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Impactful Marketing with Rowan Childs, CEO & Founder of The Madison Reading Project

Podcast Published On: 03.04.2019
Found In: Leadership

Episode Summary

Impactful Marketing

Marketing is one of the most important things a business can do. Not only does marketing build brand awareness, but it also can generate sales, grow businesses, and engage customers. The core of any business is to solve problems. Oftentimes, the bigger the problem, the better. However, if you really want to make an impact in your industry, market, community, or neighborhood, people need to know what problem you can solve. You could have a cure for cancer, but if no one knows about it, you’re not going to change anyone’s life in order to grow your business and make an impact on people’s lives. You need marketing.

Why did you choose marketing as a career?

Initially I never actually knew exactly what marketing was. I kind of stumbled into it and then realized along the way that what I was doing is actually marketing. I was marketing myself as a designer at the time and the firm that I worked until the point that people came up to me and said, you know, you’re really good at talking about yourself and your company, maybe you should do that as a career. And that’s when I kinda turned around and looked at everything that I had done and looked up the definition of marketing and said, Oh hey, I really enjoyed doing this. I could do this for a living.


About Rowan Childs, CEO & Founder of The Madison Reading Project

Rowan is a veteran marketing specialist and founder of her nonprofit Madison Reading Project. She has spearheaded marketing campaigns in industries ranging from medical devices to property management and architectural planning. She most recently was on the board of directors for the Social Media Breakfast, Madison Chapter and as I mentioned founded the Madison Reading Project. The Madison reading project started in 2014 with the goal of helping vulnerable kids with their reading. Her non profit has grown from helping 30 kids with reading to a larger reach of thousands of children across south central Wisconsin by providing quality reading materials and inspiring programming.

Rowan Childs

Rowan Childs

CEO & Founder of The Madison Reading Project


Contact Rowan

Episode Transcription

Introduction: Welcome to the Inspire People Impact Lives podcast. This podcast is for people who are looking to get more out of life by making an impact on those around them. Each week we bring you local influential business and community leaders delivering powerful messages to help you live a more inspiring and impactful life coming to you live from Northwestern Mutual Middleton. Here’s your host, Josh Kosnick.

Josh: Welcome to another episode of Inspire People Impact Lives. Today’s topic is making an impact by spreading your message with marketing. Marketing is one of the most important things a business can do. Not only does marketing build brand awareness, but it also can generate sales, grow businesses, and engage customers. The core of any business is to solve problems. Oftentimes, the bigger the problem, the better. However, if you really want to make an impact in your industry, market, community, or neighborhood, people need to know what problem you can solve. You could have a cure for cancer, but if no one knows about it, you’re not going to change anyone’s life in order to grow your business and make an impact on people’s lives. You need marketing. Here today to give us some marketing tips and explain how she personally is making an impact with our community is Rowan Childs.

Josh: Rowan is a veteran marketing specialist and founder of her nonprofit Madison Reading Project. She has spearheaded marketing campaigns in industries ranging from medical devices to property management and architectural planning. She most recently was on the board of directors for the Social Media Breakfast, Madison Chapter and as I mentioned founded the Madison Reading Project. The Madison reading project started in 2014 with the goal of helping vulnerable kids with their reading. Her non profit has grown from helping 30 kids with reading to a larger reach of thousands of children across south central Wisconsin by providing quality reading materials and inspiring programming, which was just awesome. So Rowan, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show today. I’m looking forward to digging in and talking about the nonprofit because I firmly believe in the health and education of our youth. I’m also very excited to talk about the marketing with you today as many of our audience members are business executives and entrepreneurs. And I think one of the biggest things that they have is, so everyone has this marketing budget, but I think about the problem they come with is where, where do they spend or where do they put what’s going to be most effective, get most bang for the buck. Because I know that I’ve asked those questions myself. So really excited to welcome to the show. So let’s start with some background. Why did you choose marketing as a career?

Rowan: Um, well I definitely, initially I never actually knew exactly what marketing was. I kind of stumbled into it and then realized along the way that what I was doing is actually marketing. I was marketing myself as a designer at the time and the firm that I worked until the point that people came up to me and said, you know, you’re really good at talking about yourself and your company, maybe you should do that as a career. And that’s when I kinda turned around and looked at everything that I had done and looked up the definition of marketing and said, Oh hey, I really enjoyed doing this. I could do this for a living. Um, so I took about two years of working my way back up and learning a lot of things and jumped in.

Josh: That’s great ause you told me your degree was in marketing right?

Rowan: Yeah, I have the art and English degree.

Josh: So you can articulate. So that leads into marketing but not again your marketing degree. Cause I know that, you know, when I was a Whitewater, a lot of people were in marketing and Madison, I know there’s marketing, there’s marketing almost over university and marketing means so much to so many people, but even some of the doesn’t have the back or degree. You can be very successful in it as well. So can you recall any marketing or ad campaign that really inspired you at a young age? Was there anything that stuck out that, uh, it’s like that’s just kind of drew you to that field?

Rowan: Um, well definitely. I think some of when I look back at some of the things that really stuck out to me early on, one of those brands specifically was National Geographic, which is something that cuddly, you weren’t thinking I was going to throw out. I traveled a lot as, as a child growing up. Um, and one of the things that we always had though was that National Geographic magazine sent to our house. And those are things that inside that magazine there’s all kinds of images, stories. Um, but that brand in particular is something, as a little kid you kind of recognize it, you know, it’s yellow, it’s got the logo and that’s something as a kid, even now, I, you know, I see it and I instantly think of, you know, the magazine and what it meant to me growing up. Um, and that’s still something that’s still around today in various forms.

