Fundraising with Growth Mindset
July 15th, 2017

The Goal

My goal with this proposal is to generate awareness for growth mindset principles and raise recurring funds for Khan Academy. Although one of these goals would be more than enough to solve on its own, I thought this could be a fun experiment. I can’t remember exactly what sparked this idea, but I can say what excites me about it.

Community Awareness

A growth mindset is powerful. I want to draw more attention to this life-changing concept. I’d love to not only present this information to people, but also have them involved in the implementation of it. Involving the broader community could raise awareness for the efficacy of a growth mindset in all areas of life, not just schooling.

Public Joy

I’d love to help brighten someone’s day by connecting them with a learner who would benefit from growth mindset statements. I sure think it would be cool. Moreover, I think people would be willing to donate to be a part of such an ecosystem.

Learner Achievement

In reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Khan Academy’s work with growth mindset statements (PERTS study), I was taken aback by the efficacy of such simple efforts. The potential improvement in students’ outcomes as resulting from implementing growth mindset principles is a strong motivator for my proposal.

Recurring Funds for Khan Academy

Generating funds is hard, as a company and even more so as a nonprofit organization. Khan Academy definitely has some impressive backers, but this could be an interesting thought exercise for nonprofits in general!


After laying out the groundwork for this idea, I want to start with some user stories to derive some underlying objectives, and then brainstorm multiple manifestations of those objectives. Even functionality that is not exposed to contributors or learners, i.e. all back-end operational tools, will require effort to build and I’d like to make sure the motives behind that effort are documented. Especially because in a production setting, I’d want to present related stakeholders with multiple options that we could pare down as a team. With more knowledge of Khan Academy’s resource availability and engineering infrastructure these stories can be accurately scoped and estimated to ship a product.


Below are two directions in which I hypothesize this initiative could go, but later I present what I think could be an MVP of this idea.

  1. Enable contributors to sponsor growth mindset statements shown to learners on Khan Academy’s platform
  2. Enable contributors to sponsor the growth of specific learners. I’ll refer to this as the “Sponsor a Learner” model


Learning Designer

I debated whether the following user stories should belong to learners or learning designers. I think this highlights a very interesting aspect of education. A user story is a forcing function for product creators to orient their efforts around solving a user’s problem. In the case of designing curriculum, the consumer (learner) usually doesn’t know what problem they’re solving for. Rather, the learning designer attempts to predict a problem in a learner’s journey that requires solving. As such, I’ll use “learning designer” for any user stories that involve the learner experience.


A contributor is someone that donates to sponsor a learner’s journey.

Product Team

To reduce complexity, I aggregate the product manager, engineers, designers, and other operational team members under ‘product team’.

As a Learning Designer, I want to…

  • Preface learners’ exercises with growth mindset statements so learners know that with practice, anyone can learn anything.
    • An example growth mindset statement from the aforementioned PERTS study is “The harder you try the better you get.” These statements could be created by contributors, or the statements could be created by learning designers and could be “brought to you by” the contributor.
    • In the “Sponsor a Learner” model, the statement would be “brought to you by” the learner’s specific sponsor. Because learning designers would be more knowledgeable about what would constitute an effective growth mindset statement, it would probably be best for learning designers to craft these statements.
    • The simplest way to have learning designers interact with this would be to create a single page where they can see a list of active and inactive growth mindset statements in circulation. On that page, learning designers could add new statements, or activate/deactivate existing ones. So engineering complexity remains minimal, that would be it.
  • Show learners that there are people all over the world invested in their learning, so learners are inspired to learn.
    • This could be achieved through emails or in-app notifications that state how many people have contributed to see specific learners succeed. In the “Sponsor a Learner” model, this could be made more powerful by showing the learner that they have specific sponsors that are invested in seeing them grow. Without knowledge of Khan Academy’s notification infrastructure and complexity, I’m inclined to say that using email for such notifications would be a reasonable MVP.
  • Evaluate the efficacy of growth mindset statements, so I can see if learners are growing as a result of certain growth mindset statements.
    • This is more of a data analysis story than a product story. To gather data around statement efficacy, there would probably need to be some measure of how a student was performing before and after seeing a certain statement. If able to be collected, those results could then be aggregated for each statement and conclusions could be drawn. In a world where contributors generate statements, this kind of analysis could be done on a contributor level as well as a statement level. However, if contributors were generating statements, they would probably need to be moderated. There are a few ways to do this (flagging/sentiment analysis/approval), but they’re all either human or technology intensive.
    • I hypothesize that any engineering effort related to fulfilling this story seems to have a low ROI.
  • Place growth mindset statements thoughtfully as to not overburden learners or dilute the messaging.
    • One way this could be addressed in a data-driven manner would be to test different statement spacing (i.e. show a statement every z exercises), and allow learners to submit feedback on how they felt about the spacing, but this sounds intensive and not worth the effort. It’d be much easier to just agree on an semi-arbitrary spacing methodology (daily) and agree to revisit said spacing methodology in the future.

