Sustaining Impact

   I am one who believes that in special cases, innovative and successful programs should be brought to scale so that many more people can be affected and helped. Yet, this process brings unique challenges for groups seeking to increase their impact. Here's an another excerpt from Forces for Good on a group that survived internal crisis toward making large scale, system-wide change.

   "Teach For America was only a few years old when its founder and president, Wendy Kopp, found herself facing a mutinous staff. The entire organization had convened in August 1992 in Los Angeles for its second summer training institute, an annual program designed to train new teachers before sending them out into classrooms. But after more than two chaotic years in startup mode, staff members were fed up with the long hours and low pay, the absence of organizational systems, and the unclear decision making authority. Staff members told Kopp they would jump ship if things didn’t change. The episode became know as the “coup de Kopp.”

   To make matters worse, the mutiny dovetailed with a major funding crisis: Kopp needed to raise $700,000 within four weeks to avoid shutting the doors. It was the perfect storm. At that moment Teach for America was on the brink -- not of breakthrough impact, but of implosion." Kopp had launched the ambitious group in 1989, based on an idea she developed in her senior thesis at Princeton University. Teach for America would be a national teaching corps, placing young college graduates in America's neediest schools, while working simultaneously to reform the larger educational system. From the outset, Kopp's vision was grand. She disregarded early advice to start with a single pilot site and scale up slowly, insisting that her idea would require an immediate national presence and a corps of five hundred teachers.

   ...that first crisis marked a real turning point. It was the moment when Teach for America, at he brink of failure, realized it needed to build an organization to sustain the movement. Over the next few years, Kopp and her senior team cut less critical programs, reduced costs to meet their actual budget (rather than continuously raising more money to support too many programs), created a long-term fundraising plan, developed management systems, and invested in organizational capacity and people. With this stable foundation, Teach for America began to take off.

   Today, the organization is widely considered to be one of the great success stories of the last decade. With a staff of 650, a budget of $70 million (and growing), strong leadership, and an increasingly recognized brand, Teach for America -- and its influential alumni -- are a force to be reckoned with in the educational field."

Read more in: Forces for Good: the six practices of high-impact nonprofits, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant; with a forward by Steve Case, John Wiley & Sons, Inc (c) 2008