Josh: That’s fascinating. As you told your story there. I’m thinking of my grandparents’ house and that magazine was always there and my parents never got it. But when we went to visit my grandparents, that was something that I would flip through. And you’re right, I can still picture the bold white lettering with the yellow trim and whatever graphic picture was, was their highlight for that month or whatever. So that’s, that’s fascinating. Was there any affects that that campaign or that magazine had on you?

Rowan: I mean, in particular, probably just sort of knowing about the world. I mean, sort of grew up without the Internet, so I’m dating myself. Um, but that was definitely like that whole eye into to the whole other world, other cultures, um, learning about other countries or just different industries. So that was something for me was definitely like, this is probably more educational to me than reading the encyclopedia at the time or something else like that. So that, that definitely stuck with me. And eventually I think I got rid of some of the stacks of my own National Geographics.

Josh: I’m thinking now so we went back to childhood. Yeah. You have the Internet and how are you have all this stuff. What are the, what today or what marketing campaigns are you attracted to today? Is there anything that sticks out?

Rowan: Oh, yeah. Um, I mean, some of them, you know, I can name it now of course, I’m like, oh, which one is there in particular? And I think some of them are really clever. Um, and I actually in particular like some of the ones that aren’t actually geared towards women because you know, there’s lots of ads geared towards women these days in a variety of shapes and fashions. Some that do a really good job and others that you cringe at and wonder why didn’t anyone stop them with this? Right. You’re just like, oh no, that’s not going to fly. Um, but some of the ones I find intriguing are not the ones that are geared towards me, so in particular, maybe geared towards men, um, or you know, geared towards kids or not my age group. Um, so some of the local like, you know, whether it’s Budweiser campaign or some of those that I find really entertaining, but they’re really not for me. Yeah. Um, I think, you know, you know, whether it’s also like Doritos or like things like, ah, what’s the word I’m thinking of beef jerky. You know, like that’s something that is not, yeah, that’s not geared towards me whatsoever, but I find it very amusing.

Josh: That’s interesting you say that now, opposites attract. I think I’ve noticed more of the female ads. I’m like, you’re, you’re right. There are some of them like, Oh man, that’s, that’s really good because women can be better I think the consumer, uh, stats out there, I mean they’re targeting for for a reason and I’m like, oh, that’s really good. And you’re right, there has been a couple I’m like, I don’t know how that’s going to go over, uh, not being female myself, I’m not in a position to judge, but I’m like definitely had those cringeworthy thoughts as well. So in your own words, can you tell us why marketing is important and maybe not just for businesses, but just individuals going back to your New York story and you know marketing yourself along with the business you were working for?

Rowan: Yeah, I mean, I think marketing, whether you are an individual, if you’ve got it, you know, your own company and nonprofits, you know, or it’s a particular cause or something like that that you’re helping with is really letting other people understand what you’re all about and why. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re one person and you have $10 to, you know, to put towards your effort or if you have $1 million. It’s really letting people know, sort of that whole reasoning behind it and whether they should get behind you as far as if it’s a cause they should buy your product. If you know that you want them to repeat your story to somebody else. Um, and I think it can be, you know, really make an impact on someone, whether, you know, you’re sharing something personal about it and that’s what’s going to carry your name or your brand, you know, from one person to the other person without you even having to say something, you know, and that sort of definitely how that can sort of trickled down in multiple ways or fashion. So, um, like you mentioned earlier on, you could have an amazing idea or a story, but if no one else knows about it, you know, it will be lost forever.

Josh: So you mentioned you were really good at talking about yourself. I’m one of those people that’s actually not, believe it or not? Um, I have a podcast, but, so they kind of ironic right, but I actually hate talking about myself and I even, I actually cringe when people give me compliments. So I’m like one of those people. So if there’s any people like me that don’t like talking about themselves, which again is marketing. If you’re in business, what advice would you give them?

Rowan: Yeah, well then I would say start with something you are comfortable with. Um, although I’m always also a proponent of putting yourself out there. Maybe baby steps. But I would start with something you’re comfortable with. So if you don’t want to go and talk about yourself on a podcast or stand up in front of other people is what can you do then? Is it social media? Can you write a blog, um, where you don’t have to get up and put yourself out there. Um, is it pictures that you can take even with your cell phone and just start to build yourself up that way, for instance, so that if you don’t like public speaking, you could do something else. Um, but there’s a variety of ways I think to do that. And then like I mentioned as well, I sort of had to get over my own hurdle of starting a variety of different things, whether it was starting in marketing and not knowing everything be used at some point, just have to jump in and then figure it out. Um, the same with people who don’t like public speaking, you know, the only way to get better at it as to practice that.

Josh: So, what’s the correlation between belief in yourself or belief in the product that you’re marketing? Does that go hand in hand?

Rowan: Well, hopefully you do believe what you’re marketing, um, but I would say, you know, if, are you asking sort of, how do you go?

Josh: That, uh, maybe someone’s uncomfortable because they don’t have a hundred percent confidence in yet what they’re doing or what they’re pitching or whatever it may be. Were there any times like that for you or any advice for those people that may not have?

Rowan: Yeah, I mean, I think if anything to, depending on what you’re pitching is letting people know like, Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s not a real thing yet, but I think it’s a really good idea. Do you want to join me? Or you know, for example, or you know, letting people know, like if it’s a product that’s not fully, completely innovated or it’s not, you know, rolled out ready to go, it’s still a rough draft. But then let people know that, you know, instead of like your pilot program for something else. Um, some people actually do kind of like that. It’s sort of like, oh, I can get in on the beginning. It’s an idea. I like people with ideas versus coming back with the full, you know, full finished product and everything’s completed. So I think being honest with people, if it is something that you have that isn’t it really fleshed out, then have that conversation.

