A first grade teacher in Georgia, Deanna Jump, has become such a celebrity in the teaching community that she’s taking a year off  to speak at education conferences. How did she get so famous? She sold two million dollars worth of lesson plans on the TeachersPayTeachers website.

TeachersPayTeachers (TPT) is like an Etsy marketplace for lesson and unit plans, worksheets, activities and other resources for pre-K to 12th grade teachers as well as homeschool parents. It has 2.6 million registered users, half of which joined in the past year. 40,000 of them are active sellers on the platform and more than 800,000 have been purchasers.

TPT was created in 2006 by Paul Edelman, a former middle school teacher in New York City. His quest was “to become the iTunes for digitally delivered educational content.” The company has earned 15-30 percent commission on $60 million in teacher-to-teacher sales.  Not in the iTunes league, but pretty darn respectable.

Isn’t this why people join associations? So members can find the resources that will help them do their job? I can’t help thinking there must be a national teachers association out there that really missed the ball on this one.

TPT’s secret sauce

Why is TPT working so well? According to Erin Griffith at PandoDaily, “The secret sauce of TeachersPayTeachers’ platform is that it allows teachers to promote themselves within the community.” Deanna Jump, for example, has more than 34,000 followers. Edelman says, “Because she’s a real teacher, her resources are far more engaging and effective than what publishers put out there.” 

The platform provides an opportunity for any teacher to contribute to the community. “Even teachers that only sell a few lesson plans get some gratification from sharing their work.” How many of your members get that membership experience? Maybe those who write articles or speak at educational sessions, but not the busy member with a low-budget, crazy schedule who can’t afford to participate more deeply.

Members are attracted to conferences to get exactly what TPT offers: resources, ideas and proven practices from their peers. Justin Lim, a high school teacher who sells materials on the TPT website, told the California Teacher Association’s magazine, “It has definitely made me a better teacher” because “he has received a lot of feedback from teachers who have purchased or previewed his materials.”

TPT offers gift certificates, so if you need a Christmas gift for a teacher, you may want to check it out.

Ask your members: What do they wish other members would share with or sell to them? What do they have of value to share? What prevents them from sharing?

With the technology out there today, I bet your association could host something like TPT, and generate non-dues revenue too.

Collaboration in a competitive industry

An idea like TPT works for teachers because they aren’t competing with each other. They don’t mind sharing their “company secrets.” If your profession or industry is more competitive, tweak this idea from the National Association of Home Builders — Builder 20 Clubs.

Each 20 Club is comprised of up to 20 builders or remodelers from non-competing markets with similar businesses. They meet a few times a year to share ways to improve operations and become more successful, and, as one builder said, they “communicate daily as an informal board of directors.”

The 20 Club membership fees also help to pay for services from a team of consultants. Sponsorships fund events and other program expenses.

Builder John Hall said:

“My builder 20 group has developed into a bond that transcends the typical business network, these builders have all become family with me over the years, and we constantly learn from each other. We learn about different building practices, trends, products, and most importantly we are all charged with making sure each of our companies become stronger, more effective, and efficient.”

When I worked at NAHB, Builder 20 Clubs were limited to semi-annual meetings, conference calls and emails. Now, technology provides options for online communities and video conferencing. Your online community can be the headquarters for an effort like this.

TPT and NAHB are creating opportunities for members to learn from each other, give to each other and support each other’s success. Start a conversation with your members about what they need and what they can share with their peers.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who knows her mother, a retired teacher, would have loved a resource like TPT.