An Interview With Fred Mednick, Founder, Teachers Without Borders
Certain ideas make so much sense that one wonders why no one thought of them sooner. Case in point: Global leaders struggled for decades to think of a way to improve education. Ten years ago, Fred Mednick, Ph.D., started his nonprofit aimed at supporting those who can best provide that education.
Teachers Without Borders, based in Seattle and operating on nearly $2.4 million a year, started with nothing but a plan to advance “human welfare through teacher professional development.” Soon, the organization will have a dedicated fundraiser added to its eight-member staff, seven of whom work full time. That will give the nonprofit a chance to diversify its funding that now consists of corporate grants and unsolicited donations.
The organization's purpose is to improve education because “all children deserve the right to flourish because of great teachers.”
FundRaising Success: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
Fred Mednick: We have done a considerable amount of thinking about this, along with the development of a new strategic plan focusing on multiple revenue streams. Despite the profound economic downturn, Teachers Without Borders actually grew in revenue. We may attribute this to those foundations who have decided to go deep with known quantities like Teachers Without Borders. However, we are far from complacent and consider it the height of arrogance to assume that such grants will continue. Therefore, we are beginning the active implementation of a strategic plan that will generate revenue from multiple, additional sources:
- Public campaigns: These are targeted toward the sponsorship of teachers to participate in programs — focused campaigns for our program channels, rather than one-off grants: Certificate of Teaching Mastery, Emergency Education and the Millennium Development Ambassadors Program. Focusing on channels, rather than grants, allows us to strengthen the core, rather than run after revenue.
- A transformed board of trustees: This is designed to move us from a traditional “founder’s board” to one that opens doors to individual gifts.
- Hiring of a development director: Teachers Without Borders has kept a close watch on existing funds, having preferred to focus entirely on measurable impacts and programs. However, we have learned that an investment of this kind may generate the kind of untapped revenue that could more than sustain the position and, indeed, help TWB to flourish.
- Speaking engagements: After 10 years, Teachers Without Borders is becoming a known quantity, and TWB has spoken at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and TED. One hundred percent of income generated from public keynotes shall be given to the organization for capacity-building.
- TWB Toolset: Our innovative platform connects a social network, active and customizable group-space, and courseware in one package, [which is] capable of serving as both a stand-alone, multilingual online educational environment or of being customized to fill specific educational needs at a fraction of the cost. We have developed a revenue schedule that we project will provide income for TWB and recover costs within two years.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
FM: As discussed above, these are changes that were in the works prior to the economic downturn and are glaringly obvious now.