The Omaha Schools Foundation had humble beginnings, operates without many high-profile, big-dollar supporters, and generally stays below the radar of most Omahans. That said, there are few, if any, non-profits in the state that have such a sterling reputation for the work they do.
Now, the Omaha Schools Foundation has earned its most impressive honor to date, ranking third out of the 100 largest school district foundations in the country in “Stepping Up: The Top K-12 Educations Foundations in the Nation.” One key factor in the ranking: The Omaha Schools Foundation, with $28.3 million in total assets, had the fourth-highest revenue of foundations nationwide. Considering OPS is the 98th largest district in the country, “the Foundation is doing an amazing job,” according to Dewey Caruthers, president of Dewey & Associates and author of the study.
“Since the 1990s, the Foundation has grown exponentially in terms of financial responsibilities, endowments, scholarships, classroom grants for students, and Kid’s Club,” says Toba Cohen-Dunning, the Foundation’s executive director. “The growth of OSF is a result of leadership, staff, and thousands of generous donors who have said very clearly what an impact OPS has had on their children and families.”
The Foundation was started in 1984 with a gift of $1,155 from a group of OPS administrators. Indeed, much of the donor base is made up of OPS alumni and teachers who have left money for the Foundation in their wills, Cohen-Dunning says. In the beginning, the Foundation had a modest purview. For example, it ran Kids Club, a parent-pay before and after-school program, in two OPS elementary schools. Now, Kids Club operates in 42 schools, with the addition of five more pre-Kindergarten programs.
The Dewey & Associates study looked at several other criteria, Caruthers says, long-term sustainability through assets and investments and the size and breadth of grant programs funded by the foundations. The Omaha Schools Foundation excelled in all eight categories judged. Of particular note for a Foundation in a smaller school district: Last year, OSF gave out $390,000 in scholarship dollars to district seniors.