SPONSORED: Alana Humphrey noticed something soon after she started working for Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska: She was happy.
"You know it's a wonderful organization when you realize, not long into your tenure, that every day you want to go to work," Humphrey said.
Humphrey, who first joined Boys & Girls Clubs in Fairbanks and later took over as CEO for a large part of the state, took a circuitous route to her current job. She has a degree in accounting and started her career in health care. After her children were born, she changed direction, earning a degree in elementary education and then teaching for seven years. In 2002, she took the job that let her combine all these areas of expertise.
"It all came together" at the Boys & Girls Clubs, Humphrey said.
The membership model
"Boys & Girls Club really is focused around one core idea, and that is giving kids a safe place to learn and grow," Humphrey said.
Established in Anchorage in 1966 as the Boys Club, today Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska is a statewide operation. The 25 "clubhouses" all over Alaska serve about 9,000 members each year, students ages 7 to 18 who participate in after-school programs at their local clubhouses. The organization's membership model is intended to impart a sense of belonging, along with other values that are central to the clubhouse philosophy.
"In the clubhouse, we focus our programs in three core areas: academic support, good character and leadership skills, and encouraging healthy lifestyles," Humphrey said.
Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska also has a licensed child care program that serves about 180 kids from six weeks through 12 years old, as well as the community athletics program that has introduced generations of Alaska kids to soccer, volleyball, basketball and football — programs brought to life by a staff of dedicated youth advocates and an army of community volunteers.
"The staff and volunteers that work with these kids on the front lines every day, they are so committed to the kids' success that it really does give me goosebumps to think about," Humphrey said.
Run it like a business
Making a transition from business to the nonprofit world might seem a bit surprising. But Humphrey said her accounting background helps tremendously, as does her diverse experience.
"I am really a generalist … so I know what questions to ask. I might ask a question about something related to funding or to accounting, but my CFO, she's got the answers that are specific to the financial position." The same goes for her operations director, her grant writer, and the other specialists that make up the organization's administrative staff. "Accounting and business gave me the ability to ask the questions I need to ask."
And like other leaders in her sector, Humphrey knows the behind-the-scenes secret that helps organizations thrive: The best nonprofits are run like for-profit enterprises, with smart planning and a keen eye fixed on the bottom line.
"Honestly, the management piece is very much the same," she said. "This is a business, so you have to make the same kinds of decisions that you do in the for-profit world … the right staff, the right marketing, the right safety decisions. We just have to raise money in different ways than the for-profit world."
The budget balancing act
The organization was able to establish a statewide presence largely thanks to the advocacy of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
"Long ago, Sen. Stevens wanted Boys & Girls Clubs in the villages," Humphrey said, and as he was famous for doing, Stevens found a way to fund something he saw as important for Alaskans. He procured funding for Boys & Girls Clubs as a prevention program through the Office of Justice Programs. That was in the 1990s and early 2000s. After Stevens left office in 2008, that funding started to decline, Humphrey said, and the organization had to diversify its income sources.
"Now we focus more on seeking private and corporate donors and finding grants that are not in the federal funding stream," Humphrey said. The organization's statewide budget is about $11 million annually. Boys & Girls Clubs receive federal, state, local, and tribal funding, Humphrey said, and there is some revenue from program fees. The rest comes from corporate and private donors.
In-kind donations are a key component of the budget.
"Almost every single community that we're in provides us a facility free of charge," Humphrey said. Along with other in-kind donations, that takes about $3 million in pressure off the fundraising effort each year. Some communities are able to offer different opportunities for financial support, such as one in Southeast Alaska where the Boys and Girls Club benefits from the proceeds of a local alcohol tax.
Planning for the year is "a balancing act," Humphrey said. Their budget year is the calendar year, January to December, but some grants turn over midyear, and there's never any guarantee that they will be renewed. As a result, budgeting is by necessity "a very fluid process."
"If you're planning on a grant that you've had for several years and you get word it's not renewing, then you have to react," Humphrey explained. "It requires the same kind of responsiveness to trends that you would see in the for-profit world. It's not unlike a retail store reacting if sales are down between Thanksgiving and Christmas."
Even an unexpected windfall can complicate the budgeting process, Humphrey said, since grants may have specific goals and requirements: "Often with a new funding stream, your staffing increases because you have a new set of outcomes to address."
Boys & Girls Clubs' annual budget is a road map for drivers who will need to adapt on the fly, and it's partnered with a resource development plan that lists events and donor "asks" for each month of the year based on anticipated needs. The revenue streams may not be the same as they would in a for-profit venture, but the ultimate goal is the same: stay in the black.
Planning for times of boom and bust
Just like other local businesses, Alaska's nonprofits are impacted by economic growth and recession. Humphrey said Boys & Girls Clubs has "absolutely" been affected by Alaska's softening economy in recent years.
"We feel the economy pretty strongly," she said. "We're down a little bit in our funding streams over the last probably two, two and a half years. What we find is our corporations and individuals are just as generous" — but the scale of their generosity is necessarily impacted by their own finances.
"We don't lose donors, but they have to react to the economy as well."
To help weather tough times, the organization maintains reserves in an investment account that it works to keep actively gaining value. Much of the principal for that account comes from unique high-value donations, gifts such as stock and property.
"Anytime that we have something of that kind of value, we try to put it in our reserve account," Humphrey said. The board of directors' investment committee establishes investment guidelines to direct the work of a First National Bank Alaska investment banker.
"The investment piece is out of my expertise, so we appreciate the professional services that they have," Humphrey said, adding that keeping risk low is a top priority in Boys & Girls Clubs' investment strategy. "They protect our value and advise us where that money needs to go."
Smart planning, managing for a healthy bottom line, and staying prepared for tight times is critical for any small business, and for a nonprofit like Boys & Girls Clubs, it feels doubly important to succeed when times are tough.
"As the economy softens, there are more families that are struggling," Humphrey said. "We feed a lot of kids. We become the caregiver when the kids' parents aren't available."
Living the mission
Behind the scenes, Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska runs like a small business. But the organization's primary customers — its members — never see the balance sheets, the investment strategies, or the grant applications. For them, the clubhouse is a home away from home. And that's what keeps Humphrey and her staff motivated.
"We fill a need, and until every single kiddo out there has a place to go after school … our job is not done," she said. "We're a part of so many communities in Alaska. There are communities that can't imagine what would happen if Boys & Girls Clubs wasn't there for their kids."
According to research from the parent organization Boys & Girls Clubs America, the clubs make a measurable difference in their members' lives, attitudes and hopes for the future. Members who participate in Boys & Girls Clubs academic programs miss fewer days of school. They earn better grades. They are more physically active. They're more interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
"We are proud of the work that we do for children and families," Humphrey said. "That is the number one piece that we're 'making it' with. Every time a child comes through the door, our staff ensures that we do everything we can do to make that child successful."
As for Humphrey — after 15 years, she still wakes up every morning excited to go to work.
"I am totally fulfilled by this organization," she said. "It's a wonderful organization."
This article was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.