5 Ways To Partner With a Huge Corporation Without Losing Your Soul

Sal Khan, of Khan Academy, on making a deal with Bank of America but still keeping the integrity of his project.

5 Ways To Partner With a Huge Corporation Without Losing Your Soul
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The nonprofit Khan Academy recently announced its first corporate partnership, with Bank of America. In exchange for significant financial consideration, BOA is featuring several Khan Academy videos on personal finance topics on a standalone website and showing them onscreen in 5,400 branches around the country, in concert with a series of seminars.


Over sandwiches in Bank of America’s tower at One Bryant Park, Khan explained the decision-making process to Co.Exist. “We were at first a little skeptical–is this going to be a big corporation telling us how to make our videos or what videos to make?” he asked. Here’s how they vetted the deal.

1: Take your time.

“It was a six-month vetting process. We were running various scenarios by them: Do you really want us to explain to your customers how to pay off your debt? Or every detail of a mortgage statement? We wanted to make sure we had complete editorial control.”

2: Get good at saying no.

“The whole point of my making this a nonprofit was so that no one would question what we were into it for. You do sometimes see not-for-profits compromising their values in order to reach other goals. With this partnership, and even when talking to donors, we’re getting better at saying no to things that are distracting us from our mission, and they’re respecting us more for it. What this partnership showed me was that by not compromising our values, it actually put us in a stronger position, because the value of our brand is in the credibility and independence.”

3: Make sure you’re getting more than money.

“For us, the real value in this is the energy and expertise we get from them, and the co-awareness. We have 6 million users a month, but Bank of America has a relationship with one in two households in America. To see our brand in 5,400 branches, that is personally exciting to me. Even just among Bank of America’s 280,000 employees–if they all go home and work on Khan Academy with their kids, that will be significant.”


4: Don’t be afraid to be tough.

“Our two main things were one, keeping the site noncommercial: There are no interstitial ads before the videos, and when they appear on, they’re not branded as Bank of America videos. And two, we didn’t want people to see us as beholden to a third party. We can do anything we want, on any topic, and Bank of America can take the stuff they feel is appropriate. “

5: Don’t be afraid to be naive, either.

“I have a naïve outlook on many things. So far, it seems to have worked out. The world is a better place than most people assume it to be. Some might think, Oh, a big corporation; they want to take us over or own us. But at the end of the day, most places are actually full of good people.”

About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation.