How to Start an Adult Literacy Program

~ Community-Based Literacy Program

discussion 3

Getting Started

Starting an adult literacy program requires meticulous planning, training, and development. Your first step should be to contact a local nonprofit literacy organization near your community, observe it, and talk to the staff and directors. Your second step should be to assess the need within the community. It is hard to find funding for programs that seem to duplicate services already provided by another organization. Therefore, it will be important for you and your team to write a statement of need for your program. (Lack of transportation and childcare for your clients  might be two reasons for starting a neighborhood literacy program.)

  • Finding adult literacy programs in your community: Directory of Providers
  • Assessing the need: Scroll down to the section entitled “Why Start an Adult Literacy Program”? Make sure to obtain current Census figures about the number of adults in your region with less than a high school diploma and less than a 9th grade education. Add poverty figures and workforce figures, as well as the need for a more literate population in your area. Determine where the greatest need for adult literacy, ESOL, and workforce education lies in your region, and where other literacy programs already operate. You will need to state your case for literacy services to determine whether you should start an independent program or if you should collaborate with an existing nonprofit organization.
  • Planning a literacy program: These planning steps will help you to focus on your program and its mission during the planning stages.
  • Overview of Nonprofit Program Planning: These steps from Carter McNamara, PhD will help your program keep on track.
  • Discussion on the Chronicles of Philanthropy website: Starting a Nonprofit Group: What You Need to Know.
  • Starting a Nonprofit: Advice from the University of Richmond School of Law

Seven Important Steps

1. Do your research first!

Is there a need for your organization? Or could you team up with another, existing nonprofit? Another nonprofit can even serve as your fiscal sponsor instead of or until you can become registered.

  • VAACE 2011 Fact Sheet
  • Community Profiles: Demographic information for every region in Virginia
  • State and County Estimates of Low Literacy
  • Facts and Statistics for Virginia: The sidebar offers “important links”. Click on that link and find information specific to Virginia. Topics sit on the left columns, and statistical websites for Virginia sit on the right column. The Weldon Cooper Center is highly recommended.
  • The Adult Literacy Crisis: 2008: A PDF document that outlines why adult literacy is in crisis.
  • Collaboration: Every nonprofit should be doing it: All private and public funders encourage nonprofit literacy organizations to collaborate with other literacy providers in the region, whether they are other faith-based and nonprofit organizations, community colleges, adult basic education programs, or social service agencies. These collaborations should represent more than mere referral agencies. Integrated partnerships means that a funder’s dollars are spent wisely.

2. Create a business plan.

The IRS requires a business plan when you apply for nonprofit status, but it is good to develop one before that. This site from the Small Business Administration will help you to get started. Many nonprofit start-up organizations make the mistake of thinking that a nonprofit is managed differently from a small business. In today’s competitive economic environment, this is no longer the case. Business plans, strategic plans, marketing plans, and branding are among the many strategies that funders and communities look for in a viable nonprofit organization.

3. Make sure your proposed nonprofit will actually qualify as a nonprofit.

4. Be sure to take care of all the legal requirements for starting your nonprofit.

5. Understand how to keep good records.

6. Develop a preliminary fundraising plan.

7. Think about how you will build an effective board. The Board Source is an essential resource for building nonprofit boards from the ground up. Many adult literacy organizations make the mistake of asking teachers and librarians to sit on the Board. While these individuals are qualified to help with program design and program management, they often feel uncomfortable helping with fundraising, which is essential in the first few years.

TIP: Click on the headers in the next section to read the original article.

More Tips for the First Six Months

Josh Sommer, executive director and co-founder, of the Chordoma Foundation suggested these actions during the first year of your organization’s existence. Click on the title above.

      1. Build relationships.
      2. Refine the mission.
      3. Hire/recruit administrative assistance.
      4. Create a good-looking website.
      5. Find an accountant.
      6. Implement a CRM (customer service management) and donor database.
      7. Ask for money.
      8. Hire/recruit more people.

Starting a Fundraising Program Without Any Funds

This pdf document addresses a situation common to most nonprofit start up programs – how to find money for a program that has no proven track record. Click on the title.

The Forgotten Step: Strategies For New Nonprofits to Get Their First Money on the Books

A new nonprofit needs to show they have some money, and they have been putting it to good use. For many this may seem like an impossible task, but it’s not. This is basic fundraising. Here are five easy suggestions from the article. Click on the title.

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