Anyone who has ever fundraised for a worthy cause knows the roller coaster of emotions associated with asking for money. Nervousness and apprehension are hushed by self-imposed confidence, and passion for the mission takes over. Hopefully, all that is followed by the exhilaration from receiving a donation, grant, or sponsorship.
For those of us who are uncomfortable asking for money, this process can be especially difficult. Personally, I’ve never been great at asking for money in-person, but if I can write a proposal instead, I’m happy to ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars–and I have.
Recently, MyCoolClass launched their community shares offer, which allows anyone to invest in the cooperative and become a member. It doesn’t go against our teacher-owned mission; it strengthens it. More supporters, awareness, and funds all support the vision and organizational goals.
Does this speak to me as a former nonprofit employee and fundraiser? Absolutely! However, that’s not the main reason it warms my heart. Teachers, especially early childhood education teachers, can appreciate the direct connection between philanthropy and the lessons we want to instill in young learners, hoping that they will become kind and generous adults.
The community shares offer speaks to me as a teacher.
On that note, I’d like to talk about why the offer should make teachers, parents, and nostalgic adults smile–and why you should invest.
Kindergarten Lessons: Share Your Toys (aka Generosity)
Making kids share their toys, animal crackers, or crayons is arguably one of the most difficult tasks for any early childhood or elementary teacher. Small hands grabbing a toy from another small hand can result in instant tears, ear-piercing wails, and horror filmesque screams. Teachers cope with this several times a day, every day. Parents know those sounds, too.
Eventually, we teach kids to compromise and share. Giving to others earns you gold stars, praise, and new friends. Friendly competitions about who can make the best (tower-shaped) rocket ship is much better than simply stacking blocks by yourself. (Plus, cleanup is faster when those towers ultimately can’t defy the laws of physics.)
In higher grades, students often need to borrow pencils, sheets of notebook paper, and notes. Generous tweens and teens do this easily, often without thinking about it. We’ve all lost our pencil, forgotten our notebook, and missed class. In fact, generous students help the learning process continue with fewer interruptions. Without generosity, middle and high school would be even more chaotic.
As adults, we usually don’t need to share pencils. Instead, we share responsibilities. We collaborate on work-related projects, co-parent, run errands, and divide housework. We’re still sharing our crayons, just in a more grown-up fashion.
Supporting new cooperatives, nonprofits, and small businesses brings back those lessons. Maybe the gold stars are gone, but the praise and gratitude we receive from our support system and the organization remains. We make connections, and possibly forge friendships. Honestly, we feel good about ourselves, which is its own reward.
Comfort Your Friend (aka Empathy)
Learning to put yourself into another person’s mind and feel what they’re feeling is an incredibly difficult task. Those of us who studied Jean Piaget’s experiments and those who followed him know that “theory of mind” typically develops around age four. If you can help a three-year-old gain a different perspective, you basically possess magical teaching or parenting powers.
Asking a toddler to comfort their friend is a hard request; the child can see their friend is upset–thanks to the aforementioned ear-piercing wails–but they struggle to understand exactly what their friend is feeling and how to comfort them. Slowly, they develop theory of mind, learn that everyone has feelings that can be hurt, and find a way to stop their friend from crying.
Life is difficult, and it can harden us. We all have those terrible days that shatter our patience and empathy. We deal with rude drivers, helicopter parents, and difficult children. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the humanity in adults who are constantly belittling, angry, and disrespectful. Often, these people aren’t our friends; we have no personal reason to comfort them or see the world through their perspective.
But many of us try anyway. Understanding that this person is also having a hard time, their criticism is coming from a place of fear, or life has recently been unkind, can help us tap our empathy. At the very least, we don’t make things worse.
Empathy and philanthropy are as inseparable as the playdough your student rolled into one giant ball. Philanthropy requires us to see that things could be better, put ourselves in the shoes of those affected, and make an effort to lessen the hurt. Sometimes, we do that by giving directly to charities that mend damage; sometimes, we donate to organizations that spread positivity. Regardless of how or where we support others, we want to make the world a little bit better, just like the four-year-old hugging their friend.