Josh: Experts say that you are the average of the five people you hang out with and the books that you read. We’d like to suggest the podcast that you listen to as well. So hit that subscribe button and add Madison’s top leaders to your circle. We’d also encourage you to share this podcast with as many friends as possible. Our mission is simple to inspire people and impact lives. If you know of a friend or colleague that could benefit from listening to some of Madison’s top leaders, give us a share now back to our guest.

Josh: Yeah. Then you’d get some real feedback. That’s really good. So for a business owner looking to hire a marketing person or potentially even an agency, what are some important things that you would look for?

Rowan: Um, I would definitely say look at some of their work. You know, so if they have a website, check out what they’ve done, look at, even if it’s not the same industry, just look at a variety of skills that they might have or their agency might have a look at the companies that they’ve worked with, um, that they have either from that specific industry or from prior work too, and see if there’s something that really speaks to you or if there’s something clever that they did that you think that’s really cool, not necessarily that they could do that exact idea with what you want. Um, but just sort of looking at that experience level. And then I would always say referrals too. Find out if they did work with a variety of different people, you know, get their feedback.

Josh: Do you think they have to be, or have had experience in the industry or sector that they’re doing work for?

Rowan: Not necessarily. I mean, it depends again on what product you’ve got. Um, you know what I did for a while, some medical device in a startup company, which I hadn’t had any experience with that. But in some ways it’s a little refreshing because you get a new perspective on things. Um, so fresh scape, fresh look at sort of what’s going on in that industry. And, in the startup industry too, it’s a little bit different where you’ve got a lot of different people who are understanding and kind of thinking about things differently as it is, versus something that’s been around for a long time.

Josh: Yeah. And I guess the old adage there would be, you know, sometimes people that know it too closely are too close to the forest to see the trees, uh, so being able to take that step back and like you said, get that fresh perspective could be helpful depending on what we’re doing. So for a business owner looking to try some marketing of their own, you know, let’s say it’s a startup, let’s say it’s, or even a moderate, uh, length and business, where do they start?

Rowan: I would say, you know, you can definitely Google startup marketing plan, right? And it’ll say, do these five things. Um, and then, you know, something that I would do is sort of really sort of, write it down. Try and figure it out. Sort of what exactly is my product, what am I trying to sell or pitch to people? Why do I want them to care? And sort of how are you laying that out? You know, most people are going to say you’re going to need a website depending on what it is. Do you need social media? But look at who you’re really trying to target because depending on who you’re actually trying to reach, they might not be on social media. A websites, probably just really helpful to have to place all your information. Um, but you really need to sort of think about where your demographic is and that’s maybe where you need to be versus, oh, I need social media. And it’s for someone that isn’t using it.

Josh: Yeah. So does social media play a role for everyone these days?

Rowan: Pretty much. Um, not everyone’s on social media. Maybe at some form or format. Um, it’s actually pretty interesting to me at this point. You know what the range of age is on social media and it’s not necessarily every single channel. Um, but it is interesting and there’s just, you know, millions of people joining the ranks at this end.

Josh: So when you go out of town. So I was in, and I, I know Milwaukee fairly well. Uh, it was being there, were so close, but even just being there last weekend, my favorite restaurant no, it was a couple of weekends ago. Anyhow, my favorite restaurant was closed, I know they’re closed Sunday, Monday and I wanted to take a group out Sunday. So I’m googling, uh, you know, what restaurant we should take them to. So I’m looking at reviews and looking at different things and looking at different social media posts about these restaurants because that’s a nice Facebook function now is that you can actually search in your group of friends who have been in that city and see where they went to. And if there was like a consensus of spotlight, this was the hot spot. So that’s either entertainment, food or otherwise, and see, okay, well I know this group of people, I like this group people I trust this group of people’s opinion and they’d been to this place, so okay, we’ll give it a try or the reviews that may be out there. So, I think you’re right. Like online social media. I think no matter what age you’re at, that plays a role on if you’re at too old of an age to get into that, I think that better hire someone that they can do it.

Rowan: Well it’s, yeah. I mean my, my own father who’s in his seventies we were talking, he lives out of state. We were trying to figure out a place to meet and where to go and he’s like, oh, just look on Yelp. And that really was interesting to me that he even knew what it was. He doesn’t have it on his phone, but he looks it up via the website and just to get some reviews on restaurants, places, things to do. So you just never know.

Josh: Even he’s looking at that. Actually, so my grandfather just turned 90 and uh, I was joking with my dad a couple of years back that my grandfather knows the Internet better than my dad does, just cause he’s actually taken the time and not just said. So it’s kind of funny in that respect. But, uh, so do you think we’ve hit enough on the importance of putting together an understanding of brand or vision or message or should we talk a little bit more about that?

Rowan: Yeah, I mean I think, I mean I love branding. I mean I can talk about marketing and branding all day long.

Josh: But we both got kids to get to. So we’ll make sure we hit on it enough that it gets the point across. But uh, so how important is it to put together a clear brand vision message?

Rowan: I mean, that’s something, you know, from the very beginning setting, you know, when I think writing that plan out, writing out your brand and then trying to make sure you stick to it. So if you write it out in January that you check in maybe once every month, especially at the beginning and look back and say, am I kinda staying within my brand? Am I just going off on this tangent? Whether it’s I’m putting my logo on all kinds of crazy things or is it all the way down to the font and the colors? Am I, you know, adding all these random things and that doesn’t make sense to people, especially at the beginning when they’re just getting to know you or your company. So really looking at trying to be strategic about what you’re putting out there with your company name on.

