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"Don't think your United Way exists in a vacuum. Find the respected partners who want and need you. Figure out the value you add to the work. United Way does have power, a strong brand and cross-sector relationships. Project the credibility of your organization and constantly show your relevance. Find the right place for your work in the collective effort and share the credit for work well done."

Jason Sabo, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, United Ways of Texas

Building Effective Early Grade Reading Coalitions

Boosting early grade reading proficiency is a long-term undertaking, requiring active participation from individuals in all walks of life and organizations representing all sectors. United Way cannot do it alone, you need strategic partners to inform and be part of creating a shared vision for reading proficiency as part of a larger education vision for the community. You also need partners to take responsibility for executing on specific strategies that will help your community realize the vision. Building and sustaining a strong coalition can help achieve a shared vision of community goals, but partners need to be engaged strategically early on with the common end goal in mind.


This toolkit can help you think about the roles your United Way can play to build new (or add value to existing) coalitions, consider collective actions your coalition can take to improve reading in your community and connect you to resources to strengthen your coalition.

Building or joining an early grade reading coalition can help you:

  • Create greater momentum.
  • Build a stronger public image.
  • Increase scale, reach and impact.
  • Increase and diversify resources and capacity.
  • Bring together diverse ideas.
  • Avoid duplication.
  • Help organizations get credibility, recognition and contacts.

A coalition is more than a loose alliance of organizations who gather for a press conference or jointly endorse an issue publicly. It is a group of organizations and individuals who share a vision, plan a course of action together to bring that vision to life – joining forces for a common cause.


Whether you build or join a coalition, it may require reaching beyond your existing partnership base. You must assess the “landscape” of the community on this issue to understand who is doing what on early literacy. Connect with those organizations and think together about who else needs to be in the conversation. Work collaboratively to develop community-wide early grade reading strategies and then co-create a call to action that gives the community many opportunities to give, advocate or volunteer to advance the solution. Check out this Life Cycle of a Coalition to see how the phases play out.


Now that we’ve outlined the life cycle of a coalition, let’s dig a little deeper into the steps United Ways should take to build an early grade reading coalition. You can see those steps laid out in Key Steps in Building a Coalition.


To support your community change work, encompassing early literacy, attendance and summer learning, United Way partners with numerous coalitions, organizations and funders. Below are numerous resources to help build your early literacy partnership or coalition. 


Boosting School Readiness

  • A population measure of how young children are developing in communities in the United States, the Early Development Instrument measures five areas of early childhood development. It describes how children are developing and predicts health, education and social outcomes. 

Improving Early Literacy

  • The national Grade-Level Reading Campaign is a coalition begun by funders, but broadened early on to include United Way, the National League of Cities and the National Civic League as founding members. Locally, United Ways are leading many of the community efforts to boost early literacy (along with mayors, community foundations, libraries, literacy councils and others).
  • Free or low-cost books, virtual book drives, public awareness messages, online reading buddy programs and more and offered by United Way's reading partners, including Scholastic Books, Read Aloud, First Book and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library
  • In partnership with Attendance Works, United Way is raising awareness about this major, but often overlooked, barrier to school success. One in 10 kindergarten students miss nearly a month of school every year with a direct link to lower reading performance later on. 

Building Early Warning Systems


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