Reading is Leading project ideas

The Mortar Board national project, Reading is Leading, was established as the permanent national project in 2002.  Since then, students have been dedicated to serving literacy needs across the nation.  Chapters are expected to complete at least one literacy-themed project each year either alone, as a part of section project or while joining with a national or international organization. 

Literacy initiatives are a great fit for an organization like Mortar Board that prides itself so much on scholarship.  Engage your chapter in a Reading is Leading project and celebrate the joys of reading!  Some popular projects are:

  • Read-a-thons
  • Book drives
  • Trick-or-treat for books
  • Adopt-a-school
  • Reading at a children’s hospital
  • Functional literacy workshops
  • Lobbying congress
  • Reading in nursing homes or retirement communities

Get information about the Mortar Board Virtual Book Drive through First Book.


For detailed Reading is Leading assistance, please use these helpful resources:


Below, you will find the following information

Getting Started/Project Ideas

Determining where or how to fight illiteracy in your community is not an easy task. Your fellow Mortar Board members have many talents that will be useful in Reading is Leading projects. Is anyone highly service-oriented or possessing superior organizational skills? Appointing a specific member to organize activities and projects is a valuable asset. Serving your community through literacy activities benefits everyone involved.

Make sure each activity your chapter sponsors is well advertised to maximize results and to improve your chapter’s visibility on campus and in the community.

The following are examples of projects past chapters have implemented. Be creative and think of your own unique projects that fit the needs of your campus and community.

Campus and community leaders, professionals, athletes and celebrities donate their time and voice for a day of reading. You will need a public venue in which to hold the event, chapter members to work the event, volunteers willing to donate half an hour of their time to read out loud to an audience, and materials to be read. These materials could be a favorite of the reader’s or specifically chosen for the audience. This activity’s purpose could also be used to increase literacy awareness or as a fund-raiser.

Book Drives
Collecting books is much like collecting canned goods. You will need chapter members to collect books, a venue in which to hold the collection, and an organization to receive the books.

Past chapters have found success by distributing fliers door to door stating that they will be collecting books. If the household has any that they would like to donate, they may leave them near the front porch in a grocery bag on a specified date. Consider challenging other Mortar Board chapters or other student organizations to a friendly competition to see who can collect the most books.
Here are creative book drive ideas chapters have tried in the past:

  • Western New England College held a Midnight Madness Book Drive at the winter sports pep rally. Each student who brought two books to donate was given a free t-shirt.
  • Ohio Northern University held a book drive during Homecoming Registration. They set up a table and collected books of all varieties to be donated local facilities in need.
  • University of Akron held a book sale in which they collected extra books from campus departments to sell on campus, with all the proceeds donated to charity.
  • The chapters at The University of Michigan and Michigan State University held a competitive “Book Battle.”
  • Chapters in Section 4 held a weeklong Mardi Gras book drive in February. The chapters planned this event at the national conference.

Trick-or-Treat for Books
This seasonal event works much like a book drive. You will need chapter members willing to dress in Halloween costumes to trick-or-treat for books. Again, distribute fliers door-to-door saying you will be collecting books on a specific evening dressed in Halloween attire. This is best done a week before traditional Halloween trick-or-treat to minimize confusion.

Partnering with a local school is an excellent way to find volunteer literacy opportunities for all chapter members. Contact local schools to see what volunteer opportunities are available and what best fits your chapter’s talents and schedules. Work with schools to create literacy projects if none exist.

Children’s Hospital Reading
It is very easy for children in long-term hospital care to fall behind in their studies and literacy skills. Most local health care facilities welcome volunteers to visit and read with pediatric patients. Contact your local hospital’s volunteer coordinator for available opportunities.

Functional Literacy Workshops
Have you had trouble reading a bus schedule, comprehending a map, or understanding a complex government form? Millions of Americans have, especially those for whom English is a second language. Many community centers have workshops and programs to teach people these skills and other basic forms of functional literacy. These programs are always looking for volunteers and resources. Contact the local community center or your school’s international student center for volunteer opportunities.

Lobbying Congress
Literacy organizations are suffering from the budget crunch and need more voices speaking on their behalf. Organize your chapter and other campus groups to start a letter writing campaign to state and national legislatures. Different national organizations offer help with this. Learn more about national literacy organizations on page 6.

Reading in Nursing Homes or Senior Centers
Take as many members as you can to a local nursing home or senior center and spend the day reading to the elderly.

Book Festivals
When one children’s book or author has become very popular with children and their parents, you might consider organizing a festival to celebrate this book or author. Your festival can be held at a specific school or other local organization, or you can open it to the public. Think about games that the children can play or crafts they can make and prizes that can be won. You may also want to check with local bookstores to see if they will donate copies of this book for you to distribute to the children. Here are some festivals that Mortar Board chapters have held:

  • The University of Alabama held a birthday celebration for Dr. Seuss at a local elementary school.
  • Lyon College organized a Hogwarts Day (a Harry Potter carnival) for children from Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
  • SUNY Buffalo organized a “Dr. Seuss is Loose” program.

Chapter Project Examples

Here is a list of fun and creative Reading is Leading projects that some chapters have had success with in the past:

  • Mississippi College assisted prison inmates with selecting a children’s book to be read to their children. The members then recorded the inmate reading the book aloud, and both the book and recording were given to the children at Christmas.
  • Otterbein College held a bake sale and used the money to buy books for Children’s Hospital.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire created Velcro books to be given to children with special needs.
  • Wichita State University held a contest in which elementary students designed a poster based on their favorite book.
  • Stephens College held a “Poems and Pets” project in which they took pets from an animal shelter to a nursing home and read poetry to the residents.
  • Southern Nazarene University listened to kids read at a special needs school.
  • Baylor University members volunteer weekly to teach Spanish-speaking Baylor housekeeping staff English.
  • The University of Arizona helped local Sudanese refugees learn English.
    Colorado State University held a fund-raiser to benefit a library in Nicaragua.
  • The University of Oregon members formed a reading circle at a local bookstore in which they read to children for free.
    University of the Pacific purchased and donated bilingual books to ESL children and families.
  • University of Pittsburgh read to children at a school for the blind.
    The University of Evansville chapter reads to senior citizens at a nursing home.
  • Knox College held a book drive to benefit a prison.

These are only some of the Reading is Leading projects that have been executed. Each chapter has its own unique, creative ideas for the national project. Please use your advisor, section coordinator, and the National Office as resources when planning your projects.

Fundraising Ideas

A lot can be accomplished with time, effort, and determination, but sometimes money is a factor in carrying out a Reading is Leading project. For each fund-raiser your chapter holds, be sure to advertise throughout the campus and local communities. Also, be sure to advertise exactly how the funds raised will be used. Here are some fundraising ideas:

Car Wash
During the warmer parts of the year, find a store manager that will allow you to hold a car wash in the parking lot of his/her store. You will need to provide buckets, towels, sponges, soap, etc. Be sure to advertise this event well, and choose a back-up date in case of bad weather.

50-50 Raffles
Holding a 50-50 raffle is a great way to raise money and reward some lucky individual. Choose a popular, well-attended event at which to hold your raffle. You will need a roll of tickets, chapter members to sell tickets, and a container in which to hold the ticket stubs. When the time comes, choose one winning ticket out of your container, and notify the owner of that ticket.

Karaoke Night
Hold a karaoke night on your campus. Borrow or rent sound equipment or find a DJ to play music for you. Set an admission price (we suggest $5) for each person to pay upon entering. Also, find grocery stores or individuals to donate snacks and soft drinks to be served.

Care Packages
We all know how overwhelming finals can be. Why not create care packages for parents to send to their students? Find donations of candy, fruit, other snack foods, or goofy toys to be placed in the care package, or buy these items in bulk. These items should be appropriate for men and women. Send information to parents describing different packages, outlining contents and price. You may also wish to include a small and simple greeting card for the parents to sign to be included with the package. You may consider partnering with a commercial company that creates care packages for fundraisers.

Gift Wrapping
This event is especially effective during the holiday season. Collect gift wrapping supplies such as wrapping paper, boxes, tape, and ribbons or bows, or have them donated. Find a store that will allow you to spend an afternoon/day wrapping gifts for customers. Have each person give you a donation, or charge a set price for each package, depending on it size.
You can also make this a Reading is Leading project. Bring as many members as possible to the event, have half of them wrap the gifts, and the other half read to the children who are out shopping with their parents.

Guessing games
We have all tried to guess how many objects are in a jar. Why not set up a similar activity on your own campus? Find a large jar or other clear, large container; choose something to fill it with (be sure to count the objects before placing them in the jar). Have each person who wants to guess pay a set amount of money. The person whose guess was closest to the actual number of items in the jar wins the jar or some other announced prize.

Restaurant Take-Over
Some restaurants allow groups to come in and “take over” for an evening in exchange of a certain percentage of the profits and all of the tips. Have members work as servers, bussers, and dishwashers, etc. for the cause. This works best in small restaurants.

Yard Sales
Collect unwanted items from the community and hold your own public yard sale. Be sure to advertise this event well, and consider holding it indoors in case of bad weather.

President-for-a-Day Contest
We have all wondered exactly what a university/college president does in his/her daily work. Why not give a lucky member of the student body a chance to find out by stepping into the president’s shoes for the day?

You will need to contact the president’s office (if the president is unavailable, consider the provost or athletic director) to see if they will participate. Once you have their support, begin selling raffle tickets (in some states raffles are illegal, please research your state laws). Ask each chapter member to sell ten tickets, and publicize that the lucky winner will spend a day “working” with the president.

Try a twist on the traditional bake sale. Pick a popular spot on campus and sell an unexpected item. In the fall, grill hot dogs, in the spring, tempt students with Popsicles. Of course, there are always the tried and true favorites like candy and flower sales.

Consider contacting your athletic department to see about staffing a concession stand for ball games in exchange for a percentage of the sales profit.