Josh: especially if it’s your name. That’s a whole different ball because we are right. I know that throughout the Madison area, there’s so many business owners that I’ve interacted with, whether they’re in building, building, homes, building, commercial buildings, whether they’re uh, um, marketing or CPA firms or anything like their, their names are on it. So it’s I think doubly, triply important if your personal name’s on your business name, that you’re really minding your P’s and Q’s on what’s going out.

Rowan: It could be something that you might’ve put out three years ago, but people can still find it. You know, even if sometimes even if you delete stuff off your website or social media it somehow can resurface itself.

Josh: the Internet doesn’t forget. It seems.

Rowan: So that’s something I would definitely say is just revisiting your branding message, especially with, you know, how you’re talking about things. Even just the tone of your language. Is it friendly? Is it Sassy? Is it straight forward? But just staying continuous throughout that and then checking through and maybe by the end of the year you decided to make some adjustments.

Josh: So I’m a big person with authenticity and being true to who you are. Do you think that should speak through the company brand?

Rowan: I mean I think consumers are pretty smart, especially in this day and age where there’s just so much coming at them. And if you’re not authentic or they believe you, and then they see something else that isn’t what you said you were, then I think then they’re done. Um, or it’s hard to come back from that. So being authentic and talking about yourself, um, yeah, you need to be careful about what you’re saying about yourself. But being yourself and being authentic I think is even more important.

Josh: What made me think of that is you used the word Sassy and I’m like, well, if that’s someone’s authentic self and that’s what they want to come across then absolutely. Be Sassy because that’s, that’s who you’re trying to attract those other Sassy people, I guess. Right.

Rowan: I don’t know. But, yeah. If that’s your thing, then yeah, I would be if that’s who you are or are you like to make jokes or what? Whichever. Yeah.

Josh: Then people know they got you when they get you. So, um, have you, uh, watched or read any of Simon Sinek stuff in the Start With Why does that speak to you when you go through marketing?

Rowan: Yeah, I think it’s got a really good message in it. I mean there’s lots of messages that I think he has gotten from speaking to a variety of people. And I think he’s also been able to take his own brand and been able to turn that around and really educate the masses I guess at this point. Um, I also think it’s a good sort of entry level book for anybody though to read whether you’re in marketing or not. It’s simple, but, it makes sense.

Josh: I’ve had the opportunity to hear him speak a couple times and I don’t know that he goes to off of what his book does. Like he’s given great oral presentations and, and you can see this stuff on YouTube and Ted talks. Um, but it’s, I think it was really tremendous in the, he utilizes, apple as one of those examples and that’s an iconic brand that even my kids dance to the commercials cause I got a catchy song that’s on them now. But uh, so, uh, it’s good stuff. So Simon Sinek Start With Why is the book, but if you’re not going to read, check out his YouTube and Ted Talk stuff on marketing is a good resource. So let’s talk a little bit about the board that you’re on or were on most recently. The Social Media Breakfast, Madison Club. Tell us more, a little bit about that organization.

Rowan: So that organization, um, it’s actually I think over 15 or 20 years old at this point. And it was really initially all put together from people who wanted to learn more about social media. And they set up a monthly meeting, um, in the basement of a restaurant on the east side and they met once a month and they had coffee and talks about social media and kind of like shared information. It was still new at the time. How do you do this? How do you do that? Um, and it grew from being in the basement all the way to what it is today, which at this point they usually have at least one meeting per month, if not more. Um, and they’ll have anyone, you know, that range of people attending anywhere, depending on the venue from a hundred to 300 people. So it’s grown tremendously from the beginning.

Josh: And Benny one can attend?

Rowan: anyone can attend. It’s a free event.

Josh: Okay. Where would people find out about that?

Rowan: f they look them up online, online, online, Social Media reakfast, Madison. There are other groups now throughout the U.S. Um, but specifically for Madison, they always have a monthly event with a really good speaker or speakers. Um, so there’s either an individual speaker or a panel. Um, there’s always time for questions afterwards, sort of how to, um, or best recommendations and then it’s great networking. So you’ve got a whole variety of people who attend, whether they’re in marketing or they’re in a business that they don’t have a marketing person or you just want to go and learn a little bit more. Um, and it’s all different industries and that’s what I really enjoy because you can meet someone from somewhere completely different.

Josh: Yeah that’s cool. I think a lot of times the organic networking that happens at some of those events is some of the most useful stuff that may come out of it.

Rowan: I’ve met a huge range of people and I love that you might have someone who just got out of college, someone who’s, you know, they could have, they could be in agriculture, someone else could be in marketing at an insurance company. I mean, there’s just a huge range of people there and it’s a free event and they always have coffee.

Rowan: Good education, I think that’s the other thing that gets people excited.

Josh: If the content wasn’t great you wouldn’t get a hundred or three hundred people to come. That’s really good. So last thing on social media since we’re still on that path there are there any tips for someone just starting out, whether they get on, there’s so many platforms now from Instagram, Facebook got all this different stuff. Uh, any tips or, uh, which ones they should go towards?

Rowan: I mean, depending what if they’re using it for marketing. I would really again look at who they’re trying to talk to. Um, and really just maybe take a couple of days and just look at, is that group of people on that platform before you go off using Snapchat and you don’t know how to use it or if you’re on Twitter or Instagram is depending on what your messages or your product, I would kind of look at who else is out there that maybe has something similar or are they doing a good job? Are they getting the response?

Josh: Yeah. How do they drive followers?

Rowan: Before you spend money and time and effort trying to get good at one platform. And I would definitely pick one or two, not do all of them. Cause it would be a lot of work.

Josh: Unless you hired someone full time to do that. But yeah, that’s a lot of work. So do you have any other resources to share for the audience on marketing before we get into some of the Madison Reading Project stuff?

