A new model for nonprofits: Robert Lambert ties entrepreneurship to outreach

James Boyle, the Wire

Libraries have always been a reliable refuge to build knowledge and provide nourishment to the
mind and soul. The reality is, however, that none of that is possible without first filling the belly, a truth with which Robert Lambert is all too familiar.

“A hungry mind cannot learn,” Lambert told a room of guests gathered last week at the Upper Southampton Free Library on Street Road. “I don’t want to just feed kids, I want to help end childhood hunger by 2020.”

The desire to keep children from feeling like they may never have another meal pushed Lambert to create the Global Read and Feed Children’s Foundation. The nonprofit uses donations and strategic partnerships to power an initiative to teach STEM concepts to kids and provide them with healthy snacks and nutritious meals, all from the library.

Lambert appeared in Upper Southampton in support of the library’s Access the World Capital and Endowment Campaign, its ongoing fundraising initiative to update the building’s infrastructure and services. During his talk, Lambert stressed the need for libraries and nonprofits to take on a more entrepreneurial spirit and find creative ways to build revenue.

“I hate asking for money and I don’t like writing grants,” said Lambert. “I don’t want to redistribute wealth, I want to create wealth.”

While Global Read and Feed Children’s Foundation accepts charitable contributions, the majority of funding comes from the proceeds generated by sales of Lambert’s commodities trading and strategies program, Global Grain Futures. By paying for the membership fee, clients have full access to resources that guides them through the futures markets.

“I gained the skills to understand the market by having access to the library,” said Lambert. “I wanted to learn about the stock market, so I would look at charts and teach myself about behavioral finance. My hunger for knowledge was insatiable.”

Lambert’s incredible story of achievement starts in a public housing project in York, where he and his sister would go days without eating, save for the free school lunch. His single mother worked two jobs to keep a roof over their heads, and every time she got a raise, the rent would go up. He spent much of his free time at the only place he could afford, the free Martin Library in the York County System.

Lambert read as much as possible and eventually joined the staff in the ninth grade, under the Job Training Partnership Act, working after school and during the summer. Lambert graduated with an undergraduate degree in Speech Communication with a minor in Philosophy from York College of Pennsylvania. He has his master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s in Public Policy/Administration from Penn State University.

He has been elected city controller of York and continues to work with the York County Library System, building partnerships to fund the operating budget at Martin Library. Under his direction, the library has entered into contracts to manage numerous outside resources, including hospital and charter school libraries.

“Library funding in Pennsylvania is horrendous,” said Lambert. “Two-thirds of our $9 million budget comes from the partnerships. Libraries are competing with Amazon, Apple and Google and have to overcome structural challenges to become sustainable.”

For information on Robert Lambert, visit www.yorkcity.org/controller.