Why the Kickstarter Reading Rainbow Debate Should Alarm Every Nonprofit

If you haven’t heard by now, Reading Rainbow is back! Or at least it is being resurrected from owner (and its embodiment in human form) LeVar Burton in a new online platform via a Kickstarter campaign from two days ago, May 27th. In it’s new version, Reading Rainbow wants to reach “every child, everywhere” via a web based browser, school programs, and mobile app devices. As of this writing it has eclipsed it’s $1 million mark like me over some delicious tater tots and has hit $2.3 million. 

Now today, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey wrote a piece about why people should “re-think” contributing to this cause, for various alarming reasons. I read them. I disagree with almost all of her points. And now I realized there is a greater idea at stake than literacy for children based on her opinions and ideas of how the world views social change and nonprofits. We might be losing the war for societal change in the minds of Americans before we can reach their hearts. 

(points made by Dewey, followed by my rebuttal/alarm)

Point 1 –

“If Reading Rainbow is so epically popular, then why was the show cancelled to begin with? And now that it’s coming back — as a for-profit companynot a charity — is it really the best vehicle for teaching literacy to “millions of children”?”

So according to our author, the only way a person can enact change and be legitimate about it, is to start a nonprofit and take no money for it. Once again, the old narrative of nonprofits actually being compensated, their employees being rewarded for hard work with pay (not smiles), rears its ugly head in this quick off hand comment. Also, lets not forget B Companies, like Burt’s Bees, who have a bottom line of social change through their work not just profit. 

What also is alarming is first, that social change ideas ARE ONLY FOR nonprofits and people who do charity. And secondly, for-profits please just make everyone money nonprofits or social change ideas could not generate profit or even pay employees decently. Do we realize the ramifications if the world started believing only charities could do social change? And you think nonprofits have it tough now convincing people to help. Ha. 

Point 2 – 

“In other words, when Reading Rainbow began in 1983, the big question was, “how do we get kids interested in reading?” By 2009, that question had become, “how do we teach kids to read, period?”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how the new, digital Reading Rainbow will address that disparity — if it chooses to at all.”

What is alarming here is that there is apparently only one solution to any pressing societal issue – which if agreed upon by the average American, shows how little the work of nonprofits working together has come to bite us all. If there was one magical answer to literacy, drop outs, drug use, homelessness – then we should all just be working towards that solution. By working so hard against each other in the narratives of solutions, we have overlooked this one account – what if only one solution is chosen? I would challenge everyone to see the world in that black and white when it comes to impacting the lives of people. 

Point 3 – 

“Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners  and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.”

This is only alarming by the author’s rationale that companies should not use Kickstarter, which goes back to point one, where companies are/should only be focused on profit. Sure Reading Rainbow is now an LLC, and should just make profit by selling all their wares with private investment. How better to include people who cannot get on the Dow or NASDAQ to support this grassroots efforts to have a company driven by social change?

Point 4 –

“But if you’re donating to Reading Rainbow because of the grandiose charity rhetoric Burton’s employing on Kickstarter, you might want to look elsewhere — maybe the nonprofit Children’s Literacy Initiative or the Washington, D.C.-based First Book, both of which get high grades from Charity Navigator. They might not have LeVar’s nostalgia appeal, but there’s no doubt who those charities serve.”

The worst point. Our pie is finite, thus your choices are. It is a false choice. Nonprofits need to break the narrative and mindset that the pie is and always will be one size, otherwise it never will. Then these statements will no longer be valid, nor hold merit. 

And I practice what I preach. I regularly donate to First Book (a great organization I have had the pleasure of working with) and donated to the Reading Rainbow campaign. Lead by example. 


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