Josh: Well, if you think of any we’ll jump back in.

Josh: So I mean there is a ton of great stuff there, uh, for business owners and hopefully that makes an impact in their markets. I mean it’s so, so broad. The marketing thing, I mean, so we talked about social media. I mean there’s print stuff, there’s signage elsewhere. I mean that’s what we were talking about. Like I get hit up by, you know, UW to put signage up at the call center or the Camp Randall or run these events, whatever. Then you get hit up by the newspapers or the, or the magazines in town or all this different stuff. I mean is what’s going to be most applicable, get your brand out? Because for me, um, I don’t believe Northwestern mutual is going to get any more brand awareness for me putting a sign at the Cole Center, especially since they’re a national advertiser for the NCAA. So I that that’s never, and not to say anyone else wouldn’t get that because I don’t want to, I mean some people obviously are getting traction there, so you just got to look at your industry.

Josh: And then my industry as well for financial services, there’s so many restrictions that we can’t do. So I could never be on snapchat and like run that. But some others may find some great humorous stuff and find some great millennial followers to be able to drive their brand with snapchat. Um, so there’s just figure out what’s gonna work best for that industry. I think it will be my side of the advice and you’re the expert. But I, that’s just my experience because I’ve been hit up many a times and I’m just trying to weigh out and where I’ve really found the, I guess the median place where it really works well for me and my giving is giving to stuff like charitable stuff and matching marketing with that. Do you have any experience with that? Alright, so let’s talk about that. Let’s get to the Madison Reading Project. How did you come to the founding, this nonprofit?

Rowan: Um, so it was an idea that I had for a long time, or I guess just a feeling of, you know, it was something I always had this excitement or passion for reading and books and what my parents had instilled in me about what it meant to be able to read and learn about others through your books. And as I ended up having my own kids, um, and that was something I just kept thinking about is I’m able to provide them with some new books or take them to the library or encourage them to read. And what about the kids who don’t have those opportunities? Um, and knowing even my son who, you know, really didn’t want to read, um, you know, what tools were available to him usually through myself or if he was at, um, you know, at daycare and what they were helping him with.

Rowan: And I thought, you know, there’s so many other kids out there that don’t have these opportunities that aren’t able to get to the library or don’t have books at home or bookcases of books. Um, and what happens to them. And then if you really think about, you know, if you’re not able to read and the whole statistic, if you can’t read by third grade, you know, the rest of your school career is pretty much really difficult or do you graduate? Um, so it was just something I kept thinking about and it really bothered me. I’m to the point that I guess I finally just said I got to do something. And then I spent about six months just talking to a variety of different people asking for referrals of who I could speak to next, just telling people, kind of what I was thinking about doing.

Rowan: Um, and eventually landed, um, with someone who was running the Salvation Army, Darbo Drive center and he was looking for a way to help the kids in the afterschool program and the kids in the after school program, um, that he set up usually about 40%, maybe homeless at one point. They live in an impoverished area with not a lot of opportunity. And I thought, well that’s just, you know, the two of us were talking for a while, trying to figure what out, what we could do. And he finally just said, Rowan, we are starting your program in two months. We’ll figure it out.

Rowan: So he kind of gave me a deadline and also because he said, I just need to help kids. I need to help these kids get excited about reading first and foremost. So it started with an idea, a conversation, um, and then really the opportunity to do a pilot program for four months of that semester. Um, and from there, um, it quickly grew from an idea to kids getting really excited about it. Um, the kids loved that. We were able to provide them with new books and replaced most of the books in their library and reading rewards and literacy parties. And maybe shockingly to me, but maybe not to the kids and the programming staff there, they’re like, you’ve got to come back this summer and what about the fall? I’m like, wait, what? So it just sort of grew pretty quickly from that idea. And I think people were excited to help out and participate because they could see that there was a need there. And it was, it was so something different and exciting. Yeah.

Josh: Part of the show, you said that your son was really into athletics and that was, you know, so that was his driving force but didn’t want to read. So I really identified with that because that’s, I remember when we talked about the book or program. Yeah. Is that still around?

Rowan: Yeah, it’s still around. Not every school still carries it, but yeah, there’s just still do it. Yeah.

Josh: That was such a driver for me as a child. But then as I got more involved with sports, I would say up until like fifth grade, I was all about reading fiction, reading as many books as I can and then sports and then puberty happens in your interested in other stuff. And it’s like, oh my gosh. Uh, yeah. So I have no interest in reading anymore. And the English teacher, assigns you Tale of Two Cities or some really long boring book like that. And uh, uh, To Kill a Mockingbird or something, I mean, something ridiculous, which is, you know, these historic books, but like freshman, sophomore in high school, not going to trip the trigger and most people, so that’s where I was at. Now I read incessantly, I read all the time, most of it’s self development, leadership, marketing like we talked about with Simon Sinek.

Josh: Um, so I’m all nonfiction and I’ve been suggested that I should get into some friction as well. But right now I’m just in this growth spurt of just wanting to soak in as much to be a better leader and person as I possibly can. Family stuff I read, but all nonfiction right now. So maybe I’ll get back to that fiction, desire again, uh, to know some, the next big Harry Potter thing or whatever it may be. But, uh, yeah, but right now it’s not, but I found it really curious, you know, your son being in athletics and so what worked for him?

Rowan: Um, so what, he really didn’t want to read the books the teachers assigned to him basically because he thought they were boring. Um, so I came up. Yeah. You know, I get it. Yeah. So I’d come up with, you know, whether it was he was into sports, so maybe you know, and get us a magazine subscription. So we, you know, every week there was a fresh magazine, even though it wasn’t it as reading level at the time. He would still sit in and read that, look at the pictures, he’d read the statistics, even going to their website and he would read all of that because he wanted to know the scores or about the, you know, the team. Um, so he would read all of that instead. So that was something, you know, just coming up with different ways or he was really into Sushi and food for a while, which is fine.

