The new year is a great time to reflect on beginnings, and how they can bring about change. As a mission-focused team, we’re always looking down the road to imagine how we’ll get from where we are today (53,000 students in 173 schools, in 21 states), to where we ultimately want to go – providing a truly significant percentage of America’s children who live in poverty a transformational opportunity to fall in love with reading and learning, and achieve their full potential.
It’s a little bit like dating.
Before you can recognize the life partner of your dreams, you’ve got to know what you want in that relationship – and what you bring to the table. What’s most important to you? Looks? Laughs? Intelligence? And what do you bring to the table? Empathy? A love for adventure? Unconditional love?
As we move forward on our strategic expansion goals, we’re realizing that financing this mission requires us to be selective not only in who we partner with to fund our growth, but also in the schools and districts we choose, among the thousands of deserving schools and children who would benefit from Book Trust. Which brings us back to our mission focus, and how we can build on our success and experience to create a sustainable future, so that schools, teachers, and students can count on us as a long-term partner. We spent some time last year in deep conversations about what the ideal partner looks like.
And it turns out, what’s most important to us is a true partnership, where all parties make an investment in both the mission and the relationship: a “skin in the game” approach that supports the common goals of early literacy, the power of student-driven choice, and great literacy instruction in the classroom. Our ideal “mate” is a school, district or community partner that is willing to invest in us, as we invest in students in need. Next school year, we’re expanding an initiative that we successfully piloted in the last couple of years; going forward, Book Trust schools will be required to participate in our mission financing by contributing a small program fee.
Program fees are not new – think of swimming lessons or day camp at your local YMCA – yet it’s a pretty big shift for Book Trust and its community of schools – especially those we’ve been serving for a number of years. They’ve accessed Book Trust at no cost, and in return have generously provided invaluable feedback that has helped us refine and improve the program and attract funding with our strong impact and results. To say nothing of the thousands and thousands of kids they’ve supported, who’ve had the opportunity to fall in love with reading and build home libraries!
But this fee, which represents just a small percentage of the overall cost of delivering the program, is only partially about revenue. Book Trust still owns the responsibility of raising the vast majority of the funds necessary, but by implementing this model, we are creating an opportunity for partnership with the schools that value it most and implement Book Trust’s program with the highest possible fidelity, because it’s their investment too.
As we invite many of our schools to prioritize Book Trust in terms of their budget, we may see some former matches fall away. And that’s okay. Not every school is ready or able to implement Book Trust as a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have.” But by making this shift, we’re taking steps to ensure that for every school that does consider us a must-have, we’ll be here, and be here for the long haul, to help their students become the Readers and Learners they need to become in order to break the cycle of poverty and achieve their full potential. Together, we’ll work toward a match that moves our common goals from mutual interest, to strong connection, to powerful impact.
And that is a match worth making.