Here’s a nonprofit program that works

    Even with the best of intentions, no business can survive without a successful bottom line. Successful workers, managers, divisions and entire companies must be empowered, evaluated and held accountable for the results they achieve.

    And in the ideal world, their rewards are commensurate with their success.

    That business-like approach increasingly is becoming part of the lexicon in the nonprofit world, as well.

    I know this first-hand. Back in 2002, I was fortunate enough to be asked to serve on an executive planning committee devoted to the creation of a nonprofit program to help potentially at-risk teenagers stay on the academic path and enter college.

    That committee formed by the Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges (WFIC) included some of the region’s most forward-looking and wise people, such as former Alverno College president Sister Joel Read and Tom Rave, who is now vice president at Tri City Bank. When the committee was formed, it was assigned the task of creating a program that would, among other things:
    (1) Identify some high school freshmen in Milwaukee who are struggling to get by in school.
    (2) Give them academic resources and tutoring to thrive in college preparatory classes.
    (3) Take them on weekend trips to Wisconsin’s private colleges and shadow real college students.
    (4) Help them apply for college admissions.
    (5) Award them scholarships to attend college.

    Sounds great, right? But would it work in the real world?

    Six years later, I am thrilled to report that yes, it is working in the real world. The program is the WFIC College Readiness 21 Program, which is "Building a Pipeline of Talent for Wisconsin."

    In the past two years, 102 Milwaukee students in the CR21 program graduated from high school. To date, 90 of those students remain in college, including 27 in Wisconsin private schools, 28 in the University of Wisconsin system, 20 in Wisconsin technical colleges and 15 in colleges out of state.

    Fifty-one students will graduate from high school and the CR21 program in Milwaukee this year, and 95 percent of them will be college-bound.

    CR21 has grown to serve 227 students in Milwaukee. All of those Milwaukee students are young people of color, and 94 percent will be the first in their families to go to college. Seventy-seven percent of the Milwaukee students are from low-income backgrounds.

    The CR21 program is so successful, that the WFIC has added chapters in Racine/Kenosha and northeastern Wisconsin. CR21 now serves 445 students in the state.

    The beauty if this program is beheld in the eyes of the students. So many of them did not grow up with an internal image of themselves attending college. In their minds, college was for others.

    However, when those students are actually taken out of the city to a college, where they walk among college students, eat in college cafeterias and sleep in college dorms, they are transformed. For the first time, they can project that dream of college upon themselves.

    In short, they drink the Kool-Aid of their own potential.

    Just as people are the greatest assets of any thriving business, the CR21 program is driven by a highly executive effective team, led by WFIC president Mark Torinus, vice president David Wolfson and their devoted staff.

    One of the smartest things they did was to hire JonRae Stowers to direct the statewide program and manage the Milwaukee program. Stowers simply has a way with the students she oversees. They respond to her. Heck, they even get up at 8 o’clock on Saturday mornings to attend CR21 activities.

    To be sure, CR21 faces challenges. Teen pregnancies, violence, relocations, family turmoil and a lack of transportation options quickly come to mind.

    However, with a strong record of documented success, the WFIC is launching a new campaign to raise $80,000 for the College Readiness 21 Scholarship Fund by May 2. If you are looking for an emerging, worthy cause with real-world impact, I can proudly endorse this charity. For additional information, visit

    And if you want to shop for other noble causes, I encourage you to peruse the new Small Business Times Nonprofit Directory at

    Sign up for the BizTimes email newsletter

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display