The Business Side of Nonprofit
“It’s essentially like I operate a million dollar business,” says Paul Kappel, President of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Region of Junior Achievement—one of the largest nonprofits in America, serving over 4.6 million students in 2014-2015 alone.
Ironically, that’s exactly what his organization teaches K-12 students: how to run a business, how to become an entrepreneur, ready themselves for the workforce, and be productive members of a free enterprise.
“[Our region is] currently serving 25,000 students a year. We anticipate that will grow to about 60,000 over the next four years,” Kappel said. “It’s a good place to be, knowing that you’ve got a demand for your product—we try and approach it that way.
“We want to make sure that we are producing something that the community needs, we want to make sure that our donors have a good return on their investment—because that’s the way we do it—and most importantly, we want to make sure that we are providing quality and hopefully life-impacting experiences for our students.”
The program does its educational work in a variety of ways, the differences mostly dependent on age, of course. After school programs, in school programs, short online classes—things like that. Junior Achievement works with local businesses and organizations—Comcast, Accenture, Aqua America, and more—to deliver experiential programs on the topic of entrepreneurism to high school-aged students for their flagship program: the Junior Achievement Company Program.
Students must both apply and deliver pitches to become involved in the Company Program, which is free thanks to supporting company partners.
And aside from the obvious factor of financial support offered by businesses that become involved with Junior Achievement, volunteer support from those companies is equally valuable.
A Partner’s Story
Enter Comcast’s Shari Rouleau.
Rouleau is but one of many volunteers for the program from one of many companies that participate. For her, the Comcast/Junior Achievement partnership presents an opportunity to explore her passions outside of her typical day job.
“Over the course of my time [at Comcast] I really have been focused on sales operation, sales and marketing,” she said, “but there’s always been a passion of mine in working with students and younger people.”
Her company’s participation in Junior Achievement allowed Rouleau to take on a volunteer role that counted toward her development goals in furthering her career. Win-win.
With the volunteers at Comcast, the student teams build a business plan around a product, actually go through the production of it, and go through everything it takes to get it out into the world and in the hands of consumers: launch a website, send out press releases, develop functional departments of their team in finance, marketing, and product development. They fundraise, sell stock, and issue stock certificates for their investors.
“It’s a 16-week program with a ‘Shark Tank-like’ regional competition that takes place in the Spring in Malvern,” she said. “The competition is just the kind of the end game—the big part is really just making sure these students are prepared for it.”
“We provide them access to mentors and capital so they can take this business idea they’ve come up with and take it with them into their own future.”
“We have a collaborative tool where we all communicate throughout the week because you can’t just come in on Monday for two hours and think you’re going to be able to run a business,” Rouleau said. “So this is why Junior Achievement made sure initially sure that we really understood the commitment—we are there for the students 24/7 really to help them.”
This 16 weeks extends through March 6, at which point the Comcast team will essentially help the students liquidate the company, understand how much money they’ve made and how much money they made for the shareholders who helped them initially raise the necessary funds. The dividends are then issued back to the shareholders.
One consistency Rouleau and her team has recognized through this process is that, out of a team of 15 or 20, there’s always those five or so students that rise to the top of the pack as leaders—although that’s not necessarily what they want to see.
“What we’re trying to do is challenge those student leaders to help bring the other, more quiet students to take a really active role in every part of whatever their cross-functional team is and bring them up to that level too,” she said. “We’re really pushing hard to make sure they all understand how to present in front of a room, how to project your voice, make eye contact, have your facts and specifics when you’re talking to people. How to sell, tell the story of the company—all of that.”
When it comes to Rouleau’s desire to give back to her community outside of work, it’s something that she says she’s found in Junior Achievement’s Company Program.
“It’s just so rewarding,” she said. “It’s only been about seven or eight weeks [this time around] and the amount of growth in that short time has been phenomenal. So imagine if they continue along this path through the end of this program, through the competition, and then, because of this, have the confidence to join in more in college programs like this and participate.”
The Hopeful Future
While it’s just one of the many stories of success, volunteerism, and impact that President Paul Kappel could tell about the program, Rouleau’s insight aligns exactly with what his future plans for his region happen to be.
“We’d like to present students the opportunity to kind of spin off their company from Junior Achievement and provide them access to mentors and capital so they can take this business idea they’ve come up with and take it with them into their own future going forward,” Kappel said.
“Philadelphia is a great region. We’re an entrepreneurial region. We’re a very philanthropic and giving region,” Kappel believes. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Region of Junior Achievement and the support surrounding it is something that can really speak to that idea and its future.