By Lisa A. Davis
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.