Indianapolis Investing in Innovation Fellow Elyse McNett Goonan (St. Louis '04) shares how her Instagram-based social enterprise Lefty McGoo connects students and teachers globally to philanthropy and social change.
February 28, 2020
If you'd told me a year ago that I'd ever care how many people follow me on Instagram, I would have laughed and told you that I didn't even have an Instagram account.
Yet here I am today, throwing emojis while walking to and from work, DMing while heating up my lunch and thinking deeply about hashtags while brushing my teeth. All of a sudden, I'm Instagramming up a storm... because there's a social impact involved.
Late last spring, I launched Lefty McGoo, an Instagram-based social enterprise that remixes the familiar "matching funds" giving model to make philanthropy more accessible to young people. The original idea for Lefty McGoo grew out of an attempt to solve a much different problem: I was working for a social impact venture fund at the time and my role required a lot of travel, so whenever I got stuck on a flight or bus without WiFi, I'd bust out my notebook and try to think of ways nonprofits could leverage Patreon to create new revenue streams.
When I finally tinkered my way to the idea for Lefty McGoo, I knew I had something worth exploring, but I wasn't okay with asking teachers to pay for it, so I took Patreon out of the equation, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and downloaded Instagram because I'd recently heard someone reference "#teachergram culture" (albeit pejoratively...), and I figured, "That must be where the teachers are."
Lefty McGoo publishes fun, flexible creativity prompts on Instagram on a daily basis. Each post has a built-in participation goal that's tied to a pledged donation, i.e. if followers submit X number of responses to this prompt, Lefty McGoo will donate Y dollars to Z charity. So, instead of matching funds with funds, Lefty McGoo matches students’ creative contributions with cash for a featured beneficiary. In Lefty-speak, that's called "unlocking a donation" and students in five different countries are already pretty fired up about it.
This model gives students the power to move Lefty McGoo’s money towards causes that matter to them and people they'll probably never meet -- and that last part is especially important to me because there is such a fundamental difference in making a sacrifice for your mom or your best friend versus giving up your time and energy for a stranger's benefit. I love that Lefty McGoo helps students reach across that "us-them" boundary to impact people outside their immediate circles and I'm really excited that students are getting to try philanthropy on for size while they're still figuring out who they are and how they relate to the rest of the world.
When Lefty McGoo first launched, I pictured students rallying around the idea of funding DonorsChoose.org projects for classrooms just down the hall from them or classrooms on the other side of the country. Then, the Australian bushfires hit and I tried to imagine how I would've talked about that with my class if I were still teaching elementary school. An Australian teacher I’d met at a Teach Your Heart Out conference posted a list of bushfire relief charities that she trusted and, without thinking twice, I commented that all of Lefty McGoo’s donations for the upcoming week would be pointed to the organizations she’d identified.
Shortly afterwards, a fourth grade teacher with a big heart and an Instagram following to match saw that post and jumped at the opportunity for his students to do meaningful work and help Australia at the same time. He posted about the experience in his Instagram stories and, as his followers found their way to Lefty McGoo, that single week of prompts we'd earmarked for Australia quickly turned into a full month of support for the bushfire relief and recovery efforts.
That’s when the tears started falling. It was really happening. Twelve years after leaving the classroom and following my husband’s career all over the world, I’d finally found a way to knit together my heart for students from all backgrounds and the wild array of work experiences I’d accumulated while perpetually starting over in new locations and different industries. More importantly, I'd found a way to empower students who are typically on the receiving end of donations and help them fall in love with the feeling of taking action that makes a difference in someone else's life.
“I love that Lefty McGoo helps students reach across that "us-them" boundary to impact people outside their immediate circles.”
Now, while that might be a really important personal milestone, Lefty McGoo is still a long way from being a success story from a business perspective. That’s why I’m so thankful to have been accepted into TFA Indy's Investing in Innovation Fellowship (IN3F), which provides not only a generous grant and resources for social entrepreneurship but, most importantly, a cohort of supportive, like-minded peers. My full time job as a software implementation manager gives me the chance to rub elbows with a lot of awfully smart cookies who are all rooting for me to knock this venture out of the park, but none of those folks are going to push me to give myself a deadline for figuring out Lefty McGoo's FERPA concerns, for example, the way that I know my IN3F fellows will. Getting to connect with a room full of thoughtful educators who won't hesitate to ask me tough questions and share candid feedback that helps me knock the rough edges off of my project? And they're all aspiring entrepreneurs tackling other social issues? I honestly can't think of a better, more intentional next step for Lefty McGoo to take at this stage.
Elyse McNett Goonan (St. Louis ’04) is a TFA Indy 2020 Investing in Innovation Fellow. She is a Software Project Consultant for Envisage Technologies and also a freelance small business consultant. Learn more about @leftymcgoo on Instagram and join the Lefty McGoo email blast, Next Week Peek, which is a sneak preview of upcoming prompts designed to make it easier for teachers to incorporate them into their lesson plans. You can also contact her at email@example.com.