Literacy Source: Using Microsoft Technology to Build a Self-Sufficient Community

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Literacy Source - A Community Learning Center
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

To build a literate community and promote self-sufficiency by providing learner-centered instruction to adults in English literacy and basic life skills.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Literacy Source, a Community Learning Center, was founded in Seattle in 1986 to address the need for adult education in basic literacy. With a professional and dedicated staff and a growing corps of more than 200 trained volunteers, LS now serves more than 400 high-need students. Literacy Source programs include basic skills instruction in reading, writing and math; English as a Second Language, citizenship preparation community engagement and life skills workshops, computer literacy, workplace instruction, GED preparation, and high school completion. Our programming evolves in response to community needs. We encourage and celebrate life-long learning.


As a small non-profit, we benefit tremendously from the Microsoft programs we receive through TechSoup. The suite of Microsoft products we use has transformed our program delivery in a way that would not otherwise be possible for an organization of our size. For example, we currently keep and can access demographic information, instructional, testing and important case management notes, goal completions and other data for over 22,000 adult learners; and demographic and training information for the over 10,000 volunteers who have provided instruction, which would be impossible without Microsoft technology.

Access has greatly enhanced our ability to look at what we do and convey that to others. Using Access, our talented IT staff person has created a database that has radically improved our ability to capture and manipulate data for a variety of purposes including state-required reports and grant proposals. We can use filters to screen volunteers or students quickly for variables needed for a particular report. The flexibility of the database means that we can report learner demographics, progress, hours of instruction delivered, and many other variables in more detail and more quickly than many larger providers.

This innovative tool allows us to tailor our inputs and outputs to our own needs rather than being limited by the reporting systems of our granting organizations. Thus we can adjust our services, time our testing, and more, based on what works best for our learners. Having our own database allows us to capture discrete points of data around our services and then convert and report that data strategically. With Access, we “own” our data and can “mine” it for maximum effectiveness.

In addition to helping us look at student trends, Access also tracks donor data (like zip codes and giving patterns) and volunteer data (like hours of availability and length of service) to inform recruitment or fundraising strategies. Our data is accessible across staff, greatly facilitating coordination in an organization with part-time, evening and off-site employees and volunteers. Access also reduces staff time on data entry, since we can enter data in bulk. With the time saved, we spend more time in direct service, working with more volunteers and serve more clients.

MS Outlook has transformed our staff’s ability to collaborate. With layered schedules, part-time employees and instructors who work off-site, our staff has unique coordination needs. Outlook is our primary tool for office communication; we share calendars, notes and resources via public folders, which allows us to coordinate schedules and services effectively. Having diverse schedules, we request meetings with Outlook and use the scheduling button to see when staff members are available. We also use Outlook to reserve audiovisual equipment and classrooms.

Using shared calendars, we book intake appointments for each other. Shared notes allow staff to share and manage knowledge, like “how-to’s” for program procedures or using office equipment. Shared email templates address frequently-asked questions about volunteer opportunities or class offerings, allowing staff to respond quickly and easily. Outlook also helps us meet deadlines. We assign tasks to our office volunteers and our WorkStudy employees and can easily tell when jobs are completed. We use the calendar reminders to make sure we meet important deadlines, schedule check-in appointments with tutors and learners, and more. The MS Exchange server allows staff teaching and coordinating offsite programs, like in-home citizenship tutoring, to duck into a library or café between appointments to check messages and work on projects remotely.

Outlook Contacts serves as a giant, easily-accessed office Rolodex of volunteers, students, staff, donors and partners at other community agencies. We categorize these contacts in multiple ways, utilize distribution lists to organize volunteers by program, and create mail merged documents and e-mails from contact categories.

We use PowerPoint widely at Literacy Source. It increases the professionalism of our “look” and saves staff time. Twice a month we hold new student orientations; PowerPoint presentations showcase our offerings to new groups every month. Grantors may require presentations to bolster proposals or report on grant progress. PowerPoint is perfect and means that we are not starting from scratch on each one. Our annual fundraising breakfast is an important piece of our fundraising efforts. We often feature a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate our work, with effective photos of earnest learners and dedicated volunteers, to prospective donors.

With Publisher, we create professional outreach flyers, brochures, class calendars, schedules, and materials to recruit volunteers and students. Publisher allows us to create newsletters to email to our volunteers and donors. They are easily made attractive with photos, they don’t bounce, and they save printing resources.

MS products are essential for our operation productivity, increasing our savvy and efficiency, but students also use our MS products to great effect. Basic knowledge of MS Office products is necessary for students to pursue their goals. Entry level office and clerical positions require proficiency in Outlook, Word, and Excel. Students writing resumes or completing job applications use Word. In our web class last year, students created slide shows with PowerPoint, made greeting cards with Publisher and used Excel to create family budgets. Microsoft products play a large part in helping our learners meet their goals for job readiness, communication, and fun.

In short, using the combined power of the various MS applications has transformed Literacy Source’s efficiency and effectiveness tremendously over the last several years. Access allows us to mine data in our own way to meet funder needs and monitor our efforts. Outlook allows us to coordinate schedules, resources, and contacts among dispersed staff. Publisher and PowerPoint allow us to tell our story effectively and professionally. Taken as a whole, MS applications provided through TechSoup has powerfully augmented our ability to provide learner-centered instruction and increase literacy.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact