I met Layla Anane last summer at Mt. Hood, where she was spending the week at the BTBounds x High Cascade session. Layla radiates poise, smiles easily and speaks analytically, and just loves snowboarding–all things that surely contribute to her success as the executive director of the Service Board, a Seattle-based, youth-led organization that contributes to community through intersectional programming for young people. the Service Board was founded in 1995 and has been an impactful organization in Washington ever since. In 2022, Layla took the helm of the non-profit as the ED, though she first joined the organization’s staff in 2017, building on a love for snowboarding that tSB had catalyzed when she was in high school. Deeply committed to bolstering community and the greater good, as well as the impact that sport can have on the lives of young people, through her work at the Service Board, Layla channels passion into concrete effect.
The opportunities for snowboarding to act as a fulcrum for personal growth, community building, and commitment to the betterment of the world around us are great, but in order to unlock these experiences, young people must overcome the hurdles to access that are often immense. Organizations like the Service Board–and the people like Layla giving their time, effort, and care to these foundations, programs, and groups–are the crux of not only enhancing folks’ lives through the experience of outdoor sport, but bettering snowboarding as a whole, starting with work at the grassroots level that has the power to resonate through all facets of the industry.
For this edition of Clocking In, Layla lets us in to what her role with the Service Board is like, the path she took to working in the non-profit sector in snowboarding, and what it is like combining her love of snowboarding and serving the community in impactful ways for her profession. – Mary T. Walsh
Name: Layla Anane (she/her)
Job title: Executive Director, the Service Board (tSB)
Where you’re from: Seattle, WA
Where you live: Seattle, WA
Home Mountain: Crystal Mountain Resort
What is your current job and can you tell us a little bit about what your role entails?
I’m the Executive Director (ED) of the Service Board, a youth development organization in Seattle, Washington. My role is to lead and drive the continuous development of the org to meet the ever-evolving needs of the communities we serve. Running a small nonprofit organization is a bit of a whirlwind–things are always changing, no two days are the same, and often there is no set work schedule. I wear an abundance of hats depending on the day, season, and need, ranging from partnerships, fund development, and people management, to overseeing finance, administration and marketing.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Depends on the day! I might be out in the mountains scouting terrain and sites for learning groups in the early hours; meeting with state reps or stakeholders to discuss increasing funding for outdoor youth programs around lunch; writing and researching a grant or proposal in the afternoon so we can provide free transportation for youth to all of our snowboarding trips; and meeting with our board of directors in the evening to plan our upcoming fundraising strategy. Meanwhile, the entirety of the next day could be spent developing our budget and nothing else! However, I would say that the majority of my typical day is not what I have scheduled, but the time spent cultivating and maintaining the important relationships that support our goals. With five staff members, one-to-two interns, thirty-to-fifty volunteers, and more than a hundred donors, partners, and vendors at any given time, that’s a lot of relationships to oversee and coordinate! By far this is the most important part of my daily role–to make sure folks are feeling happy and energized to work with tSB.
How did you start snowboarding?
I actually started snowboarding through tSB! I grew up with very little knowledge of the outdoors. The child of an immigrant Filipina mother and a very traditional Black and Native father, my family had little experience and placed little value in spending time outside. I was recruited for tSB at 15, and was not only introduced to snowboarding, but I received a scholarship to cover everything I needed to get started through the organization–snowboarding gear, instruction, transportation, lift tickets, etc. After two seasons, I was hooked! That was about eighteen years ago. It was life-changing to be able to access a sport with such high barriers, and it has since become an integral part of my life.
When did you know that you wanted to work in the snowboard industry?
While I fell in love with snowboarding almost immediately, it definitely took a longer time to decide whether or not I wanted to be involved with the industry overall. Despite snowboarding’s reputation of innovation and counterculture, I didn’t really see very many people who looked like me participating early on and I wasn’t really sure how or if I might fit into the culture. It was also difficult to reconcile a possible career in and demands of the industry with the desire to finish my education and serve my community. It was the fact that something like tSB even existed, an organization working to build community at the intersection of social justice, service and snowboarding of all things, that enabled me to shift that perspective of what being a part of the industry could look like! It was like a light bulb moment where I was just like “Oh, there’s more than one way to be in this and I don’t need to do the same thing that everyone else is doing.” I just loved that, and it felt right, so I ran with it.
What was your first job in the industry?
