“No sides, only love.” That’s the motto at Encircle, a Utah-based nonprofit that provides life-affirming services for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. “We want our locations to be spaces where you don't have to leave any part of yourself at the door, where we accept you for you,” Jake Barney, Encircle’s Associate Vice President of Operations, explained.
Encircle restores historic buildings into cozy, beautiful homes where LGBTQ+ youth can feel safe to exist as their full selves, whatever that looks like. They have three locations across Utah, with plans to open a fourth in June. Each serves about 50 people a day.
As they grew, Encircle realized they needed a simplified, automated solution to manage their accounts payable (AP) process for renovations, as well as the day-to-day expenses of each home. They found exactly that in BILL Accounts Payable and BILL Spend & Expense. Now thanks to BILL’s finance automation, Encircle can focus on realizing their vision of a world where LGBTQ+ youth can thrive.
Encircle’s story begins in 2016, when Founder and CEO Stephanie Larsen found out about the staggering LGBTQ+ youth suicide rate in her Provo community. A year later, Encircle opened their first location in Provo, a historic Victorian with rainbow stained glass windows that caught Larsen’s eye on one of her drives.
“The idea was to create a home that looked and felt like home for those who didn't feel at home anywhere else,” explains Jordan Sgro, Executive Director at Encircle.
Each of Encircle’s homes has a director, part-time staff, therapists, and a team of volunteers and interns. Together, they offer mental health services, support groups, education, and drop-in sessions where LGBTQ+ youth and families can eat, study, and just hang out.
“It’s a space to really let people take a breath,” Sgro said. “For a lot of these youth, it’s the first time all day they’re able to be themselves.”
As a nonprofit that donors entrust with stewarding their dollars, Encircle needs to scrupulously monitor their spend—a huge challenge before BILL Spend & Expense. “Before [BILL Spend & Expense], we all just had credit cards,” Sgro recalled. “Maybe we'd remember to take photos of our receipts, maybe we wouldn't, and it was difficult to upload them.”
The resulting lack of visibility into their spend made it difficult to pitch donors, who often wanted to know exactly where their donations had gone.
That all changed when Encircle implemented BILL Spend & Expense in 2018. With BILL Spend & Expense, they can easily track and control every dollar spent. They set budgets for each home, and issue BILL Divvy Corporate Cards—which have spend limits—to every home director and staff member. This way, Encircle has real-time visibility into spend, by individual budget. And if a donor wants to fund a specific program, BILL Spend & Expense lets Encircle allocate their donation to that program’s budget.
“[BILL Spend & Expense] makes me feel more confident when I’m pitching donors because I know exactly how much is being spent.” — Jordan Sgro, Executive Director, Encircle
“[BILL Spend & Expense] makes me feel more confident when I'm pitching donors to give to Encircle because I know exactly how much is being spent, and where, and how it's categorized, so if a donor asks me a question about where their money went, I know the answer,” Sgro remarked.
To create their safe, affirming spaces, Encircle renovates buildings dating back to the late 1800s—massive projects that require paying construction vendors for roofing, flooring, and everything in between.
Before BILL, paying these vendors entailed stressful manual check runs and approvals that took around 2 to 3 hours per week, on average.
“Before BILL, trying to pay a big bill on a specific date was a real challenge. It meant running around, trying to get a CEO or someone else who had signing privileges to sign a check at a moment’s notice, when their schedule was super busy,” Barney recalled. “It just wasn’t working.”
“Before BILL, trying to pay a big bill on a specific date was a real challenge.” — Jake Barney, AVP of Operations, Encircle
And the anxiety didn’t abate when Encircle dropped off the check in the mail. They couldn’t help but worry about it getting lost or stolen, especially since they often wrote checks for large amounts.
“I think of one of our employees putting a check for $100,000 in the mail—it’s like signing away your life,” Barney said. “For us, $100,000 is so much money. It’s wild to just send that off.”
In 2021, Encircle adopted BILL, which they use for bigger payments, like those issued to construction vendors. With BILL, they’ve cut their weekly AP workload from hours to minutes.
These days, they don’t need to frantically chase down swamped executives to approve invoices or sign checks. BILL routes notifications to approvers based on Encircle’s workflows. Once invoices are approved, BILL enters the amount due into the bill, letting Encircle pay vendors with just a few clicks. No need to worry about lost or stolen checks.
“Thanks to BILL, I don't even think about our AP process. We can send a bill that needs to be paid to our AP department, and it’s done in 5 minutes.” — Jake Barney, AVP of Operations, Encircle
Uploading receipts is also far less cumbersome with BILL Spend & Expense. As a result, Encircle can easily reconcile their transactions every week, making for a smooth month-end close. And at the end of each month, they use BILL Spend & Expense’s reporting tools to assess whether they stayed on budget.
BILL sync seamlessly with QuickBooks. Says Barney, “BILL just makes it easy to sync everything to QuickBooks. We love having everything go into our primary accounting software.”
“BILL just makes it easy to sync everything to QuickBooks.” — Jake Barney, AVP of Operations, Encircle
With BILL automating their AP process and simplifying spend management, Encircle can focus more on their commitment to empowering LGBTQ+ youth. It’s easy for them to ensure donations go toward programs that directly benefit these youth and their families, which, in turn, builds trust with their donors—crucial to their long-term sustainability.
In addition to their forthcoming location in Heber City, Encircle has their sights set on opening even more locations in Utah. “The ultimate goal is to expand along the Intermountain West and take it across the country,” Sgro said.
Guiding this vision is a desire to build the spaces Sgro wished she had as a youth. “Every time a young person walks through the front door, I'm like, ‘Oh, that's a mini Jordan,’” she explained. “And I think it's really meaningful for me, even on hard days, to know that there's a youth, mom, brother, ally, or whoever that's able to access services that I didn't have.”
Now, she and her team can devote the time and energy they used to spend on their financial operations to giving LGBTQ+ youth and their families the affirming spaces they need, in Utah and beyond.