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Reading the need

A new platform enables people to donate funds directly toward the books Madison Reading Project most needs.

Penguin Random House

From the pages of In Business magazine.

With a new online platform, it just became easier to help underserved children in south central Wisconsin learn to read. Madison Reading Project has launched a book donation platform to help provide underserved children with books featuring diverse characters, culturally relevant titles, and bilingual text.

In April, volunteer web developers and content writers gathered at the Horizon Coworking space in Madison to develop the code, design, and information for the website in less than 12 hours. The platform makes it easier for individuals or organizations to donate exactly what Madison Reading Project most needs. Donors can select books to give, so the process is easy and fills the nonprofit’s shelves with books that kids actually want to own.

Despite recent improvements in Wisconsin elementary school children’s reading proficiency scores, there remains a significant gap in the reading proficiencies of Caucasian students and their African-American and Hispanic peers, according to the 2016–2017 Madison Metropolitan School District Annual Report. Although Madison Reading Project maintains an ever-changing collection of at least 5,000 books, it can’t stock nearly enough of its most popular titles to meet the demand.

“We receive many donated books, but often those books are not books that have diverse characters in them or they may not be the current books on kids’ wish lists,” says Rowan Childs, founder of Madison Reading Project. “We want the books to be as exciting as possible so that kids read them. We often have to purchase those books, which is costly for a small nonprofit.”

Some of the most needed books include bilingual books for Hispanic children, graphic novels, and books featuring African-American authors or illustrators and characters. Books meeting those criteria account for close to half of the organization’s 2018 goal to provide 30,000 books to children in south central Wisconsin. In 2017, the organization provided 26,000 books to Dane County youth, surpassing its goal of 25,000 books.

Among the most requested books by age group that Madison Reading Project receives are:

  • Picture books: La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya; Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry; Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan; and Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett
  • Easy reader: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth by Dori Hillestad Butler
  • Chapter books: Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean by Monica Brown; Rock Star #1 (Jada Jones) by Kelly Starling Lyons; and Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly.

“The old-school method of getting books just doesn’t work. People just don’t have these books in their homes,” explains Alnisa Allgood, founder of Collaboration for Good, which organized the code fest for Madison Reading Project. “With this new platform, people can go to the website, select the books they want to donate, and then donate the funds for the books to the Madison Reading Project. On the back end, it generates a shopping list for the Madison Reading Project, which uses the donations to buy the books for the kids.”

Childs believes the donor platform could become a new model for nonprofits to help supporters maximize the impact of their contributions. The model could work for any nonprofit organization that distributes specific items to clients, and it avoids duplicate or unusable items.

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