After my first year in tSB as a youth, I wanted to stay in the community, keep snowboarding, and learn more. tSB offers second year students a chance to move into leadership and internship positions at the organization, and I jumped at the chance to help execute curriculum and assist in managing snowboard inventory in exchange for perks like lift tickets. Basically, they put me to work! They also connected me with short-term seasonal gigs with local retail partners and shops like The Snowboard Connection (RIP) and evo to support my growing habit. I still get hand cramps thinking about how many boards I had to wax and sharpen and set up, but it was worth it and I learned how to make my gear last!
Between that first job and now, how did you get to where you are currently?
A few years after I started snowboarding, I got a scholarship to university and I spent a lot of time focusing on my education. I studied, traveled, and worked on five continents, and was able to witness the global impacts of both systemic oppression AND the healing power of sport across cultures. From the Himalayas to the Sahara to the Amazon, some version of sport was woven into the fabric of all communities rich and poor, and played a crucial role in mental, emotional and physical development. I didn’t know it then, but I was working out how to combine the two interests! After finishing undergrad, I volunteered as a mentor and snowboard instructor with tSB while I worked in the legal industry. I finished my graduate degree in International Affairs with a focus on NGOs in 2017, with the intention of going into the US Diplomatic Corps, but that was the year that the Trump administration cut the State Department budget, and so my plans changed. Meanwhile, tSB had entered a difficult phase and was looking for staff. I signed on with the intention of staying until the organization was back on its feet and I had secured another position within my degree field. I actually remember feeling pretty bummed about the situation at the time and super unsure of where I was going or what I wanted to actually do with my life, but I feel like I ended up exactly where I needed to be at the time. That was five years ago.
What experiences or lessons have been most valuable to you to get to where you are?
Learning to capitalize on my own strengths was a big lesson. Honestly, it was never my goal to be successful in leadership, let alone as an ED. I think for a long time I had this idea in my head of what a successful leader should be, based on what I had observed, and it didn’t really resonate with me, introverted as I was. But that pattern of thinking only held me back and made me frustrated with my own work style! When I finally learned to understand myself and my own strengths a little better, I found that I had the ability to listen to others’ strengths, weaknesses and concerns, and coach them to develop their own solutions rather than telling them what to do. It was a game changer! Once my perspective of what a leader was or could be changed, so did my career.
What do you feel are some of the most important skills or areas of knowledge necessary for your current role?
A lot of my role is focused on relationships. A background in fundraising, administration and/or programming are so helpful in my current position–it’s difficult to run an organization, especially one like tSB, if you don’t understand how one works! But being good at those things doesn’t guarantee that one is able to relate to and manage relationships with others, whether they are donors, partners, or your support staff. Relationships require thoughtful communication, adaptability and, at times, vulnerability. I have to be ready to check myself and my knowledge, learn quickly as things shift, ask for help when I need it, and try to maintain a strategic mindset (not just what is, but what/how things could be). Finally, mistakes and setbacks are going to happen; I try not to beat myself up and instead focus on the lessons learned and what I can do differently.
What is a skill that you didn’t necessarily think would apply to your current role, but has proven to be invaluable?
I’ve been an avid reader and writer my whole life, but I never really thought those skills would be so important to a job like this one. Grant proposals account for about a third of the funding tSB receives as an organization, and each requires some form of written proposal. I was able to efficiently research, write, and read successful proposals with relative ease, a skill that is rare among nonprofit staff (most specifically hire grant writers). At this point in my career, I’ve written over one hundred grant proposals that have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of funding, and in my current role I am able to oversee this critical part of our fundraising without necessarily relying on an external contractor.
What is a challenge in your current role that you didn’t expect and that you have had to navigate?
I really do enjoy the work and I get pretty focused, so it’s challenging to get out of work mode and just be sometimes! Taking on a role like this can be intense and the level of responsibility can feel stressful at times. It is certainly not to be taken lightly. Both the commitment and the mindset need to be there. But the challenge, especially for me, is to find balance between doing my best work and also living my best life. I will freely admit, this is a constant struggle for me. But also, I try to remember that this is a job and no job is worth grinding yourself down to the bone. So I try to find that balance and model that for those around me.
How do you deal with being set-back professionally?
Here’s the thing about being a fundraiser for a few years–you get really resilient in the face of constant rejection and it doesn’t stop you from moving forward! Early on in my career, I had so many moments of dejection and disillusionment. I think we all do. It’s hard to not get what you think you deserve. Over time though, I’ve learned to not take the “no’s” personally and persist where I could. And you know what? Sometimes I was able to turn those “no’s” into something like “no, but…” and that’s where you can collaborate, negotiate, or find a gray area. What I like to keep in mind is that career set-backs are rarely a solid barrier to success–I’ll find a way through or around them eventually as long as I prepare well and don’t give up.
Who and/or what do you look up to in the industry for inspiration?
Honestly, I admire the folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes of the industry on razor thin margins, low pay, and in tough conditions to make every winter the best we’ve had so far. Those who run the shops, ski areas, camps, clinics, and programs. I think I can relate to both the passion and frustration involved in trying to make a living doing something you love and feeling like your efforts are so often taken for granted.
What do you feel has been your biggest impact in your area of work?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single area of impact as an individual, especially since the majority of my work is a collective effort. But I think the impact of my work on the community is clear! I get to do work that touches the lives of others, builds lifelong relationships and inspires others to grow, give back, and support one another. Also there’s nothing like seeing a young person experience even just the sight of the mountains up close for the first time, let alone being able to snowboard them. I love that my work makes that possible.
What keeps you driven and motivated in your line of work?
My work can be demanding, but I love how dynamic it is! It helps that many of my personal values are celebrated in my line of work and that I have so much freedom to be creative and innovative. New ideas are often welcomed and there is so much opportunity for collaboration on new projects and programs that address community problems. But above all, there is so much room to grow both personally and professionally, which is so motivating for me. I do relish a challenge! My skill set has also expanded exponentially from being in this line of work because there is always something or someone new to learn from, and that keeps me pretty engaged.
Working in snowboarding is a wonderful, yet often complex combination of our personal passion and professional life. How has this come into play in your experience working in the industry?
Every industry has its drawbacks for sure, and it’s hard to make positive change when our entire economic system is geared toward what is most profitable. Like many others, I struggle to reconcile my passion for snowboarding with the limitations of the industry, especially when running a nonprofit that promotes increased access to a “luxury” sport. The upside of being in my line of work is that advocacy and building relationships within the industry to make change is literally in my job description. My role is to develop a vision not of what is, but what could be, and leverage our network of partners and funders to work toward making that a reality. I will say that change is slow, and things rarely develop in the way I would like them to, but I do notice smaller shifts happening and even conversations where once there was only determined silence. Again, here I tend to fall back on my fundraiser background; I’ll keep asking for change, even if I get rejected, because I believe that “no” can turn into something else eventually, if mindsets shift along with dialogue. Sometimes, though, it does make me wonder if snowboarding will be a part of my future because over time this work does feel like it takes a toll. To combat that, I also make a point to intentionally find time where snowboarding can just be . . . mine. When I’m not working, not planning, not teaching or moving toward a greater purpose. When it’s just me in the mountains and I can feel like, for a moment, that’s all mine.
If someone was interested in doing what you do, what would you recommend they pursue to reach this goal—whether areas of education or certification, ways to get experience, skills to hone, things to learn, individuals to follow, books to read, internships to apply for, jobs to take, whatever it may be—what do you recommend?
Oh man, honestly, I don’t think there’s any one way to end up doing what I’m doing, and a position like mine can vary so much depending on the organization. I’d say that an advanced degree and/or 5-10 years of experience in the field will make you a competitive candidate for a similar position in most existing organizations, but I didn’t really approach it that way. If you are interested in leading or starting an organization one day, you might get the most out of volunteering or working with an existing organization or business whose values speak to you. Take the time to understand their mission, who they serve, and how they operate. Start to build a network of colleagues and mentors who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Indulge your curiosity and develop your own subject matter expertise through a combination of books, podcasts (I like nonprofit optimist and nonprofit lowdown), articles (I recommend Nonprofit AF), or certificate courses.
Above all, work out what your values are and don’t be too attached to an idea or outcome. It’s really good to have a general goal, but it’s very possible that the position that might be perfect for your particular set of skills is one that you never considered or doesn’t exist yet. So focus on growing yourself in the areas that excite you right now and make you feel motivated. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Lastly, best piece of advice someone has ever given you that applies to your professional life that could be helpful for someone reading this?
People are generally good and want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask. It’s better to ask and get a “no” than to stay silent and wonder if it would have been a “yes.”