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 organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children and teens in Orange County and LA through after-school educational, recreational, and social programs and summer camps.
This is a pivotal year for The Youth Center as they will begin development of a new center in October in hopes of putting down roots in the community they call home. What began in 1952 as a small group of parents coming together to create a safe place for children to go after school now serves more than 3,000 young people aged 5 to 18 each year with the help of at least 500 volunteers giving 1,014,537 hours of their time. From this wealth of experience (and her 17 years of experience), Lina shares five tips for building a nonprofit that stands the test of time.
1. Be creative
If necessity is the mother of invention, then getting creative is the Youth Center’s best fundraising solution. Early on, one of the Youth Center’s partners suggested that proceeds from an extra day of racing at the Los Alamitos Racetrack go to the organization. These funds would eventually construct the Youth Center’s first building, where they remained from 1952 to 1972. Today, the Youth Center’s biggest fundraiser is its annual batch of Christmas trees. “We bring the whole community together,” says Lina. “It will be the 19th year that we have done this, and we will have 300 children and volunteers helping us.” It amuses us!
2. Think long term
The Youth Center is on the cusp of a new chapter as it sets out to inaugurate a new permanent location this fall. After their 50-year lease with the City ended in 2023, the Youth Center Board of Directors decided that instead of finding a new building where they would become long-term tenants, they wanted to donate every dollar donated to children 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 ahead will allow them to expand their mission for years to come.
3. Build it the right way
Whether it’s their staff or the furniture they’re considering buying, The Youth Center believes in building things the right way. The Youth Center invests time in training its staff, not only on topics such as safety, but also to ensure that everyone understands the values of the organization. “We want our staff to see, play, learn…we want them to be part of everything the kids do and to be excited about the day,” says Lina.
And because they’re committed to creating such a caring environment, you won’t find anyone sitting on old, dilapidated sofas when you walk into their new building in 2023. Although they rely heavily on donations, they’re making efforts to invest in their permanent location by creating a simple space with less bulky furniture and a more creative space for children to do their homework. But it’s going to take some help.
4. You can’t do everything yourself… ask for help!
Lina’s best advice for a nonprofit starting out is to ask for help. “You can’t do everything yourself,” says Lina. “Asking for advice and reaching out to people…there is always someone who knows better than us in this area.” The Youth Center is not just buying new furniture to fill its new building; they reach out to people and ask for help buying 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 is Lina’s second piece of advice for new nonprofits? To save money! It might be a no-brainer, but it’s how you execute that mindset that matters. Instead of just not spending or relying on a small budget, think about everything you can ask for. “Ask for help and in-kind donations for things you need, like water bottles.” Being transparent with your needs, finances, and operation as an organization is essential to your long-term success.