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Benjamin Banneker Association: A Case Study on Strengthening Through Strategic Shifts

Background

The Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) was founded in 1986 by seven members of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) who saw a need to provide excellent math education to Black children. “We’re for people who have a passion for the math education of Black students,” said Beatrice Moore-Luchin, BBA’s executive director. They support this mission by providing workshops, speaker series, classroom resources, professional development opportunities, and other resources to help teachers provide strong math education to Black children. Today, the network is made up of about 165 members including classroom teachers, coaches, college-level educators, corporate members, and vendors. The organization is run by a volunteer board made up of leading experts on math and equity and still functions as an equity affiliate of NCTM but with independence from that organization. 


BBA focused on a few areas of work for the community of practice: strengthening their infrastructure, diversifying their membership and board, and creating more direct connections with students and parents. 


Strengthening Infrastructure

BBA identified needs in two foundational parts of its work that would impact everything else: membership management and organizational strategy. Previously, membership was managed by a single person using a low-cost but time-consuming, flawed system: an Excel spreadsheet. The board researched and selected a membership management platform that lowered human error, integrated with their website, and automated membership processes for identifying, managing, and contacting members. In parallel, the organization went through a strategic planning process. The board knew important work was happening across a variety of committees, but they didn’t have a clear picture of all that was happening. Through the process, they clarified all the work BBA was doing and created a strategy to prioritize efforts that would have the greatest impact. These changes strengthen BBA’s ability to provide relevant, helpful resources to members, helping them become stronger educators. They also drafted the organization’s first mission statement. “One of the things I realized is there are a lot of educators who are committed to improving outcomes for Black children, but we didn’t really know how to engage them,” said Pamela Seda, BBA’s board treasurer. “After the August community of practice convening, we realized half the battle is communicating to people who we are and what we are about. One of the ways of communicating that was clarifying our mission and vision.”


Rethinking Membership and Recruitment

Since its founding, most of BBA’s members and board have been Black. But the organization is working toward excellent math education for Black students, and that means reaching teachers of all races and ethnicities who serve Black students. At the same time, when COVID hit, BBA lost its main source of member recruitment – the annual, in-person National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference. Both of these facts highlighted a need to broaden the organization’s membership and rethink recruitment. 


Messaging & Marketing

BBA knew that prospective members who saw the all-Black board would assume members needed to be Black to join, and non-Black members who did join were often hesitant to participate actively out of a fear of overstepping. “We changed our messaging to say, ‘This organization is open to anyone who shares our goal,’” said Dr. Shelly Jones, board president. The board also began supporting non-Black members to seek leadership positions and model active participation, leading to the first white regional director who now serves on the board. 


Partnerships & Membership Strategy

Through the community of practice, BBA deepened relationships with other math education networks. BBA is now exploring dual membership and other opportunities for collaboration with some community of practice members and other organizations that want to attract more Black members. Dual membership is a strategy the organization has used in the past and seen to be mutually beneficial to both organizations as well as both sets of members, expanding the resources and connections they have access to. BBA is also exploring broadening membership to include parents and community members, as well as school principals and other leaders who aren’t math educators but make decisions that impact math education. It is also working to increase its exposure to prospective members through writing article series with partners and on partners’ platforms. 


Connecting with Students and Parents

BBA believes communities must be part of solutions to the challenges they’re facing, so the organization began exploring ways to connect directly with students and parents. “I really want to make that connection to community and students and hear their voices, because we have mostly focused on educators,” Shelly said. The organization is experimenting with one key approach to hear student voices: student groups. Student groups are a place for students to come together, engage in math that pushes their thinking, and become more confident in it. They’re enrichment opportunities focused on cultivating joy in math and pushing the boundaries of what is considered math. Starting student groups proved more challenging than the organization expected. It requires finding schools or partner organizations to participate; identifying a time students can participate; addressing transportation needs for students; and hiring facilitators to lead the activities. As BBA explores partnerships, it is finding that many after-school programs prioritize tutoring for existing schoolwork, whereas the student circles prioritize introducing students to math content and activities they might not encounter in the classroom. The organization has now crafted criteria for what it means to be a student group, created a recommended list of activities for a 20-week program with students, and is continuing to explore partnerships with organizations and schools. 


Paths Forward: Key Considerations and Advice

BBA offers its own lessons learned for other membership organizations working to broaden their reach to increase their impact. 

  • Make time to see the big picture. “Look at the north star versus the everyday grind,” Beatrice said. The strategic planning process allowed BBA to step away from the day-to-day, build a holistic understanding of its work, make decisions about where to focus its efforts, and shift from a reactive default to a proactive approach. 

  • Build strong partnerships. Partners have broadened BBA’s reach and introduced new possibilities. Its participation in the community of practice even led to formal partnerships: BBA is getting ready to become a Beyond100K partner, which will allow it to support the retention of STEM teachers by providing professional learning opportunities which focus on culturally relevant instruction, as well as providing educational resources to support teaching Black students. 

  • Be strategic in how you think about sustainability. Early on, BBA, like many nonprofits, spent as frugally as possible. While this allowed the organization to operate on a low budget, it also limited their ability to strengthen the infrastructure needed to better manage, engage, and grow membership. Through the community of practice, BBA was able to spend funds on infrastructure, like its membership management system. The community of practice also reignited ideas for how the organization might create more financial sustainability through dual membership options with other organizations. 

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