Rowan: So he would read recipe books and I’d have him tell me how to make stuff and he would recite the whole recipe out of the book. Cause that’s what he wanted for dinner. So there was all these other ways, you know, to get kids into reading. It’s just, but not saying you have to sit down and you have to read or you have to read this many pages. Um, so there’s all these other ways in cues that you can get kids to read stuff to you, but without necessarily, it doesn’t always have to be a book. Make the meal. Yeah. That’s awesome. Cause I wouldn’t, yeah, I really wanted him to read.

Josh: No, but I mean that’s, that’s such a outside of the box way of doing something that’s so, I mean, you have such a bonding experience there with your son, but you’re getting him to do something in an indirect way that you want him to do anyhow and you’re cooking a great dinner.

Josh: Absolutely. No. And I’m sure, uh, your daughter and husband loved it.

Rowan: But that is something, you know, and again, no matter what your budget is, you know, whether it is cooking or taking your kids at the grocery store, asking them all those questions, like, which cereal do you see? Or, you know, in some of it they might not know quite how to read it. They might be a name recognition, but getting them to repeat things like that or what’s that sign on the bus or a billboard. It’s all those little cues sometimes too that can really help kids kind of realize that they actually probably can read. Yeah, it’s, but it’s not, you know, it could be sometimes just that setting or that particular book that turns them off.

Josh: Yeah. No. So what age was that started for you?

Rowan: That was probably, he was around six at the time.

Josh: Okay. Yeah. So my oldest is seven, just turned seven. And so she’s going through all that reading stuff now. And what’s interesting though, is the five year old is picking up on this stuff as we’re going through it. And it’s, it’s pretty cool to see that she’ll be much more advanced just based on hearing her sister and going through words and doing spelling tests and starting to read the simple books and she’s doing it out loud and are actually now the thing about it, the three year old who can’t read at all, like they’re not picking up at all, but she’s pretending to read the books and going through it like we would with the finger and all this stuff ourselves. So yeah, it’s, and then she’s making up like making up the story as she goes, which is showing the creativity. Hopefully she’s the most stubborn one too. So we’ll see. We’ll see if she ends up going that path or not. She’s putting on a great act. Yup, that’s true. So, uh, tell us more about how it went from 30 or I guess I guess your son to 30 to now thousands.

Rowan: Yeah, so we were at Salvation Army and we specifically stayed at Salvation Army for about a year and a half exclusively. Really just figuring out what worked, what didn’t work. We went through sort of an evolution of mostly myself being that, that at first time, so I’d be there maybe a couple of times per month and then really working with the staff who are there to kind of go through the other items that we had suggested. And they were a good part of that as well as sort of figuring out what works in the classroom after school and what didn’t. Um, and so it really started from that, which was myself. Um, and then during the summer and then the fall, lots of people wanted to join in and volunteer. Um, so the next phase was we matched every child with a volunteer and that was really exciting, but it was also, I was working full time and had my own kids.

Rowan: And how do you manage all of that? And now you have 30 volunteers to coordinate on top of it. Um, and also that point about a year end, people are starting to request that we come and do something at their community center. And how do you do that? Yeah. Um, and it kind of got to the point where it was like, this isn’t really, you know, this isn’t feasible with one person. Um, and I had a volunteer who wanted to become an employee and we at that point had also made ourselves into a nonprofit, um, so that we were able to accept donations. Um, and that, that point we really sort of took a look at how do we make this all happen and how do you help thousands of kids and not just 30 kids and how do you scale it. Um, and so what we also did, um, sort of at the same time as we’re trying to figure this out, as people kept stopping by my house and dropping off books when you’re like, Hey, I heard you’re doing something really great with books and kids. I have this box of really nice books that my kids had. I’ve saved them up. I want you to give him to someone who really needs them.

Rowan: Sometimes they were great books and sometimes not so great. Yeah. And so I’d often bring, every time I go over I’d bring a box of books. So the kids thought it was great. We redid a lot of the books. I’m at Salvation Army. We kind of got to the point where my husband said, you kind of got a hoarding problem here. We’ve got a 50 boxes of books in the basement. And every time, like every week someone else would just drop them off unsolicited or I’d get home and that’d be a box on the doorstep. And sort of like, okay, so people have books that could be good quality children’s books and we have kids who need books. What can you do? Um, and then that point too is sort of at this tipping point of what do we do with everyone else? And that’s when we decided to sort of make it a two prong approach, which was we’ll be able to do programming, not just exclusively to one place, but at the same time we’ll be able to give out books.

Rowan: And so it was an idea. We didn’t really know how many books we could truly give away and how many books people would give to us. Uh, so the first year we said, you know, we’ll give out a thousand books. That seems like a lot of books. We’ll kind of go through them, make sure they’re decent quality, we’ll put all the adult ones that we don’t want to the side. And I thought, we’ll just need a bookshelf. That’ll be good. Um, so it ended up being 5,000 books by the end of that year and probably how grew very quickly in about two months. Um, so I went from just this very small sort of idea to thousands of books went out and also thousands of books were being given to us. Um, because apparently when you tell people you’re take their books, there’s just like this inundation of like, here’s all this stuff.

