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Measuring Return On Investment – Part II: Wachovia Foundation Strives for Education Equality with Teach For America

By DeShele Dorsey on July 25, 2007No Comment

As noted in a previous article  in onPhilanthropy, the depth of the relationship between a corporation and its nonprofit partner is one way to measure the success of a funder’s investment in a charitable cause.  To this end, the Wachovia Corporation’s multi-tiered relationship with Teach For America provides an excellent case study for the ways in which a true partnership can involve more than financial support.  onPhilanthropy spoke with Georgette Dixon, Senior Vice President, Manager of National Partnerships, and Dee Lee, Senior Vice President, Outcome Grants Manager, to learn more about Wachovia’s efforts to improve the quality of education in the United States.

The Importance of Education at Wachovia
Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Wachovia Corporation strives to be the most trusted and admired financial services company in the country, and through its foundation, seeks to address the most pressing needs in communities where it has a retail banking presence, primarily through the support of education and community development programs.  Since 1989, The Wachovia Foundation has supported the implementation and expansion of programs that help to ensure all of America’s children have access to a high quality education.  The Foundation’s education programs and initiatives have evolved over the years to incorporate strategic national partnerships with United Negro College Fund and Teach For America, as well as the 2004 launch of The Wachovia Foundation Teachers and Teaching Initiative. Dixon says that “education is important to Wachovia because as a responsible corporate citizen, we want to know that our communities are strong and vibrant.  So, we invest in key areas like education that allow our communities to grow and reach their highest level of achievement.”   

The Wachovia Foundation’s Goals and Desired Impact
The Foundation’s platform for improving education centers on three key objectives: the elimination of the Pre-K-12 achievement gap; advancement of the teaching profession through the recruitment, professional development, support, and retention of teachers; and providing access to higher education for under-represented groups.

In 2004, the Foundation sought to deepen its impact on the recruitment and retention of teachers through the launch of the Teachers and Teaching Initiative (TTI).  TTI is a multi-million dollar program dedicated to the recruitment, professional development and retention of educators.  TTI seeks to increase student achievement in Pre-K-12 education by supporting teachers in scalable and sustainable ways.  TTI grants are awarded for a three-year period, pending semi-annual progress reports, and the average grant ranges from $100,000-$250,000 annually.

Finding the Right Partner
The Wachovia Championship is a major golf event hosted by the PGA and sponsored by the Wachovia Corporation, bringing professional players to Charlotte each year during early May.  A central element of the Championship’s design is to raise a significant amount of funds to support youth education.  In 2002, Wachovia led the search to identify a nonprofit that would become the primary recipient of the tournament’s proceeds.  The organization selected was Teach For America, the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. “What made Teach For America stand out was the strong and capable leadership of Wendy Kopp. She has extraordinary vision and has built a program that attracts the most talented young people to eliminate educational inequity and improve the quality of the education experience in this country,” states Dixon.  This opportunity paved the way for The Wachovia Foundation to further strengthen its education programs by selecting Teach For America as a national partner.   

The Wachovia Foundation and Teach For America as Partners
Teach For America helps to address the Foundation’s education objectives on multiple levels, from the alignment of the organization’s mission and programs with funding priorities to volunteer opportunities for employees.  “The organization has approached its mission in a way that includes all facets of public education.  In other words, Teach For America is not just about going into the classroom and teaching for two years, but it reaches beyond and looks at the root causes of the issue to find opportunities to improve education nationally,” remarks Dixon.  Teach For America alumni have gone on to start new organizations such as the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and The New Teacher Project, and to assume other leadership positions within public education as administrators, school chancellors, school board members and more.

Dee Lee, Senior Vice President and Outcome Grants Manager at Wachovia, oversees the TTI program and recalls being impressed with Teach For America because of its commitment to “getting missionaries into the world of education as professionals that will keep an eye on education as a whole.”  Since Teach For America’s inception, 17,000 individuals have participated in the corps experience, impacting more than 2.5 million students.  Teach For America reports that 91% of alumni are supporting its mission through their career, volunteer activities, or graduate study.  Wachovia is proud to be affiliated with this movement to change the inequity of education in such a meaningful way.  Since 2002, Teach For America has been awarded approximately $3.7 million from The Wachovia Foundation, in addition to the $4 million it has received from the Wachovia Championship.

Over the next few years, Teach For America is embarking on an aggressive expansion plan which The Wachovia Foundation views as a great opportunity to strengthen the pipeline of educators at the grassroots level in rural and urban communities.  In May, Wachovia and its Foundation committed $6 million over three years to help Teach For America with its goal of recruiting 7,500 corps members for placement in 33 sites nationwide by 2010.  An award of $250,000 supports the growth of the Los Angeles and Bay Area sites in California, helping to grow Teach For America’s presence on the West Coast.

Connecting Employees
The level of support for Teach For America is deeply rooted at Wachovia and surpasses the traditional grantmaking relationship.  The partnership with Teach For America affords individuals the opportunity to volunteer in the classroom or sponsor a local teacher.  Many employees take advantage of the company’s Time Away from Work for Community Service Policy that encourages employees to take four paid hours per month for volunteerism.  “The linkage to our employees is exciting,” remarks Dixon. Wachovia executives participate in the annual Teach For America Week, stepping into classrooms across the country to experience teaching firsthand.  Teach For America’s Summer Training Institute has welcomed Wachovia employees as session leaders and Wachovia Chairman & CEO Ken Thompson has served on Teach For America’s national board of directors for four years.  Finally, the expertise of various departments, such as human services, has been leveraged to help Teach For America improve its organizational capacity.

Measuring Results and Sharing Success
National partners are required to submit an annual impact report which demonstrates how well they were able to accomplish their goals.  Teach For America, specifically, reports on the corps members’ success with increasing performance in the classroom, retention rates, and movement towards its overall strategic plan goals.  Dixon participates in an annual meeting with other major funders to discuss how Teach For America intends to build and grow the organization for the next year.  This meeting helps her outline how Wachovia can continue to add value to the partnership and further support Teach For America’s objectives.  Teach For America recently entered into a deferral program with Wachovia, where college graduates who receive job offers from both Teach For America and Wachovia can defer their employment with Wachovia for two years, so that they can join the Teach For America corps.

Lee also receives semi-annual reports from Teach For America for TTI and has had multiple opportunities to speak about the success of the Initiative as a panelist for the National Staff Development Council’s and Council on Foundations’ Annual Conferences.

There are a number of communications methods used by Teach For America and Wachovia to share information about the work the two organizations accomplish together.  Teach For America acknowledges Wachovia’s support on its official website and in its annual report, where the company is listed as a national and regional funder. Both parties have co-authored press releases to communicate breaking news or recent developments in their partnership.

Wachovia uses multiple methods to share information about the company and its community involvement activities with employees.  Take 5, Wachovia’s morning news broadcast, downloads to employees’ work computers each day, bringing live footage from events such as Teach For America’s annual dinner in New York City and The Wachovia Championship.  Exchange, the company’s intranet site, provides stories and updates on the company and Foundation’s charitable activities and national partners, including Teach For America. 

Wachovia’s partnership with Teach For America incorporates many aspects of the roadmap
previously shared in these pages to help evaluate the ROI of nonprofit partnerships.  With no easy formula to perfectly measure social impact, this case study provides ideas for how other corporate community involvement or foundation professionals can shape their own partnerships.  What is helpful in this relationship is Wachovia’s commitment to leverage as many of its resources as possible to add value to its engagement with Teach For America’s mission and program.  The partnership exemplifies the company’s dedication to improving education and to being a good corporate citizen, all while supporting an issue that is important to its employees. 

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