The Trailblazers for Good Q&A Series sits down with the most world shaking individuals leading the movement to align impact, profit and purpose. Here we pick the brains of top social entrepreneurs to learn first hand from their stunning accomplishments, utter failures, and stiff challenges in leading the revolution of doing well by doing good. Join us as we explore the collective consciousness that drives and inspires these individuals.
Gerald Richards is the Chief Executive Officer of 826 National. With twenty years of management and development experience at national nonprofit organizations, including the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship where he served as the Executive Director of the Bay Area office, Gerald is a respected trainer and sought after speaker on topics of youth and education access. He is interviewed regularly on these topics and has appeared on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s 360, and The Michael Eric Dyson Show, as well as in articles in publications including The San Francisco Examiner and Inc. Magazine. He has also served as an education expert for national marketing campaigns promoting creativity in and outside the classroom. In 2008, he was named one of 101 African-American Champions for Youth in the Bay Area.
For those who are not familiar with 826 National, can you tell us a bit about what you do?
826 National is the umbrella organization for a network of eight nonprofit writing, tutoring, and publishing centers. We work with under-served youth, ages 6 to 18, and believe that fun and learning go hand in hand. Each of our 826 chapters offers students opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills, while operating from behind a unique and quirky storefront— in San Francisco it’s the Pirate Store, in Boston you’ll find the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute, and so on. These whimsical storefronts help bridge the gap between students and the larger community— drawing in volunteers and donors. Here at 826 National our job is to provide our chapters with strategic leadership, administrative support, professional development opportunities, and other resources, so that they can continue to provide free student programming nationwide.
What do you think has been the most important part of 826’s education model thus far that other youth education organizations could adopt?
We have an incredible pool of dedicated volunteers who show up every day in astounding numbers to support our students and staff. Nationwide, we engage over 5,000 individuals from all backgrounds—writers, teachers, artists, and other professions. Whether it’s during after-school tutoring, a workshop, or an in-school projects, students work in small groups with volunteers and often receive one-on-one attention. Having the support of these talented volunteers allows our chapters to focus their attention on student programming. Project-based learning is another important component of 826’s model and a crucial part of helping young people learn. For example, we engage entire classrooms in long-term writing projects, which result in nationally published collections of student work. We believe that one-on-one or small group attention and the consistent publishing of student work are two of the key factors that make our model so successful.
Storytelling is a crucial part to the success of any organization, how does 826 tell its story? How can other organizations better integrate story telling?
826 is certainly full of stories! We often focus on the stories of our students—of their immense and inspiring successes. The stories our students tell, and the effect that sharing those stories has on their lives, helps us describe the mission of the organization and its impact in each of our communities. I think that when organizations focus on the effects of their work for their constituents, they are ahead of the curve. And the more examples or exhibits of their work that can be offered, the better.
I noticed 826 also started a project called ScholarMatch, a service that connects college bound scholars with donors who want to support them. What inspired this idea and why did it make sense to launch the site?
ScholarMatch was started by our co-founder Dave Eggers and inspired by the scholarship program we had developed at our flagship site, 826 Valencia. We could only give out a few scholarships per year, but there were so many other students who needed help funding their college education. ScholarMatch was created to allow students to share their stories and dreams for college online and give donors the opportunity to fund students whose stories resonated with them. We pride ourselves in connecting students with donors and making college possible. We’ve also found that ScholarMatch donors appreciate getting to know and stay connected with the students they help throughout their college careers.
How can our readership help push forward your mission?
Get involved! You can either volunteer at an 826 chapter in your city or help us raise funds. Volunteers and donors are what keep our organization going strong. Or, if readers are more interested in starting their own nonprofit, they should attend one of our 826 National 101 Seminars where we discuss ways to nurture and develop a successful nonprofit.