The best intentions in the world don’t lead to positive social outcomes if they’re not grounded in sound economic principles. That’s why Leonard E. Read founded the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) 70 years ago, spreading knowledge of crucial economic concepts and the ideas of liberty to generation after generation. Today, FEE is focused on redefining what it means to succeed in its educational mission, and in the process it is reaching more people than ever.
“Over the past 18 months, FEE has set a strategy for becoming the liberty movement’s leader in introducing freedom as a life philosophy,” said Executive Director Wayne Olson. “This meant we not only needed to focus on creating stories and messaging that appeals to those unlike ourselves, but also that we needed to become a leader in distributing our ideas worldwide.”
This strategy has led to phenomenal results. Chief Operating Officer Richard Lorenc reports that the organization has hosted more than 1,300 students through its various seminar opportunities, and plans to increase that number to 1,800 in 2016 through 22 planned college seminars and other programs. FEE has reached 3.5 million people through radio and television appearances alone, with President Lawrence W. Reed and Director of Digital Development Jeffrey Tucker in regular demand to speak on television and radio, including Stossel on Fox Business News. FEE’s Faculty Network now has more than 200 affiliated scholars.
“FEE is focused like a laser in communicating the personal value of freedom to young people who are searching for a credible way to view the world,” Lorenc said. “Practically, this means we’re working to clarify and beautify the humane values and ethical principles of a free society … values we believe most Millennials share with us but haven’t yet heard properly.”
More than ever, the place where young people are likely to encounter these principles is online and through social media. In August, FEE released its first online high school course, “The Economics of Entrepreneurship,” which was downloaded more than 1,250 times across 25 countries, representing an audience of more than 15,000. FEE expects its website to host 7 million people experiencing 10 million pieces of content in 2016, up from 4 million visitors in 2015. More than half of the website traffic comes from mobile users, about half of new users are below the age of 35, and people from 200 countries have visited so far in 2016.
“We must always ask ourselves: Are we achieving our goal of making the ideas of freedom familiar and credible to the rising generation?” Tucker said. “And the metric we chose was a relentless focus on audience growth. For FEE.org, this comes down to one word: traffic. We need eyes on our content. This is a serious challenge in today’s world where information pours out in minute-by-minute torrents. The competition for your ideas to capture mindspace is remarkably intense. We have to be as good as or better than any distributor of any product, service, or idea. We have to become experts in technology and distribution — not just experts in creating content. And we must be brave enough to hold ourselves accountable for the results. Is our daily reach growing or shrinking? Are we seeing increased, stagnant, or reduced interest in our product? To answer those questions, we have data and follow it daily, even hourly. To boost interest, we have dozens of tools and we test the effectiveness of each, while switching them out and comparing costs and benefits. Then we have to learn and apply the lessons each day. This is a method we’ve applied across the entire organization, whether in seminars, development, or digital content.”
FEE’s online books, newly available in a variety of accessible formats — such as Kindle, ePub for iOS platforms, and full HTML — have been downloaded 10,306 times. New release platforms for ebooks have also been successful; a revised electronic version of Reed’s popular Great Myths of the Great Depression has garnered nearly 3,000 purchases on Amazon. FEE’s social media presence has grown to 500,000 impressions on Twitter this year alone, and 1.9 million Facebook users per month in the prior year — a social media growth of 90 percent from its previous activity — and jumped further still in 2016 to an average of 3.1 million users per month on Facebook.
FEE’s flagship print publication, The Freeman, which has been published since 1956, has also gone through a complete redesign. It now reaches 11,000 households quarterly, Lorenc reports, including students in 7,000 fraternities and sororities in the United States and thousands of copies given to students at seminars and partner events with Students for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty, and FreedomFest.
“Everywhere I go, worldwide, I hear how people are enjoying reading FEE’s material,” Reed said. “In fact, one of our supporters in Australia recently told me, ‘FEE is recovering its crown as the premier free-market ideas distributor!’”
The dramatic growth of FEE’s educational operations and effective outreach is an impressive accomplishment, but still only the beginning of the organization’s ambitious future plans.
“In December, FEE was awarded a multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to undertake a comprehensive message and distribution testing project to communicate the ideas of liberty to millennials,” Lorenc said. “We’re excited to begin this project in 2017 and to share our insights on how to best communicate liberty to young people with the entire liberty movement.”