time to community projects.
“That was my first philanthropic baby,” she says, of the Fairbanks Children’s Museum. “We raised a lot of money and it is such a cool place. I just love how it touches more and more of the community every day.”
Paula Newton, a middle school teacher at Tri-Valley School in Healy, is currently the longest running trustee on the board. She joined in 2015. She had been a member of a similar board in her hometown in Wisconsin long ago, so she was familiar with the round-up concept and supportive of it.
The board uses a consensus model to make decisions, she says.
“We just talk it out and everyone has to agree,” she says. “We call it everyone but one.”
The trustees are usually all on the same page, she says.
One item the board carefully scrutinizes is how many people are affected by the program in question.
“If it is a Healy thing, it can affect our whole borough sometimes,” she notes. That has certainly been the case in the past when the Good¢ents funded safety upgrades at the Denali Preschool and Learning Center, a snowbulance for volunteer fire departments, renovation of the hockey shack used extensively by the local community and playground equipment in Healy.
Paula loves helping to make good things happen. She also loves that GVEA members voluntarily donate to the program.
“If you pay the most per month, it ends up being $11.88 per year,” she says. “So many thousands of people are on it, we can generate enough funds to help people with big needs, not just $100 or $500. People ask for up to $15,000.”
Being a member of Good¢ents is a no-brainer, she says.
“I help contribute to the greater good of a community, even outside of my community,” she says. “That’s the philanthropy, feel good side of it.”
The GVEA member participation rate is about 66%.
“It would be amazing if it were 100%,” she says.
At the end of each meeting, trustees share their feelings about how the meeting went and their decisions to donate Good¢ents funds to community programs.
“It’s funny that all of us really feel like we really did something good,” she says “You feel good about what you did, what you decided. It seems like everyone always says that.”