LATEST BLOG: On Pirates & Literacy

On Pirates & Literacy:

sailing into a new economy


Walking into 826 Valencia, San Francisco’s Only Independent Pirate Supply Store, is like crawling down the hatch of a creaky old ship. Barnacle-encrusted ropes hang from the rafters, wooden planks are stacked by length, and lard is sold by the kilo. Through an half-open doorway, children can be glimpsed talking animatedly and gesturing over books.


I paid a visit to 826 Valencia to find out what makes this successful organization tick. It is a compelling example of a “hybrid” organization that merges a non-profit mission with for-profit practices: the pirate storefront is actually the whimsical gateway to a thriving literacy program that aims to revolutionize children’s relationships with books, reading, and writing. The way that 826 Valencia finds synergy between “purpose and profit” is an example for other organizations interested in branching out.


A Surprising History

826 Valencia was originally intended to have a purely not-for-profit structure. But once author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari had rented the storefront location, they realized that zoning bylaws actually required them to sell something. Noticing that the store resembled the inside of a pirate ship, they decided to sell supplies for the working buccaneer “as a gas” while getting on with the real business of their literacy program.

Pirate Posse

Who knew that this rather off-beat storefront would end up not only generating significant financial support for their program, but also end up enriching their organization in many other ways?

In fact, the model has been so successful that there are now seven similar literacy-storefront hybrids across America. And when it comes to hybrids, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


A Hybrid Trend

826’s success is not an isolated case. Our economy is changing for both not-for-profits and enterprises alike, and both are feeling the pressure to diversify from a total pursuit of either profit or purpose…


by Lise Palmer

SPARK regularly consults with organisations to help them find greater alignment between multiple objectives.  E-mail if you’d like to learn more about working with us.

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