Youth-serving Nonprofits Linked With Greater Prosperity in Cities

Bolster Mission


Are you with a small but growing nonprofit that serves kids?

Jim Chesire is convinced of your value. And furthermore, the Chicago consultant has evidence.

By crunching new data, his organization is showing a link between the growth of youth-serving nonprofits — especially small ones — and upward mobility in cities.

“Upwardly mobile cities are places that invest more in youth-serving organizations,” Chesire said. They also invest more equitably, he said.

Chesire and Andrew Rice, both with the consulting firm Bolster Mission, sponsored an analysis of two sets of data that became available in the past few years.

One is from Harvard economist Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Insights, which shows the economic mobility of young adults the nation’s largest cities.

The other is a group of nonprofit tax forms (Form 990), first made freely available by the IRS in 2016 after a lawsuit.

Matching the data showed that cities with a high per capita investment in youth-serving nonprofits were also the cities in which economic mobility was the greatest.

Does that mean investment in youth leads to greater prosperity? Maybe, but not necessarily.

The link between nonprofits and economic mobility doesn’t show which causes which, Chesire acknowledged. Investment in youth may lead to greater prosperity among young people as they become adults. Or cities with greater economic mobility may simply have money available to invest in youth.

“[But] there’s something real occurring in the link there. It warrants more rigorous investment in research,” Chesire said.

The analysis looked at tax forms for 4,306 youth-serving organizations in the 25 largest U.S. cities from 2009 to 2012.

It showed a particular link between small but growing youth-serving nonprofits and a city’s upward economic mobility.

Opportunity Insights research had already found that economic mobility for low-income kids varies greatly depending on where the kids live. That research saw variation down to the half square mile in city neighborhoods.

“It typically is the small but growing youth-serving organizations that are in the tough-to-reach pockets in underserved neighborhoods,” Chesire said. “They are uniquely positioned to reach young people who need access to opportunity the most.”

He has worked in nonprofit youth services for many years. He was a director of the Chicago Out-of-School Time Project, overseeing a Wallace Foundation $11 million grant for Chicago to build citywide out-of-school services. He now manages a STEM project involving four large national youth-serving organizations.

“My partner Andrew Rice and I have for 15 years been operating in this space working with data to understand the effect of policy on youth success,” Chesire said. “We see it every day — the impact that high-quality youth-serving organizations have in individual lives and communities.

“It always troubled us that we didn’t have evidence for that [outside] the individual level of experience.”

Their data analysis was released as the brief “Investment in Youth-Serving Organizations is Linked to Economic Mobility in Cities Over Generations: What Mayors Can Do to Capitalize.”

It has three recommendations to mayors:

  • Convene a cross-sector group including foundations, youth-serving nonprofits, researchers and corporate leaders to ensure equitable funding for youth-serving nonprofits in every half square mile of their city.

“Mayors should be bringing these folks together to consider how money is flowing and growing in the city,” Chesire said.

  • Mayors can draw attention to nonprofits that serve youth and encourage greater investment, most of which comes from individuals.
  • They can look to cities that are good examples of cross-sector cooperation.

This story has been updated.


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