As a Product Team, we want to…

  • Offer contributors a unit of value per dollar they spend, so we can encourage recurring donations.
    • This story calls into play the overall “revenue model” of the campaign. The easiest model to implement would be for contributors to contribute any amount to sponsor an unknown number of growth mindset statements shown to learners. The next hardest model to implement would be to have contributors choose a tier, which would entail contributing a certain amount per month to sponsor a certain number of impressions or learners (could be multiple impressions per learner).
    • Finally, contributors could sponsor particular learners (“Sponsor a Learner” model). This would open an entirely different conversation of how a contributor is “sponsoring” a learner if the funds are going to Khan Academy, another conversation of “which learners are eligible for sponsoring,” and at least one more conversation regarding “what happens when a contributor or a learner drops off”. I hypothesize that this model could be very desirable to contributors, but it would introduce an unjustifiable amount of messaging and engineering complexity.
    • This also brings up the total number of impressions Khan Academy would generate and the “value” per impression. Using the 2014 number of 10 million unique visitors per month, assuming 1% are shown a statement per month, that means there are approximately 100,000 impressions to be spread amongst this “economy”. If there were 5,000 people to donate to the campaign, the average contributor would have 20 impressions each. As such, I would probably place the tiers at 5, 20 and 50 impressions. Assuming the average contributor donated $5 to sponsor 20 impressions, this initiative would generate $25,000/month.
  • Monitor landing page analytics so we can determine if our landing page flow helps educate and convert a visitor into a contributor.
    • This is standard practice, but the engineering effort that could be required to set up different analytics systems should be weighed against the availability of people or content to actually do any A/B testing.
  • Re-engage inactive contributors, so we can bolster recurring donations
    • Contributors could receive email/text/notification updates on the efficacy and reach of their contributions to keep them engaged. Contributors that have reduced or stopped their contribution could be reengaged by updating them on the efficacy of the campaign as a whole. This could be accomplished with whatever email marketing system Khan Academy probably already has in place. These strategies could be used to ask contributors to increase their contributions as well, but that could quickly turn into a slippery slope.
  • Evaluate the efficacy of growth mindset statements on learner performance, so we can determine the efficacy of the program as a whole.
    • These data points could be used to send emails to retain existing contributors, especially if the statements are generated by a specific contributor. Additionally, the stats could be used to market the campaign as a whole on landing pages, social collateral, and emails. As mentioned earlier, this type of data analysis could be very complex to perform. Some MVPs could be to collect statistics like average student performance before/after the campaign, total growth mindset statement impressions, or maybe even just a survey of the learners so they can self-report their engagement!

As a Contributor, I want to…

  • Understand the importance and substantiation behind growth mindset concepts, so I can determine if contributing is worthwhile.
    • This could all be addressed with ample content on landing pages related to this initiative. I go into more detail on this in the Go-To-Market Section, but Khan Academy has already generated a good amount of resources to address this story.
  • Sponsor growth mindset statements so I can take an active role in encouraging learners.
    • I hypothesize that contributors would feel more engaged if they were able to create their own statements; however, as mentioned previously, this would introduce a metric ton of complexity. The next best case would be to have contributors choose amongst a list of statements (generated by learning designers) that would be displayed as “powered by {contributor name}”.
  • Know the effects of my growth mindset statements on learners, so I can see the impact of my contribution.
    • I hypothesize that if contributors were not individually sponsoring specific learners, the contributors would like to see the overall reach of their contributions. In the ideal world, contributors could see Khan Academy Stories for learners they’ve sponsored. The next best case would be for contributors to see a list of the learners they’ve impacted. The next best case would be for contributors to see aggregated metrics on learners they’ve impacted. Optimally, we could draw some kind of correlation/causation between contributors’ statements and learners’ improvement.
    • All of these manifestations could occur after a contributor logs in to a “contributor panel”. Alternatively, a less complex solution would be to deliver this information solely via email. This would entail setting the expectation upfront with the contributor to check their email, but would be much easier than creating a “contributor panel, ”as the engineering cost of a “contributor panel” is hard to justify.
  • Monitor and control the amount I’m contributing, so my contribution is within my budget.
    • I’m not sure how Khan Academy currently does this, but it could be achieved by creating the aforementioned “contributor panel” with the sole functionality of managing spend as a contributor. On this panel, contributors would be able to update payment information and edit/discontinue their contribution. Some donation gateways may actually have this functionality to begin with.


