First Literacy, Inc.

Read Between the Lives

aka First Literacy, Inc.   |   Boston, MA   |
GuideStar Charity Check

First Literacy, Inc.

EIN: 04-2997446


First Literacy's mission is to ensure that adults with low-literacy or limited English proficiency have high-quality educational opportunities that enable them to thrive as individuals and as family members, in their workplaces, and in their communities. We accomplish our mission by offering best practice workshops for teachers and other adult education professionals; encouraging, supporting, and disseminating innovative practices and resources through the First Literacy Lab initiative, and awarding scholarships and providing mentors for adult learners who are starting college.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Ms. Terry Witherell

Main address

160 Boylston Street 2nd Floor

Boston, MA 02116 USA

Show more contact info

Formerly known as

Boston Adult Literacy Fund



Subject area info

Adult education

Adult literacy

Urban development

Population served info



NTEE code info

Adult, Continuing Education (B60)

Urban, Community (S31)

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

The needs of adults with low-literacy or limited English proficiency are well-documented. Poor adult literacy skills translate to poorer health and fewer economic opportunities as adult learner are often unqualified for jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. The scarcity of resources to provide adequate classes to adult learners is also well-known. State appropriations for the Adult Basic Education (ABE) system declined 30% in MA between FY2001 - 2019 after adjusting for inflation. Unlike their K-12 counterparts, ABE teachers often enter the field with little training to meet the needs of learners who represent a range of ages and cultures. As with the adult learners they teach, adult educators are not alike: they have different life experiences, work in a variety of program types, and have a range of approaches and motivations for teaching. First Literacy hopes to help adult learners and the teachers who educate them.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

First Literacy Scholarships

Adult learners who have successfully completed basic studies in an ABE program and are pursuing advanced education are eligible for a First Literacy Scholarship. Recipients are awarded scholarships in recognition of their educational achievements and potential, their commitment to community service, and their resiliency and perseverance in the face of hardship. To ensure that scholarship recipients succeed, First Literacy provides peer mentors, a key component missing from conventional aid. Scholarship recipients are paired with one another to navigate the challenging landscape of college. Our findings suggest that while the scholarship makes going back to school possible, the mentorship is what makes school a success.

Population(s) Served

First Literacy's professional development workshops are designed to give the programs and program staff the knowledge, skills and resources needed to improve, revise, and expand the classes and services they offer to adult learners. The goals for the workshops are:To contribute to the ongoing professional development of ABE program staff in Greater Boston;To support ongoing development of ABE programs in Greater Boston;To promote the use of best, evidence-based practices among ABE program staff and programs; To draw upon the expertise of experienced ABE staff and help develop new leaders in the field; andTo promote networking of ABE professionals in Greater Boston.

Population(s) Served

The goal of the First Literacy Lab initiative is to provide grants to stimulate and support the development, trial, and implementation of ABE educational resources and practices that have an impact on specific students, programs, and the ABE field in general. The First Literacy Lab initiative strengthens individual programs and the Adult Basic Education (ABE) field by cultivating innovative ideas and creative problem-solving. Grants are made in the amount of up to $5,000.00 and are open to all ABE non-profit programs in Massachusetts. First Literacy Lab Grants are unique in the field. They provide flexible funding which is not available from traditional funding sources. They give educators the resources they need to directly impact adult learners. They strengthen the entire ABE field by sharing the findings of First Literacy Lab projects. They provide grant recipients with on-site technical assistance and support in implementing projects.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

First Literacy's goal is to improve the lives of adult learners and their families through education and help adult educators gain the skills they need to effectively teach their students.

Founded 30 years ago, First Literacy’s mission is to ensure that adults with low-literacy or limited English proficiency have high-quality educational opportunities that enable them to thrive as individuals and as family members, in their workplaces, and in their communities. We know that by supporting the front line in adult education—teachers, tutors and program administrators—students benefit. Our goals are to:

offer free best practice workshops for teachers and other adult education professionals;
encourage, support, and share innovative practices, curriculum and resources through our First Literacy Lab program grant initiative; and
award scholarships and provide support for adult learners who are starting college.

First Literacy has both a strong and diverse donor community and a strong and talented staff with decades of experience in the adult literacy arena.

The most notable measure of First Literacy's success is that, through our efforts, 50,000 adults have reached their educational goals. Included in this number are 500 literacy program graduates who have received college scholarships. First Literacy has also raised awareness and allocated more than $6 million for adult literacy efforts since 1990. With additional funding, we could reach many more adult learners and their educators.


First Literacy, Inc.
Fiscal year: Jul 01 - Jun 30
Financial documents
2022 2022 Financials 2020 2020 990 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
done  Yes, financials were audited by an independent accountant. info

Revenue vs. expenses:  breakdown

SOURCE: IRS Form 990 info
Note: When component data are not available, the graph displays the total Revenue and/or Expense values.

Liquidity in 2022 info

SOURCE: IRS Form 990


Average of 53.38 over 10 years

Months of cash in 2022 info

SOURCE: IRS Form 990


Average of 3.3 over 10 years

Fringe rate in 2022 info

SOURCE: IRS Form 990


Average of 12% over 10 years

Funding sources info

Source: IRS Form 990

Assets & liabilities info

Source: IRS Form 990

Financial data

SOURCE: IRS Form 990

First Literacy, Inc.

Revenue & expenses

Fiscal Year: Jul 01 - Jun 30

SOURCE: IRS Form 990 info

Fiscal year ending: cloud_download Download Data

First Literacy, Inc.

