Allocate to Elevate never on back burner for one team
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Chris Arnold is a numbers guy.
But this number may be the one that he is the most proud of: His team is always the first to reach 90% participation in workplace giving program Allocate to Elevate, in which Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education employees divert their state tax dollars to Habitat for Humanity, public school extracurricular programs or School Choice Arizona.
“One of my favorite things about the launch of the Allocate to Elevate program each October is to see which team is the first to hit 90% to 100% participation. Every year, without fail, it is Chris Arnold’s team,” said Sheila Jones, K12 Educational Development Program Director and the Allocate to Elevate coordinator.
That success rate couldn’t happen if Arnold, Vice President of the Office of Financial Aid and an Allocate to Elevate Champion, wasn’t so passionate about the initiative and believed in it.
He sees firsthand what the program can do.
Through Allocate to Elevate, he supports San Tan Elementary School near his home.
“It’s a school that struggles — families struggle financially. I donate to them because every year I get a letter from a child, handwritten on that wide-ruled paper, telling me how that money was spent,” said Arnold, who remembers one of those students who wrote him about his trip to the Arizona Science Center, made possible in part because of his help through Allocate to Elevate.
“He was brought up in a very poor household. It was the first time he was able to go to anything like the Arizona Science Center.”
That brings up why the initiative is close to his heart: “You can really impact people through these, and it costs you nothing. It’s almost too good to be true.”
That too-good-to-be-true feeling is something he passes on to his team of 96 staff members in the Office of Financial Aid.
When Arnold first started working at the University, he worked alongside Randy Bellah, Allocate to Elevate’s administrator at the time, to make sure he really understood the initiative.
It was in 2013 when the program, first called Donate to Elevate, made its debut. The idea was for employees to fund causes important to the University, from renovating homes in the Canyon Corridor through its partnership with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, to supporting families who want to send their children to Christian schools, to helping families fund their children’s arts or athletic programs or other activities.
Those causes would be funded through the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit, which allows taxpayers to tell the state how to spend their tax dollars.
That first year, employees redirected $218,000 of their tax dollars, and as the University has grown, so has its Allocate to Elevate goal. This year, the hope is for employees to redirect $3.2 million to the initiative. Participating in the program doesn’t affect an employee’s paycheck; it is simply telling the state what to do with their taxes.
Arnold does just that through Allocate to Elevate.
“I participate in every single one,” he said of making sure his taxes go to the three buckets the University has put its support behind – Habitat, School Choice and public-school extracurricular activities.
He wants to support those programs, but also, he wants to support his team. If anyone on his team has a question, he can answer it because he has gone through the process himself.
It involves filling out a tax form and giving that form to your accountant at tax time – or filling out the right section in tax programs such as TurboTax.
“It’s honestly that easy,” he said.
What helps his team reach that 90% participation threshold so early on in the Allocate to Elevate giving season is that the program is incorporated in the Office of Financial Aid’s training classes.
Department leaders organize a meeting, this year through Zoom, since so many are working from home these days during the pandemic. It’s where Allocate to Elevate videos are screened and employees can hear GCU President Brian Mueller speaking about the importance of the initiative. They also address which forms employees will need to fill out in a PowerPoint presentation.
“We get them all together so they can ask questions,” Arnold said of his department giving employees time to sign up, right at that meeting.
“We start early. The moment it (Allocate to Elevate) is available, we’re on it,” said JoAnna Langston, Financial Director in the Office of Financial Aid, who said her department sets internal goals when it comes to the program.
She added, “It’s also important to us that we share the wins for our community – and for them,” so the team likes to give examples from employees on how the initiative has helped them personally.
“Every single year, I have found people who have needed it. I’ve always had a name of somebody,” said Arnold, relating the story of one colleague whose sister benefited from the program and was able to send her children to a private Christian school she otherwise would not be able to afford.
Those needs continue during the pandemic.
“The need is greater than ever,” said Jones. “I was really worried that with all of our employees safely at home that they would forget about this wonderful initiative, but the response has been the opposite. We are almost 70% to our goal, and the executives above each team have gone above and beyond to get the word out that this program is still going strong and having phenomenal impact.”
Checking in with Habitat for Humanity and School Choice, Jones said representatives of those causes have told her that despite the hardships of COVID, they are still able to help the community through these pledges.
“This is really a beautiful tribute to what a thoughtful, giving place we are at GCU/GCE,” said Jones, who relayed that any amount diverted to the program matters.
Langston said, for her and her colleagues, Allocate to Elevate is much more than an email that goes out to employees.
“You don’t make it a back-burner item,” she said. “You make it a priority item.”
For more information about Allocate to Elevate: [email protected] or 602-247-4000.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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