Taking it to the people

Promo image for LeVar Burton's Kickstart campaign to bring Reading Rainbow to children free of charge.

Promo image for LeVar Burton’s Kickstart campaign to bring Reading Rainbow to children free of charge.

By now most people have probably heard about LeVar Burton’s stunning Kickstarter campaign that garnered him $2 million. In one day.

It might be worth mentioning that his goal was $1 million over 34 days.

A little bit of background for those who may not be able to place his name: LeVar Burton is an actor best known today as the host and executive producer of the long-running PBS children’s series Reading Rainbow. For me, growing up in a house with no cable, there wasn’t much else to watch outside of the children’s programing on PBS. I guess my mother let me watch ER with her and The Practice, oh and Frasier! But I digress.

Each episode of Reading Rainbow would center around a theme from a book. That theme was then explored in a series of short segments or stories and would conclude with several children introducing themselves and recommending one of their favorite books. No words can describe how badly I wanted to be one of those kids. Anyone who watched the show can’t help but get a little choked up when they hear the opening “Butterfly in the sky…I can go twice as high…” If  you close your eyes, you can see that butterfly float onto the screen with that swaying rainbow trailing behind him like his own private and colorful calvary.

Anyway, in 2006, the show was canceled and reruns were pulled in 2009. But that didn’t stop Mr. Burton and his team from trying to reach the youth. An iPad app was launched in 2012 and it became the #1 most-downloaded app in the iTunes educational store. Two years later, the crew behind Reading Rainbow decided to up their game once again. A few days ago, Burton took to Kickstarter to raise funds for a version of the program that would function as a free online resource for the public and as a scholastic supplement for schools.

“We’re creating an unlimited source of libraries and books for today’s digitally connected kids…delivered right into schools and homes everywhere…and I want to make this completely free to classes in need,” says Burton. Whoa. Talk about a challenge. Clearly Burton and his PR team thought the same thing, or else his reaction to Kickstarter’s reaction wouldn’t have been as poignant as it was. It’s pretty hard to fake genuine shock and gratitude.

The case of LeVar Burton and several other Kickstarter success stories proves one thing: If you take your case to the people, the people will listen. No longer are projects, goals and dreams quarantined to close groups of friends, a random rich uncle, or friends of friends. The world is your oyster and your project’s funding can be more tangible than ever with the right research and a listening ear. But (in the words of Mr. Burton) you don’t have to take my word for it.

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