By GEOFF FOX
CLEARWATER The Tampa Bay Business Journal on June 8 named Step Up For Students Nonprofit of the Year in the education category.
Step Up For Students helps manage both the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for students from lower-income families and the Gardiner Scholarship Program for students with certain special needs. The statewide organization has offices in Clearwater and Jacksonville.
Other organizations considered for the honor include Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County; Frameworks of Tampa Bay Inc; Girl Scouts of West Central Florida; and R’Club Child Care Inc.
“This is further validation of the great work our staff, board and donors are doing to serve our families,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students.
Step Up is allotted a 3 percent operating allowance, far less than most other nonprofits. Based on its record of fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, Step Up For Students has earned Charity Navigator’s four-star rating –the highest possible – for six consecutive years.
Through the close of the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students has awarded nearly 580,000 tax credit scholarships to disadvantaged Florida students since its inception in 2001. And another nearly 13,500 Gardiner Scholarships have been awarded since that program began in 2014.
Also, on May 23, Step Up’s Jacksonville office was selected by the Jacksonville Business Journal as one of the best places to work in Jacksonville for a company between 100 and 245 employees.
Step Up is in good company in that size category with companies such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida Capital Bang and Omni Hotels Jacksonville, among others.
“All of the work that each of you has done to strengthen our culture and enhance our workplace has led us to this recognition this year,” Step Up COO Anne White told staff during the announcement of the recognition. “I am very proud to work among such a fantastic group of professionals.”
With an office in St. Petersburg and another in Jacksonville, Step Up For Students has served more than 80,000 students throughout the state during the 2015-16 school year with its two scholarship programs. We expect the number to rise for the 2016-17 school year.
Readers of the free alternative weekly newspaper submitted the nominations and even came up with the categories to be judged. That means YOU chose us! THANK YOU for that! We’re thrilled to be nominated and now we’re asking for you and your friends to vote for us! Voting is open through Aug. 16.
It’s easy. Please visit this link and scroll down to ‘Best Local Nonprofit’. Use the drop-down menu to find and select Step Up For Students.
Categories include best local band, best local sports team, best all-around restaurant and dozens more.
Winners will be announced at Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay Awards Party at The Mahaffey Theater in Tampa on Sept. 28. They will also be mentioned in the annual Best Of The Bay issue released in print and online Sept. 29.
For more information, please click here.
We hope to hear our name called Sept. 28, so the spotlight shines on all of the amazing students who benefit from our scholarships! #CLBOTB
For the fifth consecutive year, Step Up For Students, the nonprofit organization that helps administer Florida’s Tax Credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs, has achieved the coveted four-star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent evaluator of charities.
“Only 6 percent of the charities we rate have received at least five consecutive four-star evaluations, indicating that Step Up For Students outperforms most other charities in America,” wrote Charity Navigator President and CEO Michael Thatcher in a congratulatory letter dated April 1. “This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Step Up For Students from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
After a comprehensive review by Charity Navigator, Step Up earned 99.92 points out of 100 overall; 99.90 for financial management and 100 out of 100 for accountability and transparency for Fiscal Year 2015. This is the first time Charity Navigator has included the Gardiner Scholarship, formerly the Personal Learning Scholarship Program, in its annual review of Step Up. Step Up’s revenue for the year was $457.8 million.
“We do important work which we take very seriously,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “Our mission is to provide more educational opportunities to those Florida schoolchildren who need them the most. We can’t do that without the trust of our donors, families, legislators and the public. This superior ranking shows we deserve their trust. This year’s rating is especially significant because it includes the state-funded Gardiner Scholarship, a new program for special needs children we are extremely proud to help administer.”
Step Up’s 99.92 score ranked it fifth nationally on Charity Navigator’s Top-Notch Charities list.
“We are proud of our mission and how we operate,” Tuthill said. “We are committed to being effective, efficient and fiscally responsible. We owe that to the public, our funders and the more than 80,000 students we serve with both scholarship programs.”
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization in Florida that has been awarding scholarships to low-income families since the program’s creation in 2001, providing nearly 480,000 scholarships to K-12 schoolchildren. For the 2015-16 school year, Step Up is serving about 78,000 low-income students and several thousand more children with special needs through the Gardiner Scholarship. The income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, funded by tax-credited corporate donations, is worth up to $5,677 toward private school tuition and fees; the state-funded Gardiner Scholarship, formerly known as the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program, averages $10,000 per student annually. To learn more visit, www.StepUpForStudents.org
Since 2002, Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization, has awarded only the most fiscally responsible 501(c)(3) organizations its top ranking using financial information provided by the organizations’ informational tax returns or IRS Form 990s to determine rankings. The national company then analyzes a charity’s fiscal performance in seven key areas, including program, administrative and fundraising expenses; fundraising efficiency; and revenue growth. Charity Navigator’s mission is to provide donors with essential information so they can be confident in which charities they support.
St. PETERSBURG – One by one their names were called, and nearly two dozen Step Up For Students scholars from St. Petersburg to Bradenton grinned from ear to ear as they walked in front of a packed house to accept their Scholars of Excellence Award medals.
