Corporate Responsibility Magazine: Non-profit youth education program partners with CSR community to serve America’s future leaders

Over the course of its 96-year history, Junior Achievement® (JA®) has made a name for itself as a well-known and reputable non-profit devoted to empowering young people through entrepreneurial, financial and economic education. Through programs in core areas such as work readiness and financial literacy, JA® reaches more than 4.6 million students annually with the help of volunteers in inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas. JA®’s alumni include Mark Cuban, (entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks), YAHOO! CEO Marissa Mayer and ABC news anchor Juju Chang.

This youth outreach and programming is especially important in light of recent changes that have occurred within the American education system. The number of states requiring some level of entrepreneurship education has more than doubled from 19 states in 2009 to 42 states in 2015, according to JA®.“Much of the growth that happens in our country and much of the innovation is the result of entrepreneurial activity in the economy, so there’s a great deal of interest in entrepreneurial education,” says Jack Kosakowski, Junior Achievement USA’s president and CEO.

“Government leaders and the business community are very interested in exposing young people to entrepreneurship at an early age.”

Due in part to these new federal education requirements and the opportunities to raise up future business leaders, JA® has also piqued the interest of the CSR community. In fact, much of the organization’s volunteer base and financial support comes from the hearts and hands of business leaders looking to serve America’s youth in a positive and meaningful way.

“Companies want to reinvest in the community that they operate in, but at the same time, there’s certainly the benefit to being able to provide employees as mentors to young people and that has the potential in the long term of benefitting all organizations that support programs like JA®,” says Ed Grocholski, Junior Achievement®’s senior vice president of brand.

Because business leaders are instrumental in helping JA® continue to support and enhance its efforts, it was important for Junior Achievement to understand how their brand is perceived by the CSR community. Thus, in 2015, JA® partnered with the Corporate Responsibility Association (CRA) to conduct a study gauging awareness, perception and understanding of non-profit youth education groups such as JA®.

The Non-Profit Youth Education Group Awareness study found the following information about youth education programs:

Youth education programs have wide appeal within the corporate responsibility area. Nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated their company supported youth education programs, and nearly every respondent felt that non-profit youth education groups are valuable, with three-quarters (74.5 percent) indicating they are very valuable.

When study respondents were asked to name the youth education organization that comes to mind first, Junior Achievement® has the second highest (10.4 percent) unaided recall, also referred to as Top of Mind Awareness. (This ranks it just below Boys & Girls Clubs (11.7 percent).) When the Junior Achievement® name was mentioned to respondents, 78.7 percent of respondents reported familiarity with JA®.

Planned Support for Junior Achievement® is high. Over one-half (56.1 percent) of those aware of the organization said they were likely to support it. Support from larger organizations is particularly strong, with nearly two-thirds (61. 9 percent) planning to support Junior Achievement® within the next year.

JA® has clearly positioned itself with respect to the area of youth education it supports. Among those familiar with the organization, Entrepreneurship was the most frequently selected area (75.3 percent) applying to Junior Achievement®’s mission. This was closely followed by financial literacy (71.6 percent), work readiness (70.1 percent) and personal empowerment (69 percent).

Among concepts explored that support volunteerism, “senior managers on local non-profit boards with other local business leaders to discuss and plan youth education programs” generated the most interest.

Overall, these results speak volumes, not only into the success of JA® is fulfilling its mission (to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy) but also into the direction that youth education programs will move in the future in order to attract and maintain the support of the business community.

Junior Achievement® hopes to use the survey data, particularly the emphasis on the importance of work readiness and STEM efforts as components of youth education, to further engage its CSR audience and further improve its programming.

“We really want to make sure that if there are needs that we can be addressing better, that we certainly share that story with the CSR community so that they understand what we do have to offer and how it might better align with what they’re already doing or what they’re hoping to achieve,” Grocholski says, adding “The whole end goal of (the survey) is to be a better partner with the CSR community.”