Balance sheet

Fiscal Year: Jul 01 - Jun 30

SOURCE: IRS Form 990 info

The balance sheet gives a snapshot of the financial health of an organization at a particular point in time. An organization's total assets should generally exceed its total liabilities, or it cannot survive long, but the types of assets and liabilities must also be considered. For instance, an organization's current assets (cash, receivables, securities, etc.) should be sufficient to cover its current liabilities (payables, deferred revenue, current year loan, and note payments). Otherwise, the organization may face solvency problems. On the other hand, an organization whose cash and equivalents greatly exceed its current liabilities might not be putting its money to best use.

Fiscal year ending: cloud_download Download Data

First Literacy, Inc.

Financial trends analysis Glossary & formula definitions

Fiscal Year: Jul 01 - Jun 30

SOURCE: IRS Form 990 info

This snapshot of First Literacy, Inc.’s financial trends applies Nonprofit Finance Fund® analysis to data hosted by GuideStar. While it highlights the data that matter most, remember that context is key – numbers only tell part of any story.

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Business model indicators

Profitability info 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Unrestricted surplus (deficit) before depreciation $105,734 $40,030 $28,376 $245,270 -$295,339
As % of expenses 21.6% 7.2% 5.3% 38.2% -40.8%
Unrestricted surplus (deficit) after depreciation $97,634 $33,850 $22,196 $242,179 -$301,879
As % of expenses 19.6% 6.0% 4.1% 37.5% -41.4%
Revenue composition info
Total revenue (unrestricted & restricted) $488,696 $655,242 $458,574 $653,913 $615,900
Total revenue, % change over prior year -20.5% 34.1% -30.0% 42.6% -5.8%
Program services revenue 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Membership dues 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Investment income 3.4% 2.8% 4.5% 2.8% 2.9%
Government grants 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 8.4% 9.4%
All other grants and contributions 83.8% 91.3% 85.5% 77.9% 75.6%
Other revenue 12.7% 5.9% 10.0% 10.9% 12.0%
Expense composition info
Total expenses before depreciation $490,572 $559,379 $534,317 $642,789 $723,424
Total expenses, % change over prior year 6.4% 14.0% -4.5% 20.3% 12.5%
Personnel 53.0% 59.1% 58.5% 60.7% 59.3%
Professional fees 8.8% 8.3% 9.9% 9.4% 9.3%
Occupancy 14.9% 13.4% 13.2% 12.4% 10.7%
Interest 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Pass-through 16.3% 12.6% 12.3% 10.5% 13.7%
All other expenses 7.0% 6.7% 6.0% 6.9% 7.1%
Full cost components (estimated) info 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Total expenses (after depreciation) $498,672 $565,559 $540,497 $645,880 $729,964
One month of savings $40,881 $46,615 $44,526 $53,566 $60,285
Debt principal payment $0 $0 $0 $0 $57,945
Fixed asset additions $0 $0 $0 $0 $39,240
Total full costs (estimated) $539,553 $612,174 $585,023 $699,446 $887,434

Capital structure indicators

Liquidity info 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Months of cash 2.8 2.1 3.6 3.3 2.7
Months of cash and investments 27.9 25.1 28.6 28.6 19.8
Months of estimated liquid unrestricted net assets 25.6 23.3 25.0 25.4 17.0
Balance sheet composition info 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Cash $114,901 $98,774 $162,295 $176,908 $162,561
Investments $1,023,678 $1,073,311 $1,109,960 $1,354,939 $1,030,332
Receivables $28,000 $157,450 $61,000 $112,000 $36,000
Gross land, buildings, equipment (LBE) $71,759 $71,759 $71,759 $71,759 $110,999
Accumulated depreciation (as a % of LBE) 78.5% 87.1% 95.7% 100.0% 70.5%
Liabilities (as a % of assets) 0.5% 2.4% 6.9% 8.3% 10.4%
Unrestricted net assets $1,061,591 $1,095,441 $1,117,637 $1,359,816 $1,057,937
Temporarily restricted net assets $72,053 $218,192 N/A N/A N/A
Permanently restricted net assets $50,000 $0 N/A N/A N/A
Total restricted net assets $122,053 $218,192 $132,629 $153,500 $78,500
Total net assets $1,183,644 $1,313,633 $1,250,266 $1,513,316 $1,136,437

Key data checks

Key data checks info 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Material data errors No No No No No


The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

Form 1023/1024 is not available for this organization

Executive Director

Ms. Terry Witherell

Terry Witherell became the Executive Director of First Literacy on July 2019. As ED, she is responsible for overall management and operations of First Literacy. Prior to assuming the position, Ms. Witherell worked in a variety of roles at Catholic Extension for 8 years, most recently as Senior Director of Mission. Catholic Extension is a nonprofit organization that supports the poorest areas of the United States. She holds a BA in English from Boston College; a Master of Arts in Counseling from Boston College; and a Master of Theological Studies, also from Boston College.

Number of employees

Source: IRS Form 990

First Literacy, Inc.

Officers, directors, trustees, and key employees

SOURCE: IRS Form 990

Show data for fiscal year
Compensation data
Download up to 5 most recent years of officer and director compensation data for this organization

There are no highest paid employees recorded for this organization.

First Literacy, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 06/15/2023
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board of directors data
Download the most recent year of board of directors data for this organization
Board chair

Mr. James Nolan


Term: 2022 -

Jeffrey Beale

Eaton Vance Management, retired

James Nolan


Ann Noble-Kiley

Community member

Christopher Walsh

Cushman & Wakefield

Holly Reeves


Lawrence Fahey

Eaton Vance Management

Olga Kasparova


Ryan Tosi

K&L Gates

Ciro Valiente


Corey Groves

State Street

Nilan Jayasinghe

John Hancock

Holly Reeves


Julie Paris

Akamai Technologies

Michelle Wu

Mayor of Boston

Steven Stanton

Stanton & Associates

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? No
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? No
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? No
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? No
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 9/8/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.