Education is vital, and online education can open new opportunities to students and their families. Supporting organizations trying to change the way online education affects the world is certainly a cause for which any teacher, parent, or social worker can empathize.
Stand Up to Bullies (aka Integrity)
I don’t know a single adult who doesn’t have a bullying story. If you were even a little bit different, you could be a target; if you stood up for the underdog, that was just as bad. Throughout my education, I was surrounded by kids who were anti-Semetic, racist, and homophobic–and proud of it. School politics and the personal beliefs of teachers made adult interference difficult.
Bullying is often what happens when kids don’t learn to share their toys and comfort their friends, although it’s much more complex and multi-faceted than I can discuss in this post.
I do believe that schools have improved in recent years but bullying still exists–both by peers and adults. I have taught more than a dozen kids who joined online classes after recurring bullying led their families to remove them from in-person schools. Although I’ve had kids disagree with each other, I have never had a student bully a peer in my classes. Kids receive greater attention, and I make it clear that disrespect is not allowed.
Online education can provide a safe space for students who have been victims of bullying.
Furthermore, I think it is important to specify that MyCoolClass is different from the other online education platforms. There’s a reason you won’t see other platforms promote a community share offer.
Many online education platforms received their “seed money” (start-up funds) from large investors, especially venture capitalists. These investment firms provide an enormous influx of capital (often hundreds of thousands of US dollars) in exchange for a high payout, advisory role, or other returns on investment. If the company does well, it can often return to that capitalist and others, compounding the investment. For example, a company that earned $1 million in seed money, may earn $7 million two years later, $50 million the year after that, and nearly $200 million the following year.
I’m not describing a fairy tale. Venture capitalism is real, and it can be an enormous help to businesses trying to have a significant impact.
In fact, as of last year, at least one online education platform is considered a “unicorn”–meaning it is valued at over $1 billion.
That means that virtual, real-time education joins industries and companies such as aerospace (SpaceX), personal shopping (Instacart), crowdsourcing (Patreon), and ridesharing (Uber). Several other online education-related companies have made their mark, too, including Udemy, Quizlet, and Course Hero.
Online education is no longer a “developing industry”. It is active, pulsating, and lasting.
Am I comparing unicorn companies to schoolyard bullies? Not exactly. I’ll support artists on Patreon, tip drivers on Instacart, and use resources from Course Hero. We certainly have yet to figure out a way to live without capitalism.
However, while taking kindergarten lessons, your teacher and the teachers that followed taught you to stand up for the underdog, so picture this: You are standing on a typical street corner. To your left, you see the independent, locally owned bookstore. They have a display on the sidewalk reminding you that a semi-famous author will have a book talk later that week. To your right, only a few blocks away, you see a large chain bookstore. The parking lot is full, and they are advertising 10% off your favorite genre.
Do you walk left or right?
Kindergarten Lessons: Ask Questions (aka Wonder)
The less you understand about the world, the more magical everything seems. How do fish breathe underwater, and why can’t I? Why does the sun leave at night? Where does the rainbow end? As teachers, we have to provide answers to hundreds of questions without crushing kids’ spirits or sense of wonder.
I’m glad that I understand how gravity works, but I think I was happier when I thought I could fly if I just swung high enough.
So, I actively try to keep a spark of wonder inside me, and I constantly ask questions. Some of them I type into Google, but the rest are ponderings no search engine can answer. How do we make life better for our students? How do we think bigger? How do we increase our ripple effect? How do we try to make the right decisions in a world of commercialism, sensationalism, and consumerism?
One of the reasons I joined MyCoolClass was because it spoke to me as a business. I joined my other platform when they were relatively small, and I was an advocate for them; I really felt they were changing the way we could teach. After COVID happened and the company significantly expanded (literally almost overnight), I felt the change. I felt that teachers were underappreciated, profits were overvalued, and the regulations had become too restricting.
So, I asked questions. I read MCC’s business plan, their blogs, website, and other opinions about them. I reached out before I joined, posted questions in our forum, and had a Zoom meeting with a founder. I asked dozens of questions, and every time, I received straightforward, honest answers.
