This is exactly what Dollar General discovered as it worked with adult education programs over the years. Wanting to help the adult education field move forward, but recognizing its limitations, Dollar General collaborates with national organizations that have specific expertise in capacity-building initiatives. These organizations include ProLiteracy America, the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the National Coalition for Literacy (NCL), the Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL), the National Commission on Adult Literacy (NCAL), and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE). Partnership activities vary from collaborating with NCFL to teach American Indian parents techniques for reading to their children, to working with ProLiteracy to identify promising accountability practices in adult education and literacy programs.
Dollar General also provides grants to nonprofit literacy organizations that offer adult basic education, general education diploma (GED) preparation, English as a second language, family literacy, and workforce literacy services.
Half Price Books (HPB) supports adult education programs through its corporate giving efforts. It looks for local literacy providers in every city where it has a store. The company varies its work with these providers, usually adult literacy coalitions, according to both HPB employee needs and community literacy needs.
Businesses that help the field of adult education build its capacity have learned the following:
Recognize your limitations and seek other organizations that can help.
When the response to Dollar General’s literacy referral program, an in-store effort to connect potential learners with local literacy programs, became too big for it to handle, it turned to ProLiteracy America (ProLiteracy) for support. Representing volunteer and adult basic education organizations throughout the nation, ProLiteracy maintains a database of its affiliate programs and connects these programs with adults who mail in referral cards obtained through Dollar General. ProLiteracy also follows up with programs three months after the referral to see if potential students enrolled and, if so, ProLiteracy follows up again a year later. This information is used to refine the referral network in each state. ProLiteracy also helped Dollar General improve the Literacy Referral Program by redesigning the referral brochures to be more accessible to lower-level learners.
Evaluate and improve your philanthropic efforts.
Dollar General and its partner ProLiteracy America realized that referring students to programs was not effective if those programs were already at capacity, leaving students frustrated and without services. So, when Dollar General and ProLiteracy began discussing other ways to collaborate, ProLiteracy suggested two research projects that would provide a better understanding of how the referral process was working. With financial support from Dollar General, the first project examined how local programs could improve their own referral practices, and the second project identified strategies for reducing program waiting lists and managing enrollment.
Build the capacity of grant recipients to document and analyze their use of funds.
The partnership between Dollar General and ProLiteracy America also has focused resources on program accountability, data collection and analysis, and reporting, to assist programs with federal, state, and local reporting requirements, as well as to ensure effective use of Dollar General’s contributions. The Dollar General/ProLiteracy Performance Accountability initiative provides practitioners with online training on model practices in data collection and analysis, so that they can make informed programmatic decisions and measure the outcomes of their services. All training participants are field-testing the practices and providing feedback, lending additional expertise to the project.
Have frank discussions with partners to identify needs.
When Dollar General and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) first began to work together, Emily Kirkpatrick, a senior director at NCFL, found Dollar General to be “very frank and open to discussion and serious about philanthropy.” NCFL made the initial approach, and the two organizations discussed the state of family literacy in the U.S. and how NCFL could improve it with philanthropic support from Dollar General. Together, they identified the initiatives that Dollar General could sponsor either individually or in concert with other funders.
Build on existing efforts.
NCFL has had a long history of working with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Education to provide family literacy services to American Indians. Since Dollar General is interested in helping underserved populations, building on such past efforts made sense. Dollar General and NCFL collaborated on Read Together—Catch a Dream, which provided American Indian parents with training on dialogic reading, a method that encourages children to become active participants in the reading process. As documented by the National Early Literacy Panel, in its 2008 report, dialogic reading is more effective than other types of shared reading. Parents participating in the program receive training about specific techniques to help them start and continue conversations, or dialogue, about books as they read with their children. Children who participated in the program demonstrated significant gains in expressive vocabulary skills, and parents became more active in their children’s reading.
Be a catalyst for discussion and information sharing in the field.
According to Denine Torr, senior manager of Community Initiatives at Dollar General, the adult education field “needs to have a unified voice and Dollar General wants to help with that.” As part of this effort, Dollar General sponsored three seminars throughout the country designed to stimulate discussion between national and local literacy leaders about adult education and enable them to exchange information about promising models, tools, and resources. Hosted by the National Coalition for Literacy (NCL), the Dollar General Guest Presentation series will continue through 2008, with three additional seminars tentatively planned.
Find ways to support literacy providers that meet their needs and yours.
Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) has been a partner with Half Price Books (HPB) since 2001. A Dallas-based literacy agency, LIFT provides adult literacy, English as a second language, and family literacy instruction. Each year, LIFT serves more than 6,000 adults in classes taught by its all-volunteer teaching force. HPB supports LIFT in a variety of ways, including: providing copies of Say Goodnight to Illiteracy, a children’s book produced by HPB that raises money for family literacy programs; distributing HPB gift cards to teachers to thank them for their work as volunteers; and hosting field trips for adult learners to HPB stores, during which they are given gift cards to the store.
Work with intermediaries to identify high-quality programs to fund.
In general, Half Price Books seeks adult literacy coalitions, rather than individual programs, as partners because they offer access to a network of programs. HPB contacts local chambers of commerce, libraries, national literacy organizations and mayors’ offices to identify literacy coalitions and programs. These intermediaries generally have a more intimate knowledge of the community and hands-on experience with local programs.
Benefits to Business
Some benefits to businesses of their involvement in capacity-building efforts include:
Benefits to Adult Education
Some benefits to adult education in getting capacity-building support from businesses include:
The following resources have been compiled for further reading on topics related to business-adult education partnerships. Pop-up windows with links to and descriptions of the resources will appear as you click on the resource titles. Resources are categorized below as: Business Partnerships (descriptions of the business-adult education partnerships referenced above); Partnership Profiles (related examples of other community partnerships); How-Tos (guides and tools for establishing partnerships); Research; the Case for Business Involvement; and Web Sites. A complete list of resources related to business-adult education partnerships is found in the Workforce Issues section on the C-PAL Web site.
Dollar General: Uniting Personal and Company Mission for Literacy
Half Price Books: Matching Corporate Mission with a Good Cause
Minnesota Toolkit for Giving
The Case for Business Involvement
Show Me the Numbers: Measuring Corporate Giving
The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship