Readers of the Advisers Giving Back profile series might be familiar with the Smarter Tomorrow Foundation, founded by Florida-based financial adviser Jason Chepenik, and its flagship initiative: the 401(k) Race for Financial Fitness.
Launched in 2015, the 4.01 kilometer (or roughly 2.5 mile) race is now licensed to run in eight cities across the country, with all proceeds donated to a local organization that provides educational workshops or seminars about financial literacy services for kids. In a typical year—that is, before the pandemic—the races gathered as many as 2,500 runners and walkers who collectively generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for local financial literacy programs.
Ashley Naab, director of marketing at ProCourse Fiduciary Advisors in Carmel, Indiana, says her firm first heard about the race roughly four years ago, and it was immediately appealing to the leadership and staff alike.
“Our advisers have always pushed the importance of aligning health and wealth goals, and we know that you cannot create holistic well-being by keeping health and wealth considerations in different silos,” Naab says. “So we thought the race could be a great opportunity to inspire our clients and our community to look at things the same way. A run like this is a perfect way to get people outside and active, while also directly promoting financial literacy.”
As Naab explains, ProCourse reached out to central Indiana’s local Junior Achievement organization in 2019, and the leadership there immediately jumped on board with the idea. The two organizations have had a strong partnership ever since, and ProCourse has raised more than $100,000 for the program, despite the fact that the past two races have been virtual events due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual runs allow participants to complete one of a handful of suggested 2.5-mile courses around the state, or any route of their choice, during a two-week period.
The Junior Achievement program educates children from preschool through high school in the areas of career exploration, employability/life skills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and philanthropy. It also has created a classroom curriculum for fifth graders called “BizTown” that teaches students about business, finances and problem-solving.
“It’s very exciting for us that we have been able to raise that amount despite the challenges of 2020 and 2021,” Naab reflects. “This all hits even closer to home for me, personally, because I actually went through the Junior Achievement program. I remember being in fifth grade and doing the simulation of going to ‘BizTown’ and learning about work, money and spending. A lot of my coworkers here have similar experiences to draw on. It’s awesome to be able to reflect back on that experience and to see that Junior Achievement is still doing the same work.”
Naab now has nieces and nephews who have gone through the program, which she says underscores the importance of supporting organizations such as Junior Achievement. Naab notes that, beyond the monetary support, the firm’s staff volunteers at events and in other settings. As it turns out, she adds, such events generate a lot of camaraderie among colleagues and lead to stronger relationships with clients and the larger community.
Beyond supporting the race, ProCourse has also formalized its giving efforts and is calling its volunteer offshoot “ProCourse Cares.”
“We developed ProCourse Cares as a formal thing after getting involved in the race that first year in 2019, but giving back has always been an ongoing thing for us in one way or another,” Naab says. “A big part of ProCourse Cares is promoting a culture of giving within our team, which involves asking [our staff members] what causes and organizations they are passionate about. We want to support their interests and causes.”
Already, Naab says, the program has helped ProCourse recruit talented, generous and like-minded colleagues who also have a belief in helping a greater cause.
“The program helps us reinforce our culture and it helps us to think in terms of the bigger picture,” Naab says. “It’s all too easy to get engrained in the daily operations of serving our clients and making sure all our deliverables are getting out there on time. Having a giving program helps us to remember that, at the end of the day, we are supporting thousands and thousands of participants in their retirement plans. It gives you a perspective about what that really means when you can take time away from work to volunteer. It gives the day-to-day work a lot of meaning.”