Fiona Hoey was 50CAN’s VP of campaigns. She lives in New York, New York.

What if I threw a party and no one showed up? Actually, that would never happen since I am hugely popular.

Launching new state CANs starts with throwing a great party. To take you on an analogy ride, every great party has three main ingredients: 1) a stellar host (our rock star executive directors), 2) a guest list filled with the “in crowd” (major players in a state’s education scene), and 3) a theme (new legislative campaign).

At 50CAN, we use launch parties to kick-start our new CANs and give their executive directors the platform they need to rally the people in their state who believe in our mission.

Take Minnesota for example, where we launched MinnCAN in a record-breaking 24 days:

We already had a stellar host: MinnCAN Founding Executive Director Vallay Varro and her team. A former school board member, educator and education policy advisor to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Vallay is an expert on Minnesota education policy and completely dedicated to Minnesota kids. She decided to head up MinnCAN to pursue a vision of her beloved state in which every Minnesota child has access to a great public school.

All Vallay needed was a platform to lay out that vision for the rest of the players on Minnesota’s education scene. So we put together a launch guest list of those players: advocates, lawmakers, strategic partners in other organizations, members of the press and anyone else who could help give MinnCAN the momentum it would need to successfully advocate for the education reforms that will make a difference for Minnesota kids.

Having crossed off host and guest list on our party-planning checklist, we then got to work on the theme. In MinnCAN’s case, the theme was Minnesota School Emergency in Effect, MinnCAN’s first-ever legislative campaign. The campaign title played off of the iconic Snow Emergency in Effect signs that pepper Minnesota roads during the winter, and the names of the three campaign goals—Remove roadblocks for teachers, Building a barometer for teacher effectiveness, and Clearing a path to quality pre-K—also followed the snow emergency theme. We completed the theme with matching party favors: everyone who attended the launch got an ice scraper with printed on it, something that not only comes in handy for anyone driving around Minnesota in January, but also reminds people where to go to join Minnesota’s newest education reform movement.

Our party was a smashing success, if I do say so myself. The launch was covered in over 35 newspaper articles and TV news stories, and Vallay and her team were able to lay the groundwork for the relationships that eventually helped MinnCAN win all three goals of its first-ever legislative campaign.  

With two successful launch parties under our belts, we’re now turning to launch two more. My great big project for the next couple of months will be the launches of NYCAN and MarylandCAN. The objective: help NYCAN Executive Director Christina Grant and MarylandCAN Executive Director Curtis Valentine jumpstart new movements in their states just like we did in Minnesota and Rhode Island. You only get one chance to make a first impression so – to put it mildly – we need to rock these launches.

We know that great schools change everything, but can great launch parties change opinions? Absolutely. And as education reformers, we are in the opinion-changing business.



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