Like Zharia Stephens, a sixth-grade tax-credit scholar at Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental Academy in St. Petersburg. She has been on honor roll all year, participates in many activities and wants to become a lawyer.
“These students are working so hard and many have come such a long way since using one of our scholarships. We are so proud of all of them and need to applaud them publicly,” Carol Thomas, vice president of Step Up’s Office for Student Learning, said after the event.
The awards ceremony Feb. 1 at the Cathedral of St. Jude honored students who made significant academic strides since receiving their scholarships and was the kickoff to this year’s series of regional meeting tours held by Step Up For Students. The annual event helps provide participants and supporters with timely updates on the nearly 15-year-old Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families and the Gardiner Scholarship, formerly known as the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, for children with certain special needs.
New to this year’s program are special awards given to teachers and parents. At some locations, such as St. Jude, corporate donors were invited to join the awards ceremony and share the moment with the children they help.
Hugh Culbreath, a social studies teacher from Academy Prep, was among the first educators honored by Step Up at the regional meetings. He has taught at the school for about five years and puts his students first in all that he does, eating lunch with them, playing games and leading class trips.
“We are so excited to recognize outstanding teachers and parents and even grandparents this year,” Thomas said. “As we teach in our Success Partners program, it takes all of these people contributing for the success of a child. They deserve to be recognized, too.”
Step Up started the regional tours in 2014 as a way to give educators from partner schools a chance to learn more about the program and get questions answered directly from Step Up staff. This year, Step Up is holding about a dozen meetings, concluding Feb. 25 in Fort Myers.
“We found that it was extremely valuable in our partnership with our schools,” Thomas said. “We’re working for Florida’s students together, so it’s important we communicate regularly to foster the success of the program, and, of course, the success of the scholars”
As the students’ awards were presented at the St. Jude event, donors created a reception line to personally congratulate each of the scholars, and afterwards many families circulated to meet the donors to thank them directly.
“What a terrific event,” said Dick Kelecy, Chief Operating Officer of UretekHoldings, Inc., a geotechnical construction company. “It was really rewarding to see all the children and educators who benefit so much from Step Up For Students’ efforts. Having many of the parents come up on their own afterwards to personally thank the sponsors, one of which came to tears as she spoke about the benefits her children had received, was particularly rewarding.”
Highlighting these students’ achievements spotlighted the positive impact receiving a Step Up scholarship brings to each child.
“I continue to be awed by the results being achieved by Step Up,” said Shaun Williams, CFO of Sagicor Life Insurance.
For the fourth consecutive year, Step Up For Students has earned a four-star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent charity watchdog.
“As the nonprofit sector continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, savvy donors are demanding more accountability, transparency and quantifiable results from charities they choose to support with their hard-earned dollars,” John P. Dugan, Charity Navigator’s founder and chairman of the board, wrote in a congratulatory letter to Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “Our goal is to provide donors with essential information needed to give them greater confidence in the charitable choices they make.”
The four-star rating comes after Charity Navigator conducted its annual review of Step Up, giving the nonprofit organization that helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) an overall 99.92 out of 100 points, with 99.9 points in financial management and a 100-point score in transparency. Step Up also helps administer the state-funded Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), but the program wasn’t in effect yet during the time period in which the nonprofit was reviewed.
“This is the highest rating a nonprofit may receive and is further recognition of the phenomenal job our staff does every day,” Tuthill said. “This is a wonderful accomplishment and further demonstrates how seriously we take this business of making a difference in the lives of Florida’s schoolchildren who need educational options most.”
During the 2014 fiscal year, Step up received $332.3 million in contributions, gifts and grants to fund and administer the scholarship programs.
“Only 8 percent of the charities we rate have received at least four consecutive four-star evaluations, indicating that Step Up For Students outperforms most other charities in America,” Dugan wrote. “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Step Up For Students from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
The superior rating secured the Tampa Bay area nonprofit the No. 4 spot for the second year in a row on Charity Navigator’s 10 Top-Notch Charities list, where Step Up moved two years ago from No. 7. The list attests that the 10 recognized charities adhere to good governance and other best practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities. It also shows they execute their missions in a fiscally responsible way.
“We are proud of being No. 4, but it is our goal to reach No. 1,” Tuthill added. “What we do is extremely important work for low-income children and children with certain special needs, so we need our donors and supporters to know we are and will continue to be good stewards of their money and their trust.”
Since 2002, Charity Navigator, also a nonprofit, has awarded only the most fiscally responsible 501(c)(3) organizations its top ranking using financial information provided by the organizations’ informational tax returns or IRS Form 990s to determine rankings. The national company then analyzes a charity’s fiscal performance in seven key areas, including program, administrative and fundraising expenses; fundraising efficiency; and revenue growth.
Step Up For Students has been awarding scholarships to low-income families for nearly 15 years, providing more than 400,000 scholarships to K-12 schoolchildren. Step Up expects to serve 78,000 low-income students and several thousand more children with special needs in the 2015-16 school year. The income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is worth up to $5,677 toward private school tuition and fees; the PLSA scholarship averages $10,000 per student annually.