Rowan: Um, so we’ve come a long way from that, which is sort of all these sort of guidelines and how to give books and what kind of books and please don’t drop off your adult books. Um, so we’ve gone from that whole thing, which is kind of the learning experience. Those things. Yes, you do have to list those things unfortunately. Um, but will come along way. So now I’m at this point, we have our own donation center, um, and we’ve given out, um, probably to date around 70,000 books, which is pretty crazy, sort of in that short period of time. And we hand sort all of the books that come in. Um, so their new lightly used, we do purchase some books at this point, um, that are the high need books that aren’t usually donated. Um, for example, like diverse books, Spanish books, bilingual books. Um, but it’s really been with staff and volunteers that our organization has grown from that one partner to about 60. And then we’ve, uh, next year we will be, you know, sort of at that hundred thousand mark. That’s awesome. So in a short thank you, it’s not, you know, I can’t do it by myself.

Rowan: Thank you. I mean it’s, it’s something, it is, it’s a lot of numbers, you know, and it’s a lot of thousands of kids that were able to impact. Um, but it’s also, you know, the kids that are out there that need them or the agencies that really need those books. And it’s just, you know, when I talk to people and they’re like, well, is there really that much need for books and programming? And there really is. And that’s something that not everyone’s aware of. Do you know, depending on who you interact with or you know, if you’re sort of out in the community or not. Um, but there’s a lot of dean for good programming to get kids excited about reading and you know, after that you give the program for them to be able to pick out their own books and go home and, you know, hopefully fill up their own bookcase.

Josh: That’s awesome. So, so kinda on all of that, what’s the biggest question or most frequent question you get about Madison Reading Project?

Rowan: Um, I mean, anything from, you know, how do you do it? I mean, we have other people who’ve contacted us who want to start something similar in a different city. Um, so we’ve been able to help a couple other groups get started with, you know, how do you even start something like this, you know, whether it’s sort of finding a good group of variety of people who are committed to your cause. Um, anywhere down to how do you select which books stay in which books, you know, don’t stay in your giving collection, um, through how do you even, you know, get people to donate, whether that’s funds or donate books to you. Um, so we get a variety of questions

Josh: And so then kind of with our theme of marketing. How do you go about marketing and the nonprofit?

Rowan: I mean, that’s something, you know, it started with a zero budget. Um, but social media was free at the time. At the time it was free. Um, and that’s really, you know, I got a website, I was sort of Facebook at the time, is what I started with and really use between social media, my website, and just started reaching out to people in my sort of context. And then beyond that. So I definitely, instead of made myself step out of my comfort zone and went to people I didn’t really know and ask them, you know, either to be a volunteered to host a book drive, um, to participate and, you know, an event or something like that. Um, but I definitely put myself out there. Um, and I think people, you know, look, you know, it would reply back like, I don’t know who you are, but this sounds really cool and I want to help. It’s a good cause.

Josh: I mean that’s cool. And that word of mouth definitely builds and builds over time. So do you get any questions? Like, well, why wouldn’t I just send the kids in the library or why wouldn’t Internet be a good source versus the Madison Reading Project?

Rowan: Right. I mean, we get questions, you know, why don’t they go to the library? Um, those definitely get scenarios where kids aren’t able to get to the library, whether it’s not within walking distance or they don’t have anyone to take them. Those, you know, some people who are apprehentious about going to the library, unfortunately because of whether it’s an ID issue or just having a library card. And we’re definitely proponents of going to the library and having your own books. Yeah. But there are kids who just aren’t, unfortunately are not taken, um, or don’t or aren’t able to get there.

Josh: Especially if you’re getting a man at a younger age or maybe their parents are working or whatever. Yeah.

Rowan: You know, people are working jobs, um, multiple jobs, so they’re just not able to get to the library. And there is, you know, and I also tell people and like think about probably all the books you have in your own. Um, and when we want a book, we probably go to a bookstore, go online, you order it and you never think about it. Even if you think the price is kind of high, you think about it for a second and you hit click and you buy it from, you know, for a lot of kids that were interacting with or agencies, they don’t have those kinds of funds and you’re not going to pick a 12 or $20 book over a meal, um, or some supplies that you might need. So most people don’t have those exciting books that they really want in their home or in their school.

Rowan: Um, and if we are able to come to their school or to their part, you know, if it’s through a social worker or something like that and say, here’s all these awesome books and you can put three or four today, I mean, they think it’s like the, you know, this is the most exciting thing that’s happened to them. And it really is emotional sometimes for some kids because they never get to go shopping. So they might take half an hour to pick out books because they want to look at every single book. And then they usually ask like, can I have one for my sister? You know, and I’m usually like, you know, of course you can have one for your sister. Um, but it is something like it’s that big of a deal for them. I mean, they’re so excited and their emotional, you know, some kids are really emotional that that’s the book that I really wanted.

Rowan: I saw it in the scholastic flair and I knew that I would never get it. And if it’s out there on the table that they’re able to take that and often say like, write your name in it, take it home, read it. You know, like the ownership and pride of that is huge, you know? And that could be like a huge effect on their reading, for example, where they’re like, I’m taking that book home, it’s mine. I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it to my siblings and my parents and show it off, you know? And that’s what we want is them to be, you know, that inspired reading.

Josh: So you said something really quick, I don’t want people to miss cause everything you said there was a so impactful, but you said that they’re deciding between $12 or $20 book or a meal and they’re not going to choose it over a meal. So this is a avenue for them to get ownership in a book that they may not ever have access to.

Rowan: It’s books, right? And it’s, you know, sometimes we do programming as well. Um, so sometimes it might be, hey, we’re going to do a story time. It’ll be a really fun book. You’re going to do a literacy craft, then you’re going to do book shopping. And we try and get those kids like as jacked up on reading as possible. It’s like grandma and Grandpa with candy or whichever. So like that’s all the, you know, there’s that excitement about it. But the, the shopping portion I think of it is something that, you know, it gets me emotional because I know I’ve seen those kids that are just that excited and that’s, you know, they would never have that opportunity. And that’s something I think most of us as adults, if you say, what was one of your favorite books growing up, we all have one. You know, it doesn’t even take you two seconds before you know which book it is. And we want to be able to provide that to those kids.

