Scaling Impact

Reading Time: 5 minutes

E21: Scaling Impact Case Study – Teach for America

Learn more about the story of Teach for America founded by Wendy Kopp

In this episode, I talk about:

  • The origin of Teach for America
  • The vision of Founder Wendy Kopp
  • Teach for America by the numbers
  • How Wendy made teaching in a public school “cool”
  • How Teach for America recruiting results compare to investment banking
  • What Wendy is up to now (solving the problem globally)
  • The BIG goal you need to set to scale impact at your organization

If you’d like to learn how to scale impact at your nonprofit by more than double in less than half the time, sign up for my free 5 day email course –

Episode Transcript
Hey everyone, Sean here and today what I want to talk to you about is the case study that is Teach for America

Originally founded by Wendy Kopp and Wendy had set out to solve one of the largest problems our country has ever faced in education reform and her organization has arguably made the biggest impact ever of any organization that trying to tackle this problem. If you’re unfamiliar with Teach for America and what the concept is, how it works is the organization matches college seniors with some of the most challenging public schools in the United States in order to spend a year or two teaching the students there and making a pretty considerable impression in a school typically without the kind of resources it really needs in order to help students. 

This organization Teach For America that Wendy founded, started with extremely humble beginnings. She started when she was a senior at Princeton, she was studying at university and this was 1989. And she did so on a very tight budget and it borrowed office, but then it grew rapidly from there, due to her dedication and all of her hard work and the results are dramatic. In terms of what it accomplished. We talk about scaling impact. This is a excellent case study, in impact that was delivered pretty dramatically. So I mentioned she started in 89. By 1995. They had grown so fast that at the time, they were already at 10 million. And then by 2011, same organization was now at 240 million. So if you’re keeping track of those numbers, that’s obviously exponential and pretty aggressive growth in a relatively short period of time. 

Now, even beyond the numbers in terms of what Teach for America has accomplished, one of the things I find most impressive and this is when this story had resonated so dramatically with me was kind of the changing of as you may hear Wendy say this if you ever listen to her speak, she said the changing of like almost a consciousness of the country and that they made such a dramatic impression on how the country thinks about school. What I mean by this is, their organization shifted the landscape to make it cool to teach at a public school in America, which is remarkable, just remarkable, such a mindset shift from what it had been previously the impression that they made on that, for so many people and there’s a lot more in terms of tangible results of their efforts as well too. 

The the way the story goes is that on Ivy League college campuses, when it came to recruiting some of their graduates or undergraduates to come work at the various organizations that do their recruiting at that level. Eventually Teach For America was in a position where they were beating out some of the most prestigious firms that people wanted to work at in investment banking and finance, management consulting as well. Whereas the Teach For America booths would be the most crowded and which received the most applicants when compared with some of those other extremely popular but you know, in industry type options that the students had available to them. So pretty dramatic results there as well also to give you an idea in terms of what the results kind of are now in terms of where Teach for America is. 

Wendy was being interviewed sometime last year. I’ve watched that video recently and they talked about how, at the moment Teach For America receives I think it’s more than 10 applicants for every position they have available. So essentially a greater than 10x in terms of how many applicants they get for every available position, and they have over 30,000 alumni, which is also just amazing. 

I can speak to my own personal experience. I didn’t fulfill this role myself but I was contacted I think by one of the recruiters back when I was at the university level and they were asking me about my level of interest in teaching at a public school in New York. I think it was I went to University in Philadelphia I studied engineering, but they were asking me about teaching math, which personally for myself was always something I had kind of wanted to do because it was a subject I really enjoyed, especially in high school. But I remember thinking how cool that would be to do that and subconsciously, I didn’t even realize the transformation I was making even though it was something that I was interested in, I’m going to credit some if not all of my reaction there to what Teach for America did. I probably didn’t even recognize it or realize it but the all of the tremendous work that they’ve done has likely had an impact on what my reaction was that and this is crazy number of years ago. 

So unbelievable amount of progress and scaling impact that Teach for America was capable of in terms of making all of this positive change which is incredible. Now if you want to know more about what Wendy is up to lately, the Teach for America organization has been so successful that other countries have reached out to her about wanting to do the same thing in their own country. So as such, she’s now running an organization called Teach for All where she’s trying to take that same model and apply it globally. Even more impressive so trying to solve this problem now the world over since she’s already made a dramatic impact on it in this country. Pretty ridiculously impressive, and again, Wendy started this program from very humble beginnings, right, in 1989 on a extremely tight budget and a shared office to you know, fast forward to the early 2010s and they were approaching a quarter of a billion dollars in annual annual revenue, which is just unbelievably impressive 30,000 alumni now and a 10 to 1 application rate to fulfill the roles that they have available. So pretty dramatic results. 

I hope you got value out of this story. I know I love reading case studies like this because I try to extract lessons from people like Wendy and Teach for America in terms of the incredible things that they’ve done so you can learn from it and apply it at your own organization. So my challenge for you as part of this episode is what is your big aggressive goal. What is the transformation you would like to see happen in your industry, similar to how Teach For America made it cool to teach in a public school? What does that look like for you? How would you define it? How would you articulate it and how would you make progress against it in order to scale impact at your organization?