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April 26, 2018

Q&A: Inside Reading Partners with national board chair, Dan Carroll

Dan Carroll has served on the Reading Partners board since 2013. He served as an officer and treasurer before stepping into the role of board chair in 2016. Dan has been an invested ally and critical supporter for Reading Partners’ work through both an exciting period of growth as well as a challenging period of change.

Throughout it all, Dan has remained focused on ensuring Reading Partners is in the best possible position to address the early literacy crisis in the US.

Now, as Reading Partners launches into the next four year strategic plan and prepares to celebrate 20 years of service to students and communities nationwide, Dan and the Reading Partners national board look forward to a bright future.

In this pivotal moment in Reading Partners’ history, I sat down with Dan to get an inside view of his experience as a Reading Partners board member and learn more about what Reading Partners has in store for the years ahead.

Addressing the literacy crisis at its core


Q: To get us started, can you share with me a little bit about your education and career background? How did you come to the work you currently do?

A: I went to college at Harvard then went to Wall Street and focused on technology banking. I spent enough time in California to know I wanted to stay here so I attended Stanford Business School and then began a career in venture capital and private equity. I spent the next 22 years working on private investments in Asia, living in San Francisco and Thailand. In 2011, I decided to take a couple of years off to travel less (for business) and learn more about nonprofits.

Q: How did you come to the work you currently do with Reading Partners?

A: I had been involved in several independent school boards and was looking for a way to get more involved in education. A fellow school board member at University High School in San Francisco served as chair at Teach For America (TFA) in the Bay Area and encouraged me to get involved in that organization.

I served on the TFA’s Bay Area board from 2010-15, where I was first introduced to the technology and education reform movements. I enjoyed being a part of the work because it attracts people who are mission-driven and smart, but focused on serving others. Hence, our reliance on our amazing volunteers and AmeriCorps members.

I was introduced to Reading Partners by Cathy Dean and Will Evers, two close friends who were active in the national and Bay Area organizations. Reading Partners seemed to be dealing with challenges that TFA faced earlier in its development—a dynamic young organization in a state of transition, moving from a regional to a national scale.

What struck me as most powerful about Reading Partners at the time, and still today, is the leverage that comes from addressing developmental challenges early. Giving third and fourth grade students the tools to succeed in school, as opposed to trying to help at the high school level, just made more sense to me. The idea of learning to read before you read to learn was definitely my “Aha!” moment with Reading Partners.

A data-driven approach

Tutor-student pair

Q: Why did you decide to support Reading Partners as a board member?

A: When I joined Reading Partners’ national board, I had a real interest in digging deeper into how nonprofits operate. All board members are financial supporters of an organization, but I felt I had the time to get to know the national leadership team and the inner workings of the organization. During my time on the TFA Bay Area board, I had also gained some experience in the evolution of national and regional organizations, which I thought would be directly relevant to Reading Partners.

Funders are also always searching for data-driven models, and Reading Partners definitely has that. Reading Partners showed strong regional success, had the data to back up their work (demonstrated through third-party research by MDRC), and had a vision for multiplying the program at a national level. I ultimately saw my role as helping to implement our vision for growth and scaling to increase Reading Partners’ impact.

 Dedicated board and leadership


Q: What does a board member actually do?

A: Each board role is unique, but the primary role of everyone on the board is to serve as fiduciaries for the entire organization. Boards are tasked with engaging organizational leadership and ensuring the long term health of the organization. This starts with financial health; raising funds, attracting investors, and ultimately inspiring others from our networks into the group as investors. We serve as stewards of the organization’s funding, seeking diverse, well balanced sources of revenue and whenever possible building financial reserves. We also attempt to shield the organization from the natural ups and downs of the marketplace.

In setting strategy and supporting the organization’s operations, the board works with the management team through a group of committees, including development, finance, and program. But our primary relationship is with the CEO, who is the only employee at Reading Partners who reports to the board. Our most important job is to recruit, sustain, guide, and provide advice to the CEO. The relationship between those two are a very good indicator of any nonprofit. It’s truly hard to find an example of an organization that’s doing well where the board and CEO relationship is difficult or strained.

Positive opportunities for growth and innovation

Tutor-Student pair

Q: What excites you about Reading Partners’ future?

A: I’m very excited about the new leadership at Reading Partners, (especially with our new CEO, Karine) and the energy she brings to the organization. We have developed a new strategic plan, which also helps in building depth and a rock solid foundation for Reading Partners!

I’m also incredibly excited about the potential to embrace technology in a more robust way. We’d love to take the core one-on-one model and find ways to leverage the resources around us in Silicon Valley to drive further impact.

Finally, and very importantly, I’m passionate about our commitment to driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and building DEI into Reading Partners’ new strategic plan.

Q: What is a lesson you have learned in your career that has guided you well?

A: You learn much more from your mistakes that from your successes. When you’re successful, people make up many explanations for why things worked out so well. When something doesn’t work, the learnings are often painfully obvious but always incredibly valuable.

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