NPI Evaluation of Writers in the Schools

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  • 1. NONPROFIT INVESTORI N D E P E N D E N T R E S E A R C H F O R P H I L A N T H R O P YNonprofit Investor Research | nonprofitinvestor.orgSUMMARYWriters in the Schools (“WITS”) engages children in the pleasure andpower of reading and writing. WITS writers work in year-long programsin over 350 classrooms in the Houston region to help students developtheir creative and analytical thinking skills. With a focus on at-risk, innercity students, WITS also offers workshops in art museums, hospitals,community centers, private schools and juvenile detention centers.STRENGTHS▲ Successful program model emulated throughout the United States.Named the #1 literary arts organization in Texas, WITS also leads theWITS Alliance, which is a national initiative that mentors similar writers-in-schools programs around the country.▲ Revenue from program fees offset cost of programs. Programrevenues comprise 73%, 71% and 55% of total WITS revenue in 2009,2010 and 2011, respectively. WITS programs are partially subsidized bythe fee revenue generated from its WITS programs and GovernmentGrants and Other Contributions only make up a minority of support forWITS.CAUTIONS▼ Number of beneficiaries served per program is unclear. AlthoughWITS mentions that it serves approximately 20,000 K-12 students andteachers, WITS does not publish the number of students and teachersbenefitting from each of its program areas. This makes it difficult todetermine the cost of providing each of the services to the respectivebeneficiaries and the efficiency of its model.▼ Lack of publicly shared proven results to beneficiaries. AlthoughWITS has published results stating that a select group of its programattendees outperformed their non-WITS counterparts for a four yeartime span, after speaking with WITS management, the organizationdisclosed that it has an additional 12 years of independent studies. Weencourage WITS to share these program results, which WITS is planningon doing by publishing an impact section on its website in 2013.RECOMMENDATION: BUYWriters in the Schools has been able to develop a successful programthat serves as a model for other organizations around the country. Theorganization has also become mostly self-sustaining. Providingadditional transparency around the number of beneficiaries served andpublishing additional impact of its programs would further underscoreWITS’ positive impact in the Houston region.Writers in the SchoolsNonprofit Investor Rating:BUYMission StatementWriters in the Schools engages children in thepleasure and power of reading and writing.Financial Overview$ in MM, Fiscal Year Ended August 312009 2010 2011Revenue and Support $1.2 $1.2 $1.6Operating Expenses $1.3 $1.3 $1.3% of Total:Program Expenses 85.4% 82.8% 85.3%G&A 7.4% 8.4% 7.6%Fundraising 7.2% 8.8% 7.1%Year Founded: 1983Contact DetailsWriters in the Schools1523 West MainHouston, TX 77006(713) 523-3877http://witshouston.orgEIN: 76-0338549Analyst: Ruth YenPeer Review: David Thompson, Steve TangPublication DateMay 7, 2013
  • 2. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 2OVERVIEW OF WITS’ ACTIVITIESFounded in 1983, WITS was formed to utilize the talent of the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program toimprove the value of Houston’s public school education. Since then, WITS has been focusing on the decline in readingand writing skills among students. WITS’ primary goal is to provide literacy programs to the widest possible range ofchildren.In addition to serving the Houston region, WITS leads the WITS Alliance (www.witsalliance.org), a national initiative thatinvolves mentoring similar writers-in-schools programs, serving as a model for multidisciplinary arts educators, sharinginnovative approaches to teaching and designing curricula for use in schools. WITS Alliance is also focused ondeveloping a method of national evaluation for arts education. The WITS Alliance, including Writers in the Schools –Houston, is made up of 25 member organizations. WITS has received a grant specifically to support the WITS Allianceinitiative and has dedicated part-time staff to further the causes of WITS Alliance.Program overviewWITS fulfills its mission through year-long in-school programs, after-school programs, a summer camp and professionaldevelopment for teachers. WITS sends professional writers into schools, hospitals and community centers to providecreative writing workshops for students and to share their love and knowledge of the written word. WITS also providesfresh lessons and perspectives to classroom teachers, giving them an innovative approach to teaching.In-School and After-School ProgramsWITS In-School Programs focus on the writing process and address key objectives in language arts, including originalvoice, inventive word choice, sentence fluency and clear organization. WITS In-School Programs’ students:• Participate in long-term creative writing workshops taught by professional writers• Practice all phases of the writing process – brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising and publishing their work• Take a field trip to The Menil Collection Museum or other inspiring venues• Learn basic literary skills and develop an enthusiasm