featured graphic for The Youth Center after COVID-19

The Youth Center shares 5 tips for how to build a nonprofit to last

Last month we had the opportunity to interview Lina Lumme, Executive Director and CEO of The Youth Center in Los Alamitos, California, where she shared key learnings from the organization’s 70-year history. The Youth Center is a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Orange & LA County children and teens through educational, recreational, and social after-school programs and summer camps.

This is a pivotal year for The Youth Center as they will begin development on a new center in October with the hopes of setting roots in the community they call home. What started in 1952 as a small group of parents coming together to create a safe place for kids to go after school now serves more than 3,000 young people ages 5-18 annually with the help of at least 500 volunteers giving 1,014,537 hours of their time. From this wealth of experience (and 17 years of her own), Lina shares five tips for building a nonprofit that stand the test of time.

1. Get creative

If necessity is the mother of invention, then getting creative is The Youth Center’s greatest solution to fundraising. Early on, one of The Youth Center’s partners suggested proceeds from an additional race day at the Los Alamitos Race Course go toward the organization. These funds would eventually construct The Youth Center’s first building, where they stayed from 1952-1972. Today, The Youth Center’s biggest fundraiser is its annual Christmas Tree Lot. “We bring the whole community together,” says Lina. “It’s going to be the 19th year we’ve done it, and we’ll have 300 kids and volunteers helping.” Sounds like fun to us!

2. Think long-term

The Youth Center is on a cusp of a new chapter as they set out to break ground on a new, permanent location this fall. After their 50-year lease with the City ends in 2023, The Youth Center’s board decided that instead of finding a new building where they would become long-term renters, they wanted to pour every dollar donated toward the kids in their program. And so, it was time to start fundraising! The journey has been a labor of love, and it’s not over yet, but thinking with the future in mind will allow them to expand their mission for years to come.

3. Build it the right way

Whether talking about their staff or the furniture they plan to buy, The Youth Center believes in building things the right way. The Youth Center invests time in training their staff not just on things like safety but making sure everyone understands the organization’s values. “We want our staff to see, play, learn… we want them to be a part of everything that the kids are doing and be excited about the day,” Lina explains.

And because they are committed to creating such a caring environment, you won’t find anyone sitting on beat-up old couches when you walk into their new building in 2023. Though they rely heavily on donations, they are making efforts to invest in their permanent location by creating a simple space with less bulky furniture and more creative room for kids to do their homework. But it’s going to take some help.

4. You can’t do it all yourself… ask for help!

Lina’s top advice for a nonprofit just starting is to ask for help. “You can’t do everything yourself,” says Lina. “Asking for advice and reaching out to people… there is always somebody who knows better in that area than we do.” The Youth Center isn’t just buying new furniture to fill their new building; they’re reaching out to people and asking for help to buy a book for their library or a chair for their new computer room. Some say it takes a village, we say it takes a community.

5. Save money where you can… ask for what you need!

What’s Lina’s second piece of advice for new nonprofits? Save money! This might be a no-brainer, but it’s how you execute this mindset that matters. Instead of just not spending or relying on a small budget, think about all the things you can ask for. “Reach out for support and in-kind donations of stuff that you need, like bottles of water.” Being transparent with your needs, financials, and how you function as an organization is critical to your long-term success.

This article was written by Evergreen Alliance for The Youth Center.