Finding Funding for Early Literacy Programs

Two-thirds of U.S. 4th graders can’t read proficiently at grade level. Approximately 1 in 6 U.S. students won’t finish high school. By 2020, six million adults in the United States will face unemployment due to a lack of literacy skills. These statistics are disheartening. But research clearly points to a solution: early literacy programs, including storytimes, for very young children and their caregivers.

A report from the National Early Literacy Panel notes that literacy skills developed from birth until age 5 “have a clear and consistently strong relationship with later conventional literacy skills.” According to researchers at the Institute of Education Sciences, children who have developed strong language and literacy skills by the time they enter primary school are more likely to achieve both short-term and long-term academic success.

Increasing recognition of the importance of early literacy skills has led to a significant expansion of funding for quality early care and education programs. Government agencies at all levels, nonprofit organizations and corporate foundations are investing in early literacy programs. Public libraries are eligible for many of these grants. Getting funding, however, requires knowing where to look for funds and how to write a winning grant application.

Finding Literacy Grants

The following is just a partial list of resources to help you identify funds for early literacy programs in public libraries:

Writing a Winning Application

Once you’ve identified grants to apply for, you need to write a strong grant application. The following are a few tips to get you started:

  • Read all of the grant qualifications and requirements carefully. Don’t waste time applying for grants that don’t match your program needs, and don’t sabotage your application by not completing it correctly. Also, make sure that the grant doesn’t come with any strings attached that you aren’t willing and able to meet (e.g., including a corporate logo on materials; writing status reports).
  • Focus on the programs that you will implement, not on the materials (e.g., books, technology) that you need. Emphasize what the grant will allow you to do to serve your community (e.g., model use of digital storytelling tools for caregivers; provide hands-on music experiences for children).
  • Put a human face on your program. Tell the funders about the children and families in your community and how your program will help them. Share stories to bring your statistics to life.
  • Be specific and realistic about your goals. Many funders would rather invest in a small program with specific, achievable metrics than in a large, risky project.
  • Look for partners in your community. Having partners not only helps share the grant-writing workload, but can also strengthen your application by showing funders that your program has community support.
  • Have a colleague or friend read your application and give feedback.

Alicia Vandenbroek, a school librarian in Arlington, TX has a wealth of advice and resources for grant writing available on LiveBinder.

Public libraries play an essential role in developing crucial early literacy skills through storytimes and other programs for young children and their caregivers. Finding funding for these programs requires an investment of time and effort — but it is an investment that will pay great dividends in your community.



Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim, Ph.D., is the former editor of LibrarySparks magazine, UpstartBooks and The Very Ready Reading Program. In this role, she focused on identifying and sharing innovative, engaging programs and resources for school and public libraries.