for literature and the arts, translating into improved gradesand higher esteem• Publish their writing in an anthology• Celebrate their success in public eventsAnalyses of the passing rates on the fourth-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (“TAKS”) writing tests foundthat students enrolled in WITS programs in the Houston Independent School District (“HISD”) outperformed their non-WITS counterparts in 2002-2003 through 2005-2006 school years. Many schools pay for WITS through Title 1 funding orPTOs, business and community partners or private foundations.WITS After-School Programs utilize active learning and interdisciplinary approaches to make writing enjoyable andrelevant for every student. Not only does it help keep students safe but it also helps improve academic performanceand raise self-confidence.Professional DevelopmentWITS professional development opportunities provide innovative teaching ideas to classroom teachers who are thenable to expand their teaching curriculum and inspire their students to be better writers. Teachers who participate inWITS professional development program learn fresh ideas and acquire new, useful strategies. In addition to campus-based professional development that can be customized to meet the needs of faculty, individuals may also register forWITS writing workshops.Second Saturday is a series of writing workshops held on the second Saturday of the month and designed for classroomteachers who want to enhance their own skills as writers as well as those of their students. Taught by professional
  • 3. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 3writers, each interactive workshop provides concrete and innovative strategies and lessons that teachers can takedirectly into their classrooms – transforming classrooms into incubators for creativity and innovation.The cost of attendance is $75 for one, $150 for two and $225 for three workshops.A Poem A DayEvery year in April, WITS celebrates National Poetry Month with a campaign called A Poem A Day. During the month ofApril, WITS offers one poem written by a WITS student for every day. With A Poem A Day, WITS shares the work of itstalented students with the community while providing educational outreach to schools and parents. Schools areprovided with poems to read over the intercom during morning announcements or to individual classes, promptingdiscussion and sharing the importance of poetry with children. Schools and individuals also receive a poetry guide filledwith ways to encourage children to write.Summer ProgramsThe Summer Creative Writing Camp offers a supportive environment where children engage in writing stories, poetry,essays, and plays, as well as simply reading for pleasure. Students will work with teachers and writers, and the lowteacher-student ratios ensure individual attention. Workshops end with culminating events: all classes publishanthologies and most do performances or readings. Students are placed in classrooms based on the grade they will beentering in the fall and each grade level receives a custom curriculum. Tuition is $470 per student and tuition for eachadditional sibling is $420.Other ProgramsThe Menil Project. WITS writers may bring students on field trips to the Menil Collection museum once each year. Thewriter and three WITS writers at the Menil lead students through the museum in groups small enough to allow bothwritten and verbal response.M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In conjunction with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, WITS writers work with childrenbeing treated and their siblings in a twice-weekly program.Texas Children’s Hospital. One writer works year round at the hospital with children in the Cancer Center and in theBone Marrow Transplant unit. The Splendid Review, a quarterly newsletter of children’s writing from the project, isgiven to patients and siblings from Texas Children’s Hospital as part of the Arts in Medicine Program. In the summer of2003, WITS also began work with children in the Renal Department. These children receive one-on-one writinginstruction during their dialysis treatment.Community Family Center. Beginning in 1997, the program involves one WITS writer who works with up to 50 childrenfrom neighborhood elementary schools in after-school writing workshops.School Literacy and Culture Project, Rice University. Since 1988, WITS has offered intensive workshops to children pre-K through 12th grade during the summer in collaboration with the School Literacy and Culture Project (“SLC”) at RiceUniversitys Center for Education. The workshops are team taught by teachers and writers and include a trip to TheMenil Collection.Houston Young Writers Reading Series. Each spring WITS celebrates some of the most outstanding young authors inHouston at the Young Writers Reading Series. Locations include Discovery Green Park, the Menil Collection, and theHouston Arboretum & Nature Center.Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. In the fall of 2002, WITS and the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center began apartnership to create an environmental writing program for inner city elementary school children. The vision of theproject is to engage urban youth with their environment, exposing and educating students on the natural world. WITS
