How a High School Student Founded a Non-Profit Organization and Made it Successful

How a High School Student Founded a Non-Profit Organization and Made it Successful

Update: This article originally ran in 2021. Gaurav Tyagi now attends University of California, Berkeley where he studies Computer Science.

About the Nonprofit Organization

Reading Good works to inspire and develop a passion for reading in elementary school students. The non profit focuses on those who have not been as privileged in their access to books. Gaurav Tyagi is a high school student who is the Founder, CEO, and Board Chair of Reading Good.

Hi, I’m Gaurav, a senior at Palo Alto high school and the founder and CEO of Reading Good. Reading Good is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to improve literacy and promote a love for reading in underprivileged elementary school students. Since our founding in 2019, we have raised over $72,000 in financial support through donations and grants and we have provided over 3000 books for

My journey to building a successful nonprofit began 2 years ago when I was in 10th grade. As part of my final project in English class, I was tasked with creating and researching a social justice project in my community and decided to learn about literacy rates in the Bay Area. Through my project, I visited schools in East Palo Alto and found that they suffered from extremely low literacy rates. This came as a surprise to me because I didn’t realize how extensive the issue was just a few blocks from my house. Following the conclusion of my project, I wanted to see how I could help solve this problem, and so I reached out to librarians in East Palo Alto schools to learn more.

The librarians revealed an important notion. Libraries are not a static collection of books like I previously assumed. Instead, titles need to be constantly refreshed to keep up with the interests of students. The books that high school students loved 15 years ago may be boring to students today, and so it’s important that libraries are able to consistently purchase interesting books for their students. In East Palo Alto, there has been no money to refresh these books for many years, and so students simply weren’t interested in reading the books available to them. On top of it, most of the parents there are too busy putting food on the table, so don’t have resources to buy books for their children. When I was younger, I wasn’t the biggest fan of reading. But that changed when I read Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. It unlocked my love for reading and from there, I was quickly propelled into the worlds of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Reading has been an important part of my life ever since.

After some research and meeting several librarians, it became clear what my mission had to be. I made it my goal to fill that educational gap and provide students with the specific books that they were interested in reading.

How to Start A Non Profit As A High Schooler

With a goal in mind, I decided to form Reading Good. I was then faced with my first challenge—I had to raise money. There are millions of people who are willing to donate to good causes, but it’s important to connect to the right donors.

After doing some initial outreach, I found that local donors were the most supportive of my work. The issues that plague East Palo Alto schools are well known in my community and many people are willing to help make a difference.

Our donors can largely be divided into three groups – local community members, local businesses and foundations. To reach these groups, I have sent over a thousand hand-sealed letters to raise awareness about our work.

On the way, I learned that I needed a 501(c)3 title to apply for foundation grants, and so I formed a board of directors, drafted by-laws and secured 501(c)3 approval and a federal tax identification number in 2019. This allowed me to set up a bank account and raise funds. After drafting bylaws and meeting the legal requirements, we could get going. Through over two dozen fundraising campaigns and foundation applications, Reading Good has managed to establish a steady stream of donations that has entirely contributed to the success of our work.

To achieve our goals, we have had to adapt to new situations. When I started Reading Good, I began providing books to elementary school libraries since they were the most central and accessible place for students to get books. Then, COVID-19 happened. With that, students lost access to school libraries and all of the books I had provided. To address this new problem, Reading Good needed to adapt, so we did. Over the summer, volunteers and I began holding book distribution events at schools across East Palo Alto. As students came to pick up the free/subsidized meals offered by the school district, every student received a book or two of their choice to take home. This school year, to scale our impact, we have pivoted again. Working with the school district, we now provide every elementary school student in East Palo Alto with a new book every quarter. Through these adaptations, Reading Good has continued to fulfill our mission despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Looking forward, I hope to expand Reading Good’s efforts and create programs with an even broader impact. East Palo Alto is not the only area in my community that struggles to provide reading material for students, and I aim to expand my work to Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area. These past few months, I have worked to automate our book distribution and fundraising processes. After college admissions, this fall, I will still be able to manage our operations even though I may be living thousands of miles away.

For a young person reading this who want to launch their own non profit organizations, the most important thing is to deeply care about what you do. You will inevitably face weeks, maybe even months, when it seems you won’t succeed. When your emails don’t get replies and your fundraisers aren’t even paying for themselves. But if you truly care about what you do, then slowly, things will change. With enough persistence and focus, your emails will get replies and you will see your efforts start to succeed. Along the way, you’ll also become a smarter, more professional and harder working individual.

Regardless of whether you choose to create a business or nonprofit, I hope my story has inspired you to give back to your community. We often forget how much our community shapes our world; in making your community a better place, you will help to improve the lives of those around you and spread positivity at a time when our world desperately needs it.

Learn more about Reading Good.

Donate to Reading Good