Reading is Fundamental: The Bestselling Thriller Author Who Champions Literacy

David Baldacci worked as a lawyer in Washington D.C. before making it big as a novelist in 1996 with Absolute Power, which was adapted into a major film with Clint Eastwood starring and directing. Baldacci has written 30 novels over the years, many of them bestsellers. Several other Baldacci books have become film and television properties, serving as a reminder that these days, top-selling authors also have the potential to make big money in Hollywood. Baldacci is worth $45 million, according to one estimate

Baldacci and his wife Michelle have put some of their money toward philanthropy. Baldacci started working with the National MS Society after his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But a centerpiece of the couple's philanthropy has involved the Wish You Well Foundation, which Baldacci and Michelle established in 2002.

Wish You Well Foundation's mission is to support family and adult literacy in the United States by "fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs." On its website, Wish You Well provides a number of statistics, including that almost one-quarter of the adult population (44 million adults) possesses Level 1 literacy skills, meaning that they're unable to complete a job application or read a story to their children. In a talk a few years ago, Baldacci said that "the ability to read is the most fundamental skill that we need as a people."

He's right about that, and the Baldaccis' philanthropy is a great example of a couple zeroing in on a cause that is both important and resonates with how they earned their money. 

The Wish You Well Foundation has funded literacy programs for adults, K-12 students, and even in the early childhood space. Recent grants have gone to Literacy Volunteers of Chenango County and Literacy Volunteers of Greater Syracuse, both of which deal with adult literacy in Central New York State, as well as other literacy volunteer outfits across the country. Money has also gone to the Virginia Literacy Foundation, and Catherine McAuley Center, "which provides one-on-one tutoring for adult learners and a transitional housing program for women."

A component of the couple's philanthropy also involves support of libraries, such as their support of Fairfax County Public Library Foundation. Money has also streamed to places such as John Marshall Foundation, which "creates educational and public interest programs of law, government, history and public affairs," and the Mark Twain House and Museum.

The foundation has also supported literacy in schools, supporting places such as Eagle Reading Program of Snow Creek Elementary School in Virginia, and Henrico Education Foundation, which, along with Greenwood Elementary School, "provides literacy materials for students from many cultures and languages, generating tolerance and understanding of various cultures and ethnic differences in the school and their community." Baldacci was born and raised in Virginia and attended Henrico High School in the Richmond area. While Virginia is definitely a site of philanthropy for Wish You Well, the foundation has made grants in over 40 states.

Wish You Well Foundation has also supported early childhood literacy, having supported places like the Karla Fund in Ann Arbor, which "distributes books and materials to parents of newborns at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to promote early childhood reading."

Wish You Well has also partnered with Feeding America to launch Feeding Body & Mind, a program that addresses the links between literacy, poverty, and hunger. Feeding Body & Mind collects new and used books and distributes them through the Feeding America Food Banks. Over 1 million new and slightly used books have been collected and distributed through food banks to families in need.

Grantseekers interested in support from Wish You Well should go to the foundation's application page. Most grant requests range from $200 to $10,000. 

Related: David Baldacci Profile