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.
Charity of the Year will never be a category at the Grammy Awards, but Step Up For Students feels like a winner this year. An advertisement showcasing the Florida-based nonprofit will grace the pages of the official Grammy Program Guide for 2016.
“Given how few nonprofits are highlighted in the program, we’re thrilled to get our name in front of millions of people, including many celebrities, with this publication,” said Step Up For Students CMO and Vice President of Advancement Alissa Randall. “The more people who learn how Step Up empowers students and their families, the more who will want to support our mission to give educational options to those children who need them most.”
Step Up For Students is the nation’s largest provider of tax-credit scholarships, which has so far provided more than 401,000 K-12 scholarships since the program was created in 2001. With those scholarships most families choose to send their children to private schools, but they can also select a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district public school, if that works best for their child. Step Up also helps children with certain special needs through a state-funded program allowing parents and guardians to customize their child’s education, empowering families to choose from a variety of approved programs and providers.
This year alone, Step Up is supporting more than 80,000 scholars in the two programs. In addition, Step Up provides added benefits to the scholarships such as teaching methods to participating schools that increase parent involvement which research shows increases student success.
“We are always looking for ways to add value to the scholarships the children receive,” Randall said. “At times, these added benefits cannot be covered by the scholarship funding or administrative costs so the organization must find alternative sources to make a good educational opportunity even better.”
When the 12,000 attendees of the 58th Grammy Awards on Feb. 15 receive the 200-plus page Grammy Program Guide, they may flip to the page (Page 197 of the online version) featuring a photo of a young Step Up For Students scholar with a headline reading “Every child deserves a chance to succeed.”
“Indeed they do,” Randall said about children deserving an opportunity to succeed. “Through our tax-credit scholarships, we serve the poorest of the poor and those who, without their scholarship, wouldn’t have any educational options. Our scholarships level the playing field and they have given our students amazing success. It is literally changing lives.”
Donations from corporations, foundations and individuals make it all possible.
“Without our donors, Step Up couldn’t put the tens of thousands of children on the road to success,” Randall said. “And donors can be rest assured that their money is being well spent.”
Step Up For Students has been consistently given the highest ratings from Charity Navigator, the charity watchdog organization, for years, including this year when the nonprofit was ranked No. 4 in Charity Navigator’s list of Top-Notch Charities.
“Our goal is for every child to find the best learning environment for them” Randall said. “The more donors we have, the more children we can serve, and the better we can serve our scholars.
“Placing an ad in the Grammy book made good sense. It gave us an opportunity to reach beyond our typical audience to spread the word about our program and the good work we’ve been doing for students.”
In addition to the 12,000 Grammy attendees, the book will be shared with the 6,000 others who are invited to the Producers & Engineers wing party that kicks off Grammy Week. It’s also sent to the 22,000 members of the Recording Academy and distributed nationally for a couple of weeks around the show and sold on the Grammy Awards website.
“The possibilities are exciting,” Randall said. “The idea of our organization crossing the paths of artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and even Bob Dylan gives it that extra wow factor. That’s music to our ears.”
Step Up For Students is excited to announce for the first time it will participate in #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that kicks off the charitable season on Dec. 1.
In its fourth year, #GivingTuesday was created by 92nd Street Y, a cultural center in New York City that has been bringing people together with the values of service and giving since 1874. #GivingTuesday has become a worldwide event with more than 30,000 partners in 68 countries, according to its website. Since its inception in 2012, #GivingTuesday is credited with increasing online donations by 470 percent on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
“We are thrilled to participate this year,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “Since we began this program more than a decade ago, we have awarded nearly half a million scholarships to both low-income students and children with unique needs. We are providing educational options to those who need it most and we know this program changes lives.”
Step Up For Students helps administer two scholarship opportunities to Florida schoolchildren: the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for K-12 children from low-income families and the state-funded Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) for children ages 3 to 22 with certain special needs. Step Up gives these family choices of where and how their children are educated.
“Please donate to Step Up For Students,” Tuthill said. “We want to continue to not only provide students with scholarships, but add value to those scholarships by providing educators and students with extra support and so much more for children to be successful.”
To donate to Step Up For Students, please visit www.StepUpForStudents.org.
“Every penny counts,” said Tuthill. “And because of our top-notch ratings on Charity Navigator, you know that every penny will be used wisely. We greatly appreciate any support you give to this life-changing program.”
To follow the day of giving on social media, be sure to check events and post using the hashtag #GivingTuesday and #StepUpForStudents or share on Twitter with @StepUp4Students.
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.