Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank (CKBB) has a singular focus on improving literacy and a love of reading. So when executive director Judy Payne read about the power of text messages to promote learning in preschools, she started researching and discovered Ready4K.
“I thought, ‘Meeting families where they are, giving them quick tips they could use at their convenience – we could all benefit from that!’”
CKBB’s Vision for Ready4K
As a hub within the Cleveland education community, Judy saw Ready4K as a new way to serve local families. She looped in the head of the county Early Childhood Education program and shared her vision. With the excitement and interest of that key voice, she was able to get the go-ahead from her board to share what she learned across her network of direct service providers.
The funder she approached, a no-nonsense businessman, checked to make sure she’d done her homework. When he saw that Ready4K was a novel and innovative way to serve families, she had his attention. And the low per-family rate appealed to his interest in cost-effective solutions.
I thought, “Meeting families where they are, giving them quick tips they could use at their convenience – we could all benefit from that!”Judy Payne, CKBB
The funder was intrigued by Ready4K’s delivery method: communication through texts that typically wouldn’t cost families anything extra to participate. Because the CKBB community serves a low-income population, it was important that Ready4K not require families to spend money. Since they launched, Judy has kept an eye on opt-out rates, which she knows would go up if families were paying for the texts. The high rate of continued participation had confirmed that this is an approach that works for low income families.
Building the Community
From the start, Judy targeted the partners who served the most families, because serving the most families was always her top goal. She found that WIC and the city and county home visiting programs were particularly strong enrollment partners. She also focused on providing simple enrollment methods, because signing up needed to be fast and easy.
Judy started by persuading the leaders of other organizations in her network to sign up to receive Ready4K messages themselves. Knowing that CKBB had done their homework and was providing the service for free was also key. “The ability to say ‘we’ve done the vetting and it won’t cost you anything’ has been really important.”
Judy also stressed the importance of direct enrollment. This process allows CKBB partners to automatically sign their families up for Ready4K and gives families the choice to opt out. CKBB has provided text-in codes and put a Ready4K enrollment link on their website, but giving partners the option of directly enrolling families has been a cornerstone to their success.
“People don’t sign up unless you make it really easy. When WIC [added Ready4K to their enrollment process], participation spiked.”
When COVID hit and Ready4K gave partners the option to enroll unlimited families, Judy jumped on the opportunity. She started reaching out to school districts, who were excited to provide a way to support families with at-home teaching. “It was lovely to be able to make it available to schools and head starts. To make it available to the entire community during COVID felt good.”
In particular, she cited the success rate that schools who chose automatic enrollment were able to have. Of the four school districts who joined the program, the three who chose to directly enroll families represent 98% of all the school-based family enrollments. And importantly, there was relatively low attrition, or opt outs.
Since starting Ready4K, enrollment has been Judy’s goal. Through focusing on simple enrollment strategies for their largest direct service organizations, and then with school districts, the CKBB Ready4K program has been able to serve nearly 5000 Cleveland families. The focus on direct enrollment over opt-in texting codes has been particularly important to their success.
The Ready4K Impact Reports, as well as the partner dashboard, have helped provide the data that her business-minded funder looks for.
“He asks me how we know whether families are reading the messages. I can show him the low opt-out rates and the positive feedback from the parent surveys. And it’s fun to show him that families are happy. That it’s worth their while.”