  • 4. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 4writers lead classroom units on nature writing, culminating in a field trip to the Arboretum’s 155-acre forest sanctuary inthe heart of the city. There, the students record and sketch as naturalists and write stories and poems inspired by theirexperiences. WITS publishes a collective anthology of the project and a special public reading for the participatingschools is held at the Arboretum to celebrate the students’ writing.Discovery Green Park. WITS offers free writing workshops on Saturdays from 10:30 am - 11:30 am at Discovery GreenPark inside the HPL Express Library where WITS writers explore the joys of expressive arts using imaginative writingexercises and craft activities. WITS provides all necessary writing materials. This free program is recommended forgrades 2-8 and continues throughout the summer.PROGRAM RESULTS AND EFFECTIVENESSWITS is the largest literary arts organization in Texas and currently serves approximately 20,000 K-12 students andteachers, in 350 classrooms and in 75 schools throughout the Houston region, which is an increase from theapproximately 18,000 students and teachers WITS served in 2009 and 2010. WITS is ranked the #1 literary artsorganizations in Texas by the Texas Commission on the Arts. In addition, WITS Summer Camp has been named the “bestsummer program for kids,” by the Houston Press.Most of the students that WITS serves come from underserved neighborhoods and low income families, with 90 percentqualifying for the Title I federal free lunch program. On a macro level, WITS addresses a disparity in education betweenthe privileged and underprivileged. WITS writers introduce children from low-income communities to a world of reading,writing, and lifelong learning. They explore literary arts in a creative way that is comparable, if not superior, to theirmost affluent peers.As previously mentioned, WITS in-school and after-school program attendees in the fourth-grade outperformed theirnon-WITS counterparts in 2002-2003 through 2005-2006 school years. Test results from fourth-graders is particularlysignificant in that their writing skill is tested at this grade level. For the past 12 years, WITS has commissioned thirdparty studies from the University of St. Thomas on the results of its programs. Currently, WITS shares this data with itsdonors and supporters but is planning on making its more detailed impact results available to the public via its websitein 2013.According to WITS management, the organization performs its own internal evaluation of its program results andeffectiveness. WITS board also participates in an evaluation and WITS teachers and writers are surveyed. WITS alsoputs in place field coordinators who observe WITS writers, administrators and teachers.TRANSPARENCYWriters in the Schools does not provide access to Form 990s or annual reports on its website. However, WITSmanagement was responsive to requests from NPI for additional information as well as addressing questions that NPIhad. Form 990s for 2009 – 2011 were accessed via GuideStar and WITS management provided NPI with historical audits.FINANCIAL OVERVIEWOne of the strengths of the WITS program is that revenue generated from program fees, such as the price for a child toparticipate in WITS Summer Camp, helps offset the cost of providing such services. Program revenues comprised 73%,71% and 55% of total WITS revenue in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. According to management, in 2012 WITSexperienced a slight decline in funding from its donors but was sustained through a slight increase in its program feesdue to the increase in number of participants.Total expenses for WITS have remained constant for 2009 through 2011 and are expected to remain so in 2012.WITS operates with enough liquidity within its cash and cash equivalents to be able to sustain one year without revenue.
  • 5. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 5Revenue Breakdown Expense Breakdown$ in MMDetailed Financial Information (Tax Basis)Fiscal Year Ended August 31 2009 2010 2011Revenue and Expenses (Tax Accounting Basis)Operating Revenue:Government Grants $70,567 $198,435 $84,500All Other Contributions, Gifts and Grants 240,668 71,181 586,577Fundraising Events, net 0 56,216 62,470Writing Program Fees 879,307 825,381 881,893Investment Income 13,315 6,430 924Total Support and Revenues $1,203,857 $1,157,643 $1,616,364% Growth (28.5%) (3.8%) 39.6%Government Grants as a % of Total Revenues 5.9% 17.1% 5.2%All Other Contributions as a % of Total Revenues 20.0% 6.1% 36.3%Fundraising Events as a % of Total Revenues 0.0% 4.9% 3.9%Writing Program Fees as a % of Total Revenues 73.0% 71.3% 54.6%Investment Income as a % of Total Revenues 1.1% 0.6% 0.1%Expenses:Program Services $1,077,003 $1,038,119 $1,095,532Supporting Services:Management and General Expenses 93,222 104,691 97,052Fundraising Expenses 90,355 110,708 91,804Total Expenses: $1,260,580 $1,253,518 $1,284,388% of Revenue 104.7% 108.3% 79.5%Program Costs as a % of Total Expenses 85.4% 82.8% 85.3%G&A as a % of Total Expenses 7.4% 8.4% 7.6%Fundraising as a % of Total Expenses 7.2% 8.8% 7.1%KEY BALANCE SHEET INFORMATIONCash and Cash Equivalents $1,278,136 $1,345,278 $1,537,956Total Assets $1,625,809 $1,508,786 $1,826,563Source: IRS Form 990 (Tax Acccounting Basis)
