The Top Literacy Charities for 2020

  • 13 December, 2019

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to compassion, and when Shanahan on Literacy encourages generosity towards literacy-oriented charities. Each year I identify all of Charity Navigator's 4-starred national charities that support book distribution and other literacy initiatives. I have no connection to any of these organizations, and please remember your local literacy charities, too. 

We’ll soon be back to providing the best research-based literacy information possible, but for now, let’s remember all the ways that we can contribute to promoting literacy. Be generous and have a wondrous and literate holiday.

Links to these 6 worthy charities are on my website year round:

Books for Africa.  Founded in 1988, Books for Africa (BFA) collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books to children in Africa. Our goal is to end the book famine in Africa. Books donated by publishers, schools, libraries, individuals, and organizations are sorted and packed by volunteers who carefully choose books that are age and subject appropriate. We send good books, enough books for a whole class to use. Since 1988, Books For Africa has shipped more than 41 million books to every African country. They are on once-empty library shelves, in classrooms in rural schools, and in the hands of children who have never before held a book. Each book will be read over and over again. When the books arrive, they go to those who need them most: children who are hungry to read, hungry to learn, hungry to explore the world in ways that only books make possible.

Children's Literacy Initiative.  Children's Literacy Initiative works with educators to transform instruction so that children can become powerful readers, writers and thinkers. CLI envisions a nation where every child has the power of literacy and the opportunity for a lifetime of success. CLI works with teachers to transform literacy instruction in public, charter, and parochial schools to ensure that students can read on grade level. Building a teacher’s instructional expertise impacts student learning over the course of a teacher’s career. CLI’s accomplishes this through a program centered around coaching, workshops, and books. - CLI provides job-embedded, content-focused coaching, both one-on-one and in small groups in the classroom. Coaches provide demonstrations and feedback that help teachers incorporate effective literacy practices into their daily work with students. - CLI delivers workshops and seminars to build teachers’ knowledge of literacy content and pedagogy. CLI’s strategic goal is to increase its project scope by 55% to reach 110,000 students by the 2020-2021 school year. 

Ferst ReadersFerst Readers' mission is to strengthen communities by providing quality books and literacy resources for children and their families to use at home during the earliest stages of development. Ferst Readers addresses the growing concern of children from low-income communities entering kindergarten without basic literacy skills and school readiness, a preventable problem with far-reaching impacts. The recipe for early school success is simple: start school with strong language and literacy skills. Ferst Readers' recipe for encouraging literacy development is even simpler: ensure that children have age-appropriate books in their home and provide parents with literacy resources that reinforce the importance of early learning and encourage them to read frequently with their children. By mailing a new book every month to enrolled children, birth to five, Ferst Readers is committed to providing early learning opportunities with the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

Reach Out and ReadFounded in 1989, Reach Out and Read gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. Our objective is to improve emergent literacy and social-emotional health during the span of rapid brain development between birth and age five, particularly in economically disadvantaged families who are at risk for adverse outcomes. We partner with pediatric medical providers who incorporate our evidence-based model into standard well-child visits, educating parents on the importance of daily shared reading and giving developmentally-appropriate new books to children. Families served by Reach Out and Read read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills, better prepared to achieve their potential. Over 32,000 medical providers at 6,000 clinical locations participate in Reach Out and Read, serving 4.8 million children and families annually.

Reading PartnersFounded in 1999, the mission of Reading Partners is to help children become lifelong readers by empowering communities to provide individualized instruction with measurable results. Reading Partners is dedicated to transforming struggling young readers into confident readers who are excited about learning. We do this by focusing on children from low-income communities; giving one-on-one instruction at the student's reading level; recruiting and training community volunteers to work with children; partnering with high-need elementary schools to offer free services on the school campus; and providing a way for volunteers to give a small amount of their time to make a huge difference in a child's life.

Room to ReadRoom to Read believes that World Change Starts with Educated Children. We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world. Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Sam Bommarito Dec 13, 2019 11:14 PM

Thanks for this reminder. Molly Ness's book desert campaign is helping a lot of kids as well.

Susan Dec 14, 2019 12:35 PM

I really appreciated seeing this post and learning about these organizations. A big thank you for your time and recommendations. Your literacy compassion and knowledge level is inspiring. Thank you.

Maya Smart Dec 14, 2019 04:26 PM

Thanks so much for this list! I actively support and volunteer with numerous local literacy organizations but it's wonderful to discover national leaders in this work. There's so much we can learn from them to bolster book access and reading instruction everywhere.

Nancy Frey Dec 14, 2019 06:50 PM

Thank you for the great reminder! This was the spark I needed to remember how highly I think of the Children's Literacy Initiative, as well as the other charities mentioned. I sent my donation this morning, and I hope your message will result in lots of donations for these worthy causes.

Brenda Leger Dec 16, 2019 07:07 PM

I didnt know you did this list! What a great resource. Thank you!

Tim Shanahan Dec 19, 2019 03:51 AM

Thanks Nancy, that’s wonderful.

Joel Zarrow Jan 27, 2020 02:15 PM

Thanks for bringing attention to such important work! We are honored to be included with such fantastic colleagues. Joel

Leku Achilbert Jul 18, 2020 05:05 AM

I love your program. I am from Cameroon, south west, I share a similar burden but don't know how to go about it

AR Dec 11, 2020 04:05 PM

Why didn't RIF (Reading is Fundamental) make the list?

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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The Top Literacy Charities for 2020


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.