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December 15, 2020

Non-Profit Expert Helps Literacy Volunteers Turn a New Page


Chautauqua County has a high rate of immigrant workers, poverty, and illiteracy (an estimated 25%), so there’s a great need for the one-on-one adult tutoring services that Literacy Volunteers of Chautauqua County (LVCC) offers. But, Executive Director Julie LaGrow faces the same challenges many non-profits do, including running on a shoestring budget. LVCC is also challenged with finding enough tutors to give students the support they need. That’s why in Season 5 of the Small Business Revolution, we brought in Mikisha Nation, Executive Director of Teach For America’s Twin Cities region, who’s spent her career committed to closing the educational opportunity gap. Here’s the expert guidance Mikisha offered to Julie and LVCC to help them face their greatest challenges:


1) Build out your board with civic leaders and other partners who can help further the mission of LVCC.

LVCC had an existing board, but their experience levels ranged, as did the structure of board operations. Mikisha hopped on a call with her own board members to advise Julie on how to recruit, manage, and empower a board of directors. Mikisha’s board recommended Julie take time to assess her current board structure and ensure her members have a diverse background – with skills from marketing to fundraising. Most importantly, they encouraged Julie to attract board members who are ultimately passionate about the non-profit’s mission and will help further the objectives of LVCC.

2) Find more volunteers who are aligned with LVCC’s purpose.

Julie had people on the waiting list to be tutored but didn’t have enough tutors to meet her demand. Mikisha’s advice was to help potential tutors really understand the impact of their tutoring and how it enables students to do daily tasks (that many of us take for granted), like apply for a job or help their children with homework. Helping volunteers understand the impact they make only increases their desire and willingness to volunteer their time. The new website Deluxe built for LVCC also caters to volunteers, making it easy for them to learn more and understand the requirements and rewards of becoming a tutor.

3) Diversify the income for your non-profit.

Fifty percent of LVCC’s funding previously came from just two grants, putting them at great risk should they lose one. . Mikisha encouraged Julie to diversify the source of grants and funding, and to have someone on her board who has experience asking for donations and isn’t afraid to do so. Mikisha also encouraged Julie to find larger,  local corporate partners who have a vested interest in supporting LVCC’s mission at an individual and community level.

4) Drive awareness of the bookstore.

Literacy Volunteers moved from nearby Dunkirk to downtown Fredonia in 2019, so one of their challenges was increasing awareness of the attached bookstore and the non-profit in the community.  Because 100% of bookstore sales help fund LVCC, Julie’s consistently tasked with driving book donations and letting the local community know about the bookstore, now called The Next Chapter. Expert Mikisha reinforced with Julie that driving awareness of the bookstore will only help generate more interest in next-door Literacy Volunteers, and attract a crowd who’s inherently interested in reading, writing, and other forms of literacy.

5) Figure out how to operate virtually during the pandemic.

The global pandemic began just after filming in Fredonia started, so tutoring came to a quick halt due to New York restrictions. Mikisha encouraged Julie to find an alternate way to tutor students, regardless of the circumstances, because their needs for reading, writing and other forms of literacy didn’t slow during the pandemic. With guidance from Mikisha and help from Deluxe offering laptops for tutoring, Julie was able to set up virtual sessions for her students to keep working toward their goal of literacy.


To see the impact Literacy Volunteers continues to make in their community, watch Season 5, episode 7 of the Small Business Revolution.

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