  • 6. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 6Also as indicated in the following table, WITS breaks out revenues and expenses by the following program service areas:Placing Professional Writers, Summer Creative Writing Workshops and Hospital Programs. As evident from the table,the greatest Program Services expense is Placing Professional Writers and that cost is partially subsidized by the revenuegenerated from the Summer Creative Writing Workshops and the Hospital Programs.Per management, WITS In-School Programs serve the most beneficiaries and its Summer Camp program receives themost fees, which allows it to have the highest net revenue per beneficiary.Internally, WITS breaks out its beneficiaries served, revenues and expenses by program area and also in more detail thanin the following table. If WITS were to provide the number of beneficiaries served by program to the public on a year-over-year basis, one would be better equipped to ascertain whether or not the organization was able to scale itsprograms or realize efficiencies. In addition, further breakdown of program revenues and expenses could be beneficialin determining the net cost to provide said programs.Net Program Service Revenue (Expense)Fiscal Year Ended August 31 2009 2010 2011Placing Professional WritersRevenue $507,217 $429,328 $373,733Expense (855,450) (804,317) (768,310)Net Revenue (Expense) ($348,233) ($374,989) ($394,577)Summer Creative Writing WorkshopsRevenue $294,730 $331,310 $418,690Expense (179,702) (196,927) (283,099)Net Revenue (Expense) $115,028 $134,383 $135,591Hospital ProgramsRevenue $77,360 $64,743 $89,470Expense (41,851) (36,875) (44,123)Net Revenue (Expense) $35,509 $27,868 $45,347Total Revenue $879,307 $825,381 $881,893Total Expense (1,077,003) (1,038,119) (1,095,532)Total Net Revenue (Expense) ($197,696) ($212,738) ($213,639)% of Total RevenuePlacing Professional Writers 58% 52% 42%Summer Creative Writing Workshops 34% 40% 47%Hospital Programs 9% 8% 10%% of Total ExpensePlacing Professional Writers 79% 77% 70%Summer Creative Writing Workshops 17% 19% 27%Hospital Programs 4% 4% 4%Source: IRS Form 990
  • 7. Writers in the Schools | Nonprofit Investor Research 7KEY PERSONNEL BIOSRobin Reagler, PhD, Executive Director. Robin joined WITS as a writer in 1990, and she has worked in every facet of theorganization, from teaching to program development to administration. Currently as Executive Director, Robin not onlyleads WITS in its Houston endeavors; she also heads the WITS Alliance, a national consortium of literary arts educationgroups. Robin earned an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers Workshop and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston CreativeWriting Program. Her poems and essays have been published widely in books and journals such as Ploughshares andHOW(ever), and her chapbook Dear Red Airplane was published in 2011.OTHER THIRD PARTY RATINGSWITS is not currently covered by Charity Navigator, GreatNonprofits, Philanthropedia or GiveWell.GET INVOLVEDYou can support WITS through a donation on their website here: http://witshouston.org/support-wits-0.DISCLOSURESRuth Yen certifies that she does not have any affiliation with Writers in the Schools and has never made a donation tothe organization. Additionally, Ruth has not supported directly competing organizations in a greater capacity than anominal donation. NPI analysts and NPI as an organization do not receive any form of compensation from reviewedcharities.This report is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a solicitation for donations. While the reliability ofinformation contained in this report has been assessed by NPI, NPI makes no representation as to its accuracy orcompleteness, except with respect to the Disclosure Section of the report. Any opinions expressed herein reflect ourjudgment as of the date of the materials and are subject to change without notice. NPI has no obligation to update,modify or amend any report or to otherwise notify a reader thereof in the event that any matter stated herein, or anyopinion, projection, forecast or estimate set forth herein, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate, or if research onthe subject organization is withdrawn.Opinions and recommendations in our reports do not take into account specific reader circumstances, objectives, orneeds. The recipients of our reports must make their own independent decisions regarding any organization mentionedby NPI.ABOUT NONPROFIT INVESTORNonprofit Investor is a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving philanthropic capital allocation andnonprofit effectiveness through research and analysis. NPI brings together volunteers with professional due diligenceskills to produce independent, in‐depth evaluations of nonprofits. NPI research is available for free, public downloadhere: www.nonprofitinvestor.org/research. To suggest a charity for NPI to review or to apply as a volunteer, pleasecontact us: www.nonprofitinvestor.org/contact. NPI is a tax‐exempt charity under section 501(c)(3) of the InternalRevenue Code (EIN: 45‐3627609). Follow Nonprofit Investor on Twitter: @nonprofitinvest