Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Social Capitalists

First Book 

Washington, DC

President: Kyle Zimmer

Previous winner: 2004, 2005

What it does: First Book says there's one simple, proven way to boost kids' reading scores: increase the number of books in the home. So it works to help low-income children own and read their first books. Its powerful, technology-driven pipeline delivers books from publishers to literacy programs. And its National Book Bank solicits donations of books that otherwise would be destroyed to cut warehousing costs.

Results: In 13 years, First Book has delivered more than 35 million books. The organization serves 13,000 literacy programs and has started First Book Literacy Registry, an online campaign to reach 300,000 literacy programs.

Social Impact: A
Aspiration and Growth: A-
Entrepreneurship: A+
Innovation: A
Sustainability: B

Winner's Statement

First Book is a national nonprofit with a simple mission: to provide new books to disadvantaged children from low-income families. First Book's central, volunteer-driven model and its subsidiaries enhance the quality of existing pre-school and after school programs by providing the essential tools for teaching children to read: new, high-quality books. In addition, because the books are then given to the children to take home and keep, First Book also addresses the only variable that has been proven to correlate significantly with whether a child becomes a reader: the number of books in the home.

The need for books among low-income families cannot be overstated. An estimated 60% of low-income families have no age-appropriate books for their children and 80% of literacy programs serving this population have no books for the children they serve. For nearly 14 years, First Book has integrated the private sector into every facet of its mission with unprecedented success. To date, First Book has distributed more than 35 million books to children in thousands of communities nationwide and global expansion is underway.

Central to the First Book model is the integration of the private sector into its social sector mission. First Book accomplishes this work by directly addressing corporate challenges and goals and designing and implementing mutually beneficial partnerships. For example, to address the publishing industry's printing overruns, First Book created the First Book National Book Bank (FBNBB), the only centralized system to handle large volumes of contributed books. Publishers receive tax benefits for the contributions and the FBNBB uses a system of proprietary software and excess warehouse capacity to distribute more than four million new books annually - directly to programs serving disadvantaged children. First Book also integrates its programmatic elements as assets within corporate marketing and promotional campaigns. First Book's campaigns deliver tangible results including increasing impressions, attracting target demographics, and staging events. These partnerships add substantial value to its corporate donors as well as delivering unprecedented numbers of books to children.

In addition, First Book has successfully integrated private sector strategies into its efforts. Recently, First Book launched the First Book Marketplace, a revenue-generating subsidiary that sells new books online at the lowest possible cost to community programs serving disadvantaged children. By consolidating the demand of a previously fragmented market of local programs, the Marketplace leverages enormous buying power to negotiate deep discounts and special print runs of new children's books. A winner of the national business plan competition sponsored by the Yale School of Management and the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the Marketplace will help fuel First Book's global expansion.

With its national infrastructure in place, First Book was perfectly positioned to launch Book Relief, a response to the recent devastation in the Gulf Coast region. A publishing industry-wide campaign, Book Relief will provide five million new books to those most affected by the hurricane disasters. Two million books have already been distributed and Book Relief will continue through 2006 and beyond to replenish literacy programs, schools and libraries as they reopen.

Independent studies have confirmed the impact of the presence of books in a child's environment, indicating a doubling and even tripling of interest in reading, the desire to share with others, and other positive behavior. First Book's model is proven and the organization is working to reach every child in need. First Book's goal is not just to fight illiteracy, but to end it.

Learn more | Get involved

The above Winner's Statement was provided by the profiled organization.