Unite for Literacy Looks to Bring Books into Homes

unite for literacy supported by the clinton global initiative of the americas

P2Binvestor is a sponsor of the Ft. Collins-based literacy organization supported by the Clinton Global Initiative of the Americas and seeks to ensure all children have access to an abundance of books that celebrate their languages and cultures and cultivate a life-long love of reading.

A quick inventory of a home’s bookshelf can reveal a lot about the future of the children in that home.

One hundred books is considered the magical number that predicts whether the children will graduate from high school or not. This knowledge from a study by M.D.R. Evans, along with a passion to make a difference, is fueling the mission of one Fort Collins-based social enterprise, Unite for Literacy.

Their online library at UniteforLiteracy.com hosts more than 140 digital picture-books that are translated in 29 languages, at least one of which is spoken by 98 percent of the population in Colorado, according to Unite for Literacy’s Director of Sales and Marketing James Shelton.

“We focus on picture books that are culturally and linguistically relevant to increase the population of life-long learners,” Shelton said. “The more life-long learners we have in the world, the better world we’ll have.”

With a mission to bring resources to what he terms a “book desert,” Shelton cites the company’s own research and a study by Asymco that revealed while seven out of 10 homes have internet access, an estimated seven out of 10 homes also have fewer than 100 books.

The business is for-profit, a fact Shelton says is due to a for-profit’s ability to leverage more influence through their sponsor’s marketing department.

“We also find that behavioral shifts are more likely to happen when driven by for-profits, which is why we primarily engage the business community for our sponsorships,” he said. “If you look at history, major behavioral shifts are usually driven by businesses.”

Unite for Literacy just hit the 1-million-mark, that is, 1 million books have been enjoyed on their site. All of the books are nonfiction and designed to encourage the love of reading through family engagement.

“We want children to choose to read rather than having to read to score well on a test,” Shelton said. The company’s motto is simple, yet poignant: Read, Talk, Relax: Read (everyday), Talk (about what you read) Relax (and have fun). The goal is also to encourage parents to extend the engagement with their children “after the book is closed.”

Helping businesses increase their social impact

Unite for Literacy’s principles are solid and their business model is innovative. They are funded by other businesses who want to establish themselves as being socially conscious by creating or enhancing their own cause-marketing program.

unite for literacy supported by the clinton global initiative of the americasP2Binvestor is one company that sponsors Unite for Literacy. Unite for Literacy provides P2Bi digital recognition that credits them for their sponsorship, acknowledgement in book covers, and videos and other material they can post on their own website.

A 2013 Social Impact Study by Cone Communications shows the growing importance of cause marketing in today’s business world. Ninety-three percent of consumers polled reported they have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause. Ninety percent say they would be more loyal to companies that back a cause, and 89 percent say they are likely to switch companies to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality. Eighty-two percent say they are influenced to recommend products and services to others based on whether or not a company supports an issue.

The research shows that not only are consumers influenced by cause marketing, but so are employees. The Cone study showed that 93 percent of employees polled reported being happier because they are active in company causes. Ninety-two percent of employees who are active in company causes said they feel a strong sense of loyalty to their company, and 69 percent saidthey consider a company’s social commitments when deciding where to work.

Expanding the reach

Unite for Literacy also publishes printed books, but it is not their primary focus. “We want our partners to use us as a resource for their cause marketing,” Shelton said. “They should view it as marketing and advertising dollars, not philanthropic dollars.”

Still, if a company would like to contribute philanthropically, Shelton steers them to print books, which cost $1 each. Recently, a consortium of local businesses worked with Unite for Literacy to provide one book to every Kindergartener and Pre-K student in the Poudre School District – about 2,500 in all.

The online books can be sponsored down to the county level. A local business could sponsor just in Larimer County, or include Larimer, Weld and Boulder counties. Or they could sponsor all of Colorado, or the region of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. A national or international company could sponsor the entire country or even globally.

“It is an elastic sponsorship where businesses can mix and match the locations all they want,” Shelton said.

With their burgeoning success over the past two years, Unite for Literacy is taking a new approach to building partners. The goal is to find larger companies that are interested in helping smaller companies grow. For example, a large bank that is interested in assisting their small-business accounts could purchase or supplement a sponsorship on behalf of their clients to help them establish a cause-marketing campaign.

Shelton noted that a public radio station could be interested in providing this sponsorship model for its donors. “This gives them a value-added option they can offer, rather than just asking for someone to purchase more airtime,” he said.

The ads support Unite for Literacy and are sponsored by the public radio donor. Shelton said the goal is to then take that replicable, scalable model to other radio stations across the nation.

Last year, Unite for Literacy was invited to join the Clinton Global Initiative. They committed to growing their sponsorship to 600, adding 50 new titles to their library, expanding the translations to another 10 languages and reaching 50,000 homes over the next year. They now have 15 partners who have joined them in their commitment.

Developing new books and adding new languages is coming easy for them, but Shelton said they are nowhere near the 600 sponsors they hope to gain. “With four months left to achieve our commitment, I still remain optimistic in reaching the goal, but we have a ways to go,” he said.

Shelton emphasized that sponsors are partners. They work together to create a more literate society and to bring awareness to the impact cause-marketing can have on their businesses and their communities.

“We really try to leverage our partnerships’ businesses as much as we can from a marketing standpoint, from a sales standpoint and from a social-good standpoint,” he said. “The core of being a social enterprise is to make money while doing something good for the world.

“For so many of us, it’s not enough just to bring home a paycheck anymore. We want to make a difference in the world.”

And they are one book at a time.

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