Josh: Yeah, there’s a lot of business owners, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and Madison that’ll listen to this. And maybe I’m just saying it for myself, but I don’t ever want to forget that that we take for granted. Sometimes there we can, I can go on Amazon, I can go to someone’s direct website and buy a book, not even think about the cost, but then I get it as a write off too, if I’m buying a for any of my advisors. Like, so there’s all this stuff I don’t even think about, but yet choosing a meal or choosing to buy bark like, right. You can’t ever forget, uh, the impact of that can have. So, so that’s awesome. So, um, so how can our audience get involved with Madison Reading Project? Yeah,

Rowan: I mean there’s a variety of different ways, whether it’s an individual or group or a team. Um, so you can go to our website and we have a website.

Josh: Everything’s online.

Rowan: Um, there’s a variety of ways to get involved. Whether you want to come and volunteer, there’s a volunteer page. Um, you can sign up to be on the list. Uh, there’s different opportunities whether you come to the center and help sort of books or if you want to be involved in some of the events that are out in the public where you get to help, you know, set up some of the books and talk to kids and their families. Um, there’s other events that we have fundraisers, there’s ways to, you know, you can sponsor an event or participate in just sort of general funds that go towards our operations. And then there’s also a separate page with all different kinds of awesome books that are on our wishlist so that people can donate those. Um, and then the one other way that’s always helpful too is for people to host a book drive. And that sort of, again, we do have the guidelines of what kind of books we’re looking for.

Josh: No adult books. So it has sort of , here’s the books we would love to have.

Rowan: Um, and here’s some of the books, you know, types of books we will, you know, don’t like to take in to the donation center, but there’s a variety of ways to get involved.

Josh: Share your 50 shades of gray with your girlfriends, don’t give it to the reading project.

Rowan: We sometimes have some good laughs at the center.

Josh: You gotta be a little laugh as well. So can I ask you some off topic? Cause I’ve just been really impressed with uh, with everything you’re doing in our conversation before, you know, or your fulltime at Iconica basically fulltime reading project. Right. And all the time, mom. Yup. Um, and wife. So I know like, so I feel like there’s a great amount of pressure on women being everything to everyone. And I’m raising three daughters and I’m curious as to how you find balance and peace and grace with everything.

Rowan: Definitely by the time I go to bed I sleep really well.

Speaker 4: But I to sort of having gone through this process, you know, adding on, running a nonprofit and all then, you know, variety of needs and things I’ve had to learn along the way. You know, it’s just like running your own business, you know, you’ve got, um, you know, like our clients and are we doing what we say we’re going to be doing? Are we doing a good job at it? You know, we’ve got volunteers, we’ve got employees and how do you do that all? Um, but at the same time I think sort of being able to try and take a step back and knowing that you can’t do everything. Um, and that’s definitely been my own learning process. And that’s whether that’s a nonprofit or it’s your job or you know, you’re not going to be perfect. Um, and also trying to come make sure you create an time or whether that’s with an alarm clock saying at this point I stop and that’s when I’m, you know, that’s when I’m on my, I’m a mom or when I’m going to bed or I’m going to go have fun. You’re fun to, yes. That’s really important to me. Most people who know me know that I think laughter and humor is extremely important.

Josh: Absolutely. So what’s your, what’s your go to for fun?

Rowan: Pretty much. I mean, I can put fun on anything. I could put a fun spin on anything, but yeah, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I try and find the silver lining or if there’s something that we’re doing that’s not fun, I’ll make it fun.

Josh: That’s good, you sound like a great mom too. I think that was such an awesome advice or that you weren’t even giving advice. You’re telling a story about you and your son, but it was really advice. Because it was like the fact that you found a way to get him to read in a manner that he wanted to because he sounds a lot like me being stubborn as a teenager. It was just like, I’m not going to do anything you told me to do, but if I want to do it then I’ll do it. So like just thinking of putting that spin on it and you’re cooking a great meal, you’ve got that bonding time and he’s really like, that’s just a great way of giving people advice to like think about the situation differently. So I know you weren’t even trying to give advice, but I hope people take that away from this conversation. So I know you probably have many, but what’s your favorite book you’re reading right now or have read recently?

Rowan: Um, most recent book I read, it’s called The Hate You Give. Um, and it just came out. But yeah, I read it a couple of months ago and it, it was a really good book having the movie’s pretty close to the story. Um, and it’s set probably a year or two ago, but at this point it really could be in any current time and it’s definitely, it’s a good sort of self check on the current sort of political situation and situation for a lot of different people in America.

Josh: Well it’s interesting. No, it’s really good. I uh, I was interested to see the movie. Unfortunately I have the young kids, so I opted for a small foot, big foot for smart, whatever that Pixar, whatever movie just came out. Yeah, that’s the last movie I saw.

Josh: So how can our audience, get in touch with you, whether it’s personally or for the, uh, uh, Madison reading project, marketing advice, whatever. How would you like them to reach out?

Rowan: You can find me on LinkedIn. Um, or you can always email me at my nonprofit, which is

Josh: Oh, awesome. Awesome conversation today. Really enjoyed having you. Absolutely. Anytime. Well, I’m sure this conversation in a different manner, again thanks for everybody listening today. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening to another episode of inspire people, impact lives. If you’ve been inspired today, please share this episode with as many people as possible so that together our impact is exponential.


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