We need a new three-legged stool to reach our literacy promise

Approaching our birthday at MagLiteracy.org on September 8th – the United Nation’s International Literacy Day – we are taking stock of our accomplishments and way forward. Thanks to generous support from true believers in our literacy mission, we are beginning to scale up to reach our full promise. Along our journey we’ve taken many important lessons to heart about our why, what, and how. We know now that three vital ingredients are necessary for success – our three-legged stool – people, magazines, and funds.

We’ve often talked about an early version of our stool legs – leadership, volunteers, and workspace – necessary for achieving sustainable and reliable literacy service at the grassroots community level. A.k.a. land and expand, we have striven to take a bottom up approach to covering literacy needs, coast to coast, and around the world.

We’ve been an all-volunteer effort graced by generous support from magazine and literacy lovers – consumers, publishers, printers, retail newsstands, and logistics companies who help us move magazines from anywhere to anywhere needed, into the hands, homes, and hearts of at-risk readers. 

Like soil, air, and water, we have planted many seeds to wishfully grow perennial local literacy teams that take hold when these three ingredients exist. Remove any one of them, and, while we can and do achieve valuable literacy results, we are unable to sustain our impact month after month, and year after year. We exist today because we keep showing up, and have operated sustained efforts, but in those locations that are missing any one of these three ingredients, leadership, lots of volunteers, and workspace, we’ve learned that our heavy local literacy lift can fail to gain traction.

That stool worked well enough while a fledgling literacy start-up, experimenting with ideas to find our way forward, but recent successes at scale tell us it’s time to pivot our moonshot to reach for our full promise. To get there, we need a new, stronger stool. 

We know that literacy ends poverty of the mind, heart, and pocket, and that print magazines are uniquely powerful for literacy. With this, MagLiteracy.org is the first and only project of its kind and ambition on the planet – like the food banks and food pantries started by dumpster divers and out of the trunks (or boots) of their founders’ cars, our Magazine Literacy Bank, born of faith and funds invested by Quad, Urban Land Interests, the Atrium Company, and others, aspires to feed tens of millions of eager children, teens, and adults hungry to read.

We know now that the legs of the stool necessary for elevating our mission and literacy impact are – peoplemagazines, and funds, and that we especially need to focus on the third leg, raising funds to exist. 

Moving magazines to readers is hard, heavy work. Unstoppable people drive our literacy march. The passionate magazine and literacy lovers who support our project with their time, talent, and treasure are at the heart of MagLiteracy.org’s mission.

We used to wonder and worry where our magazines would come from. We know that, with an ever growing list of over 7,000 titles for every reading age, enthusiasm, professional aspiration, and language, magazines are the most powerful literacy engines on earth, and that printed reading materials are superior for reading comprehension and retention. Over two billion magazines are printed each year in the US alone. We need to continually refresh our supply of magazines from consumers, publishers, and retail newsstands like Barnes & Noble, who partnered with us for the first time in the 100+ years of modern magazine publishing, to donate 100% of their unsold copies for literacy. Except for children’s magazines, which are always in greatest need and shortest supply, with increasing industry support, we don’t worry as much about finding magazines.

Of course, at our core, we are a literacy idea, grounded in meeting the needs of literacy agents serving at-risk readers to end poverty. We understand too that we are as much a technology idea as we are a literacy idea. With product and platform support from major technology companies, like Automattic’s WordPress, and pro bono AI/machine learning development by a team at JP Morgan/Chase and Cover Rocket, we leverage innovative technology at every turn to operate our literacy marketplace.

Now we know that we are as much a logistics idea as we are a literacy or technology idea. Fundamentally, we move magazines for literacy from where they sit into the hands of eager readers. There are many stakeholders and heavy lifts in steps along the way. The only way to build and maintain a reliable, sustainable supply chain operation is to raise funds to pay for it.

Most children and families in poverty have zero books at home. Together, we can fix that today. MagLiteracy.org is a powerful idea that needs financial investment to reach its full literacy promise. We need financial contributions from every stakeholder – consumers, publishers, paper, printing, and logistics companies, foundations and other benefactors. We need your financial support today to exist and thrive.

Donate now and use our platform at MagLiteracy.org/love to run your own fundraising campaign with friends and colleagues. Contact us to underwrite our literacy moonshot to promote reading, and to deliver literacy that ends poverty and changes lives for good. Thank you!