Social Impact: Making Our Mission Matter

Melissa's blog

ACT has a broad and deep history of social responsibility. Focusing on social impact is inherently connected to our mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success. We live in dynamic times.  Our country faces challenges related to income disparity, equity, and education.  ACT recognizes that many people do not have equitable access to educational and other resources that can enable them to reach their potential or realize success. This week, we celebrate our first anniversary and are shining a light on our social impact efforts.

Exactly what does the term “social impact” mean at ACT? Each year we invest a portion of our revenue to ensure equitable access to ACT products, insights and other resources, and to create and strengthen partnerships that enable ACT to have a positive impact on the lives of more people. Our anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on some of the ways ACT invests its energy, talent and financial resources.

ACT supports team members in its efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of people in the communities we call home. While social impact is an important function for ACT as an organization, it’s important to recognize that social impact calls for contributions from all of us as individuals, community members, leaders and team members. Here are some social impact highlights from our first year.

Corporate Giving

As an extension of our mission, ACT team members provide financial and volunteer support through initiatives that support our education and workplace efforts. When considering resource allocation, preference is given to organizations in communities where ACT employees live and to organizations where ACT team members are actively involved as volunteers. In fiscal year 2016, we awarded $120,000 to 66 organizations in seven states (Iowa, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Washington) and Haiti. ACT’s Corporate Giving Program focuses on local education, human and social needs, cultural and artistic enrichment, community betterment, and disaster relief.  We recently received a thank you letter from Corporate Giving recipient, Byte Back, a Washington, D.C. non-profit – “With your help 53 Byte Back graduates increased their annual income this year by an estimated $28,094. Our course helped underserved D.C. area residents gain computer skills at any level, receive individual job training and tutoring, and enter the workforce confident in their skill.” This is one example of how our Corporate Giving Program is making a meaningful, positive impact in communities.

Fee Waivers

ACT provided more than $36 million in fee waivers (2015) to ensure that students from lower income families could take the ACT test, which was taken by 59 percent of U.S. high school 2015 graduates.  Waivers cover the basic fee for either the ACT (no writing) or the ACT with writing. Waivers include one report sent to the high school and up to four sent to colleges of the student’s choice.

United Way

ACT is a major supporter of the United Way here in Johnson County. Our donations and corporate matching make up 10 percent of the local United Way’s yearly budget.  United Way focuses on the priority areas of education, income, and health.  In 2017, ACT received the Game-Changer in Education Award in recognition of outstanding support of education in the Iowa community from our work with the My Very Own Book Drive, the Out of School Time Initiative, employee engagement and volunteerism. Our team members give their time, talent, and resources throughout the year, including a focused week each fall during the annual campaign.

As part of United Way Week, our Center hosted Dr. Tererai Trent, a global education advocate for women and girls.  Dr. Trent is from Zimbabwe and proposes that education is the only pathway out of poverty.  Her message resonated with so many team members, we invited her back for a Twitter chat to discuss the important of high quality education for women and girls. She has also spoken at the United Nations and celebrates the power of education. While at ACT, Dr. Trent shared with us, “Women plow resources back into their families, into their communities. That’s why it’s so important to educate women as well as men.”

Local Impact

In April 2017, I was humbled to be recognized as a 2017 Women of Influence by the Corridor Business Journal for being a role model for leadership and community engagement in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Social impact efforts from my position at ACT, strategic collaborations with the University of Iowa, and being a board member for Corridor Women Connect contributed to the award.  My daily work at the Center aligns with my passion for making a difference – especially as a first generation college graduate.  I try to bring understanding and empathy for the challenges faced by the people ACT works to serve.  Providing access and support to working learners is much needed right now.

Charging Forward

Social impact at ACT is a team effort. We have exciting initiatives in development focused on diversity and inclusion, innovative convenings in Washington, D.C., and continued work with our internal partners at ACT such as ACTNext, Public Affairs, and Research.  We will continue to strengthen current external partnerships and explore new ones aligned with our efforts to touch the lives of more people, especially low-income working learners.

We are pleased with our first year progress but continue to see an immense need for execution and action. Thank you to all our stakeholders who joined us on our first year journey.