So, I moved one student over to MyCoolClass. Then another. Then three more. Hopefully by next month, that number will be in the dozens.
I know that transferring my students is an enormous risk. My previous platform will not be happy, and I should accept that I’m burning that bridge. I’m tearing down something that is actually quite successful–and other MyCoolClass teachers are doing exactly the same.
Most teachers on MyCoolClass were teaching on other platforms. As a whole, humans are resistant to change, and convincing every parent to transfer with us is a tough sell, especially if their students are taking multiple classes on the other platform.
But we do it. Because we have faith in each other, the cooperative, and the future. The possibilities make us wonder, and that wonder reminds us of a simpler time.
Lesson 5: Dream Big (aka Optimism)
Teachers have found a platform that exudes integrity, and we have our sense of wonder. Those traits lead to another: optimism.
Young kids seem to have an unending well of optimism, which is why it’s so easy to convince them things will work out. “You’ll do better tomorrow.” “Try again; I’m sure you can do it.” “That scrape will only hurt for a little bit.” “Everything will be okay.”
Sure, they threw a 10-minute tantrum because their mittens weren’t gloves, but tomorrow, that will be old news, and they’ll have moved onto something else. They believe us, and we believe ourselves. Optimism is contagious.
However, optimism alone is not enough to succeed. You need a plan, action, and follow-through, just like your coach said.
The only way to compete with unicorn companies is to fundraise, and that’s what MyCoolClass is doing.
Why doesn’t MyCoolClass just ask for money from venture capitalists? It obviously works.
That’s a reasonable question that deserves an honest answer.
Primarily, it’s because MyCoolClass is a cooperative, which is basically a blend between a for-profit company and nonprofit organization. Cooperatives are member-owned (in this case teacher-owned) and have a different organizational structure. Members work as a team for the common good, but everyone is an independent contractor, so we do not answer to a supervisor in the same way that an employee would.
Therefore, investing in a cooperative is not appealing to a venture capitalist. Although MyCoolClass plans to compete with the most popular education sites, we never intend to become a unicorn. Our goal is to have a revenue of roughly $9.6 million by 2025. (You can find our business plan here.) Profits will be used to be more competitive, further the mission, start a nonprofit arm, and give back to teachers. We have no intention of being publicly owned, and by UK law, we can’t.
Secondly, many of us had poor experiences with companies funded by venture capitalists or other large investors, and some felt that the company would side with the investors over teachers. This could create a difficult, sometimes toxic, situation, which is opposite to MCC’s vision. None of us are comfortable working in that type of environment again.
Thirdly, cooperatives are intended to work with people in the community and with other cooperatives. It’s important to us that our investors are real people and organizations that support MCC’s mission. We want to have investors that care about the organization, are willing to participate in the process, and are proud to support us. We don’t want to simply be another investment for a firm that has hundreds of accounts.
Therefore, offering a community share for investment is truer to the creation and sustainability of MyCoolClass. I’m proud of MCC for choosing this route and asking for support from individuals and partners. That is a sincere example of optimism.
However, if you’re concerned investing is too much of a risk, let me assure you that I, one of most risk-averse people I know, do not share that opinion. MyCoolClass will succeed. I don’t believe that simply due to optimism; I believe it as a person who has raised money for nonprofits, run my own business, and worked for a handful of for-profit companies. If I believed MCC would fail, I would not have tied my career to it.
Leaving my other platform for MyCoolClass is a greater risk than the community shares offer. I’m sure other teachers can testify the same.
We’re optimistic about the future, and I hope that you are, too.
In elementary school, we learn to be generous and empathetic and how to maintain integrity, wonder, and optimism. All of those lessons ultimately affect philanthropy.
Joining the community share offer is a wonderful act of generosity.
Wanting to create a brighter future for students participating in online education requires empathy.
Choosing to support a young cooperative shows integrity.
Envisioning a future in which education is available globally to anyone who wants to learn takes wonder and optimism.
I hope you choose to give and be a part of the wonderful journey that is to come.
Your teacher would be proud while taking kindergarten lessons.