Literary Activism

18 Literacy Charities To Donate To This Year

Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

As the year comes to a close, many of us start thinking of ways to give back to our communities, whether as holiday donations or as gifts for others. As holiday cheer suffuses our everyday lives, it’s a good time to remember those who need our help this holiday season.

This year, Congress has also included a provision to the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act that allows individuals who don’t itemize deductions on their taxes to still deduct $300 of qualified charitable contributions as an “above-the-line” deduction, starting in the 2020 tax year. This allows you to more easily get a deduction by donating to charity during the 2020 holiday season.

One option for your holiday donations, as bookworms? Literacy charities. These groups are working hard to develop and promote literacy and reading ability. I’ve gathered together literacy charities doing fantastic work both locally and on larger scales, to give you some options for who to donate to this holiday season.

1. Book Aid International

This is one of the biggest literacy charities out there, making books available to almost 19.5 million people around the world in 2019, in libraries, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, and prisons. Book Aid International is the UK’s leading international book donation and library development charity.

Book Aid International also partners with World Book Day. A current option for donations is the Reverse Book Club—you give monthly, and the people who need the books most get them each month.

2. World Literacy Foundation

The World Literacy Foundation provides educational resources and books, tutoring, and literacy support to disadvantaged children struggling to read; they’re also able to use innovative tech to advance learning of kids in remote communities in their mother tongue. In 2019, the foundation reached more than 315,000 children and young people across the USA, Australia, UK, Africa, and Latin America through research, advocacy, and donations.

3. Literacy for Incarcerated Teens

LIT is focused on ending illiteracy in incarcerated teens by establishing and supporting school library collections at juvenile justice detention centers in New York.

The goal is to encourage the enthusiasm for reading in young people and get them needed resources. It works to provide young people with books and programming that helps develop and facilitate their literacy skills and love of reading, from author visits and discussions to establishing school libraries, and providing books, shelves, and other needed resources.

4. The Chicago Literacy Alliance

Thirty-nine percent of Chicago’s public school students don’t meet or exceed reading standards; and 61% of low-income households do not own children’s books. The CLA is a collective of more than 100 organizations working hard to meet these literacy needs, providing tutoring, enrichment, and book distribution. The organization runs the Literacenter, North America’s first shared workspace dedicated to literacy, and holds fundraisers, programs, and opportunities to serve more than 18 million people each year.

5. Reading is Fundamental

This children’s literacy nonprofit is working to fight the national literacy crisis in the U.S., working closely with publishers, schools, community centers, health clinics, migrant camps, homeless shelters, and more to get books and reading resources to kids in need. It serves as the leader in generating awareness and advocating for the issue of children’s literacy in the United States.

6. Books for Africa

This organization was founded in 1988, and it collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books to children in Africa—shipping more than 41 million books, and distributing across every African country, since their founding. The volunteers choose books that are age- and subject-appropriate, accepting donations and sending good-condition books that go to children who need them most. They accept new or gently used books from a wide variety of genres and age levels, and also accept donation of funds.

7. Reading Partners

The mission of Reading Partners is to transform struggling young readers into confident readers who are excited about learning. To do so, they focus on children in low-income communities and provide one-on-one instruction, recruit and train community volunteers to work with kids, and partner with high-need elementary schools to offer free services. It’s specific and targeted: they identify students six months or more behind reading grade level, and then trained volunteer reading partners deliver individualized tutoring twice a week.

8. First Book

This nonprofit was founded in 1992, and has provided more than 160 million books and resources to low-income families all around the U.S. since then. You can donate, fundraise, or get books for First Book. The organization works in classrooms, after-school and summer or early childhood programs, shelters and health clinics, libraries, community programs, military support programs, and more. It is currently partnering with Intel, CDW-G, and the LEGO Foundation to close the digital divide with virtual learning.

9. ProLiteracy

About 36 million adults in the U.S. struggle with basic reading, writing, and math skills, and ProLiteracy’s goal is to change that, championing adult education and literacy worldwide. By supporting programs that provide adult literacy instruction, advocating for awareness and funding, and providing professional development and instructional tools, ProLiteracy is working to improve adult literacy.

10. Room to Read

This organization works at the intersection of literacy, low-income communities, and gender equality in education, working to develop literacy skills and reading habits among primary school children and particularly supporting girls to complete secondary school. Room to Read has been recognized for its efficiency, and it’s personally invested in the nations where it operates—87% of workers are from the countries where they work to make change.

girl in black long sleeve shirt reading book
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

11. Children’s Literacy Initiative

CLI has a slightly different approach from other literacy charities: it works with Pre-K to 3rd grade teachers to transform the way they teach literacy, to make it more effective and to support student learning. Through job-embedded and content-focused coaching, workshops, and books, CLI encourages teachers’ knowledge of literacy content and pedagogy in order to improve literacy rates and opportunity. The initiative recently won the 2017 David M. Rubenstein Prize, the top honor in the Library of Congress Awards program for making outstanding and measurable contributions in increasing literacy across the U.S.

12. National Center for Families Learning

The NCFL focuses on engaging entire families in their literacy and learning programs, recognizing that reading and education are family activities and that adult literacy is an issue as well. Their website states that they have helped over 2 million families across the U.S. Among other programs, the center works to create innovative solutions for learning English and achieving literacy proficiency for the US immigrant population, and develops, evaluates, and replicates programs and interventions meant to break the cycle of low literacy for underprivileged families.

13. Make Way for Books

This organization provides books to under-resourced sites, such as childcare centers that have few quality books for young children. It also offers early literacy workshops for educators and parents. Since being founded in 1998, Make Way for Books has provided services to nearly 300 preschools and childcare centers, and serves 30,000 children and families each year.

14. Everybody Wins!

This is a unique organization: it organizes something called a Power Lunch, where it pairs an adult mentor with a kid, getting them to read together. You can apply to become a mentor for one hour a week, or donate books and money online. The organization was founded in 1995 and has supported over 60,000 kids since then.

15. Read Ahead

This program actually got started as a chapter of the Everybody Wins! program, but set out to do its own thing. This mentoring program gets kids to be enthusiastic about reading by making it a fun, shared activity. It’s New York City–focused, so if you’re in the city, you can find out if your employer is a Read Ahead partner organization, or you can apply to join the Page Turners mentoring program. They’re serving more than 1,000 students.

16. Ferst Readers

Ferst Readers focuses on the earliest stages of development: working with children in low-income communities entering kindergarten without school readiness or basic literacy. The goal is to have these students start school with strong language and literacy skills, and Ferst Readers helps to make sure that children have age-appropriate books in their home, providing parents with literacy resources, and mailing a new book every month to enrolled children.

17. Reach Out and Read

This is another of those literacy charities that focuses on the span of brain development between birth and age five, particularly in economically disadvantaged families; but Reach Out and Read works by partnering with pediatric medical providers, who incorporate their model into well-child visits, encourage parents to foster daily shared reading, and get developmentally-appropriate new books to children. More than 32,000 medical providers at 6,000 clinical locations participate in Reach Out and Read.

18. Worldreader

Worldreader’s quest was to use technology to reach people in places where books are scarce and make it easier for them to read, using ereading programs and technologies and allowing anyone with a data-connected phone to access thousands of digital books. They recently launched Keep Children Reading, an effort to get support to parents and children in under-resourced communities during the COVID-19 education crisis, making it one of the best literacy charities to donate to this year.

See more bookish charities and consider where to donate your money this holiday season.