By Robin Mayo
WISE is a nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use money, or need to balance the books. This time of year I’ve got my eye on the bottom line as we wrap up the fiscal year, write annual reports, and prepare for our annual giving campaign. So with apologies, this week I’m not going to share inspiration on outdoor fun. Instead, I’d like to give you a glimpse into how WISE maintains healthy finances.
As a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, WISE is dedicated to public service, and is essentially owned by the community which we serve. The nine good people who make up the Board of Directors are responsible for managing the organization in a way that is fiscally responsible, and fulfills our mission. They hire me to do the day-to-day stuff, but they have the final say on the big stuff.
WISE has an operating budget of about $100,000 per year. This covers a myriad of expenses, the largest of which is payroll and associated taxes. We also pay electric and utility bills, vehicle expenses for our two vans, supplies for programs (wow, kids outdoors need a LOT of good food) equipment, training for staff, professional services like accounting, and the list goes on. We are incredibly lucky to not have to pay anything for office space, as generous board members donate the use of a house for office, storage, and staff quarters.
Our income comes from many diverse sources. About a third is earned income from our two tours, program fees, merchandise, and rent. We are proud of this income, and work hard to earn it. One of the biggest advantages of earned income is that it is unrestricted, so we can use it wherever it is needed. When unexpected expenses arise, or stellar opportunities present themselves, unrestricted income makes it possible to make a quick move.
Approximately another third of our income comes from our cooperative agreements with the US Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. This funding helps make our youth programs possible, but of course varies year to year based on a wide variety of factors. Largely in part to generous help from the BLM, we’ve been able to offer our summer youth programs free or with a very small charge for longer programs. As the federal funding climate changes, so that may change as well.
About twenty percent of our yearly income comes from grants (although sometimes we call them by alternative names,) mostly from foundations, sometimes from businesses or other nonprofits. Grant income is often recommended as the fix-all for nonprofit funding, but in fact it is time-consuming to apply for, super competitive, very restrictive in how it can be used, and often comes with a heavy burden of paperwork and reporting.
The final ten percent of our income comes from individual donors, everything from very modest Pick.Click.Give donations to big items such as the piece of land in Chitina we were gifted several years ago. Most donations are unrestricted, although they sometimes come with strings attached.
As well as a bank account where we keep our working funds, WISE has a separate account earmarked for large capital expenditures such as vehicle replacement. We also have an account for the Bruce James Memorial Scholarship Fund, which helps youth pay for programs if needed. Over the years we’ve worked hard to build up these accounts so they give a bit of a cushion in case of a tough year or sudden change in funding sources. For example, when the piece of land in Chitina sold, most of the proceeds went into the capital reserve fund.
It is often said that nonprofit organizations have a double bottom line, as we need to keep our accounts in the black, and also show a real benefit to our community. It’s a balancing act, and neither aspect can be sustained without the other.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.