Here’s what I’d propose could be one MVP:

  • Growth Mindset Statements are “powered by” contributors
    • No “Sponsor a Learner” model because the messaging and technical implications are too expensive
    • Contribution amount determines number of growth mindset statement impressions
    • Learners can “Say thanks” to contributors when presented with a statement
      • Send contributors an email for every “thanks” and also potentially a digest monthly/quarterly/etc
    • Learning designers would have a very basic dashboard to add, update and remove statements
    • If in-app notifications are prohibitively complex, then email could be used to tell learners that there are contributors directly invested in their growth
  • Product team would agree on a spacing algorithm for displaying statements
    • Maybe just do it once per day, at most. A statement per exercise would be too much and doing it every day would hopefully give the learner a consistent reminder to have a growth mindset.
  • To test statement efficacy, the product & learning design teams could just manually run queries to see if learners are performing better with the introduction of a campaign
  • Contributors can receive general email updates on the status of the campaign
    • Khan Academy Stories (not specific to the campaign, but to the platform as a whole)
    • “We displayed xx growth mindset statements!”
    • “We’ve raised xx and counting!”
    • “We impacted xx learners!”
    • If the aforementioned manual queries come back promising, then those stats could be used too
  • Give contributors swag like on this Khan Academy Indiegogo campaign
    • Stickers
    • Sprout Pencils
    • Notebooks
    • T-shirts
    • KA badges
    • One World Schoolhouse copies
    • Video/Content mentions
    • Tours
    • Partner with google or other companies to offer perks for contributors
    • Admission to an event/gathering
  • Depending on how Khan Academy handles recurring donations right now, there’d probably need to be a minimally-designed contributor panel where contributors could manage their contributions and payment/contact information.


Here I outline a simple go-to-market strategy to promote such a campaign.

Lead Generation

  • Dedicated landing page(s)
    • Create a single page or single section on the Khan Academy site to contain all information needed to convert visitors into contributors.
  • Provide collateral for sharing
    • Khan Academy’s You Can Learn Anything campaign does a seriously good job at providing images and videos for promoters to share
    • Optimally, the collateral will both educate people on the power of a growth mindset and contain a CTA to sponsor growth mindset statements on Khan Academy
    • Add social sharing functionality that makes it frictionless for visitors to share the campaign
  • Start press outreach early
    • Create a CRM (probably in Google Sheets) to track engagements with journalists and influencers
    • Build relationships by commenting on/sharing/republishing journalists and influencers properties
    • Create press kit that a journalist or influencer could use to easily promote the campaign
    • When any press is received, list it on the aforementioned landing page(s)
  • Social

Lead Conversion

When a visitor lands on the aforementioned landing page or landing section, there needs to be some content to convert them into contributors. I’d probably structure this content in a manner similar to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, shown below:


Anyone can learn anything


By emphasizing the process of learning and fostering a growth mindset, anyone can be encouraged to be a lifelong learner.


Sponsor Growth Mindset statements for learners to view before completing an exercise

  • Clear and explicit walkthroughs, so contributors know exactly what they’re signing up for
  • Demonstrate how the product will help learners


  • Discussed in MVP portion of the Product section
    • Contributors can receive general email updates on the status of the campaign
    • Give contributors swag like on this Khan Academy Indiegogo campaign

Closing Thoughts

This proposal would be expensive. This would require some significant engineering and go-to-market effort on marketing and communications fronts. Usually, the goal of fundraising (or sales in a for-profit business) is to keep costs as low as possible while trying to raise funds. This proposal seems like it could go counter to that idea. So, my final recommendation would be: if the infrastructure for this proposal was not already mostly done (as a result of the PERTS study or just Khan Academy’s existing architecture), this proposal would need to be scoped down further or scrapped altogether.

Even if this ends in a “no”, I want it to be a categorical “no”. My goal would be that I could present this to stakeholders to show them why I’ve said no. In the best case, someone could disagree with my justifications for rejecting this proposal and come up with a way to make it viable. An example of that could be to use this idea as the springboard to simply encourage recurring donations, without building the infrastructure to sponsor growth mindset statements and/or learners. Actually, that’s probably a pretty good idea. Nonetheless, this was a great exercise for me and I learned a great deal. I’m already applying the things I learned in creating this!