5K Walk/Run
On your mark, get set, go! Organize a 5K run open to students and community members. Although this event will require detailed planning and organizational work, it is a popular event that could become a yearly favorite.

You will need a clear course route that has been approved by campus police, chapter members to staff the event, a line judge, and trophies or medals for the award winners. If possible, find local businesses willing to sponsor the event to help offset costs and provide T-shirts to the runners.

Other possible sports activities could include 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, volleyball matches and golf scrambles. Contact your athletic department to ask if they will loan the athletic equipment needed and provide you with their support.

Student Auctions
Who would not enjoy having a personal assistant, even if it were only for an hour or two? Recruit chapter members, student leaders and other high profile students to volunteer a few hours of their free time for the cause.

You will need a public venue to hold the auction, a set of agreed upon ground rules for what the person auctioned will and will not do, an emcee and chapter members to staff the event.

Potential partners

Are you looking for an organization to work closely with or your next Reading is Leading project?  Here is a list of literacy organizations Mortar Board has recently researched that you might want to consider:

Better World Books
Better World Books collects books from individuals and groups. Better World Books then sells these books online, donates directly to their nonprofit partners or recycles them if they can find no other use for them. All the money they receive from selling the books is donated to their nonprofit partner organizations. Many of the books they receive are from book drives held on college campuses. You can hold your own book drive to benefit Better World Books and they will pay for the shipping!

Books Beyond Borders
(512) 853-9565
Books Beyond Borders is dedicated to improving educational opportunities in developing countries throughout the world. You can support Books Beyond Borders by donating money or gently used books. You can hold a book drive to benefit Books Beyond Borders and they will pay for the shipping. Books Beyond Borders benefits EPIC.

Books for Africa
(651) 602-9844
Books for Africa was founded in 1988. They collect, sort, ship and distribute books to children in Africa. You can support Books for Africa by sponsoring a book drive for their benefit. They also accept monetary donations. They also need volunteers to help sort and pack books, plan special events and produce publications. Books for Africa is a nonprofit partner of Better World Books.

Educational Programs for the International Community-Project Schoolhouse (EPIC)
(512) 853-9565
Educational Programs for the International Community (EPIC) was founded in 2000. Their mission is to develop and implement programs in rural communities that will improve educational quality. They are in need of new or gently used books, books in Spanish, basic school supplies (excluding paper) and monetary donations. They will cover the shipping costs.

Everybody Wins!
(202) 955-1301
Everybody Wins! was founded in 1991. They are a nonprofit organization that is devoted to increasing children’s prospects for success in school and in life through one-on-one reading experiences. You can become a volunteer for Everybody Wins! or you can provide monetary donations.      

First Book
First Book was founded in 1992. They give children from low-income families the opportunity to own their first new books. They are looking for monetary donations and volunteers as well as planned programs to distribute books to children.

The Heart of America Foundation
(202) 347-6278
Heart of America is an organization whose goal is to give children everywhere the tools they need to read, succeed and make a difference. You can support Heart of America by volunteering or offering a monetary donation.

The Parent-Child Home Program
(516) 883-7480
The Parent-Child Home Program was founded in 1965. The program is a research-based and research-validated early childhood literacy and school readiness program. They accept monetary donations.

Prison Book Program
(617) 423-3298
The Prison Book Program was founded in 1972 with a simple mission: to provide books for inmates in prisons. They accept donations of paperback books of various sorts (they must be paperback because hardcover books are not allowed in prisons), money, gift cards (bookstores, office supply stores and grocery stores) and some office supplies (such as packing tape and paper). You can also support them by volunteering. The Prison Book Program is a nonprofit partner of Better World Books.

ProLiteracy Worldwide
(315) 422-9121
ProLiteracy Worldwide was founded in 2002. They are an international organization that sponsors educational programs that help adults and their families acquire the literacy practices and skills they need to function more effectively in their daily lives. They accept monetary donations, so you can sponsor a fundraiser for their benefit.

National Center for Family Literacy
(502) 584-1133
The National Center for Family Literacy was founded in 1989. They focus on helping families succeed through literacy. You can support the National Center for Family Literacy by donating money. The National Center for Family Literacy is a nonprofit partner of Better World Books.

Reach Out and Read
(617) 629-8042
Reach Out and Read was founded in 1989. They promote early literacy in childhood by making books a routine part of pediatric care. They accept monetary donations and donations of gently used books.

Reading is Fundamental
Reading is Fundamental (RIF) was established in 1966. They deliver free books to children and families who need them most. There are many RIF programs in existence all over the country where you can volunteer. If there is not a RIF program in your area, you can consider starting one. RIF also accepts monetary donations.

Room to Read
(425) 561-3331
Room to Read was founded in 2000. They partner with communities throughout the developing world (primarily Nepal, Cambodia, India, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and South Africa) to establish schools, libraries and other education infrastructure. They accept monetary donations and bulk donations of new children’s books. They do not accept used books. Room to Read is a nonprofit partner of Better World Books.








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