crowd funding“Fund-the-Future” is the ultimate in crowdfunding, and this Kickstarteresque effort to raise money for literacy is certain to spiral into seven digits at Sunday’s Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction.

This incarnation of crowdfunding happens, for the most part, under the white tent where the goodwill hoopla is infectious. Last year paddle-holders bid from $250 to $100,000, raising $1.7 million. This was the largest group lot raised within the auction’s record-breaking take of $4 million.

At the auction, the format in bidding is for paddle-holders to stand when the auctioneer calls out various amounts. But people can contribute to the cause online at any time here.

Raising money for literacy has become a compelling campaign and for good reason. The statistics in Sonoma County reveal a weakness that could ultimately cripple future generations if neglected.

Organizers say currently more than 16,000 children in Sonoma County cannot read proficiently by third grade – the crucial point in time from an educational standpoint. Up until third grade children learn to read, but after third grade, they read to learn. Those who fail to read have a challenging fate. Many will drop out of high school and get jobs that won’t sustain them.

Right now roughly 54 percent of all third grade students in Sonoma County are reading below proficiency levels, and the wine community is hoping to increase the third grade literacy rate to 90 percent by 2018.

I applaud Fund-the-Future for countless reasons. On one hand literacy is a practical matter. Reading is the blueprint essential in building an economically viable community.

On the other hand, reading is a precious gift in and of itself. It’s a passport to traverse the world, with the fringe benefit of time travel. More importantly, it’s a chance to embrace imagination.

Albert Einstein wouldn’t be impressed with this two-step strategy: 1) Learn to read; 2) Read to learn. Einstein, the eccentric genius with outrageous white hair, would insist on this third step – read to imagine.

Einstein, the venerable champion of imagination, wrote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will be to know and understand.”