From time to time, we profile moms who we think are, frankly, awesome. We want to learn from them, not just about money but about why and how they're doing great things.
Mom-meets-entrepreneur-meets-do-gooder Meredith Alexander is on a mission: She wants to turn children across the country into little philanthropists.
Her Santa Monica-based nonprofit Milk + Bookies throws birthday parties where children, instead of walking away with trinket-filled goodie bags, meet at bookstores and donate inscribed books to kids in need.
So far, Milk + Bookies has facilitated the donation of over 24,000 children’s books throughout the country. And celebs fans already include Jennifer Garner and Jack Black.
Alexander, 42, a former florist and mother of a 10-year-old and 6-year-old, says she isn’t going to stop until Milk + Bookies becomes a household name. So how does this busy mom of two find the time to change the world while raising her own family? She shared her secrets with LV Moms:
How did you get the idea for Milk + Bookies?
In 2004 I had a 3-year-old and wanted our family to spend weekends doing meaningful projects. But nonprofit fundraisers and carnivals all had costly ticket prices, and young kids aren’t interested in those kinds of events.
Do You Worry Your Kid Is Spoiled?
Have you tried teaching your kid about giving and gratitude? What are some methods you've used to do that?
At the same time, I loved spending time in the children's section of the bookstore with my kids, and it was only natural for me to combine that with service. I invited kids to a local bookstore and asked everyone to pick out a favorite book, inscribe it and donate it. At the first party, the line at the cash register was half an hour long, and I knew I wasn’t the only parent looking for this.
What do Milk + Bookies parties look like?
Kids ages 3 through middle school tend to go the birthday party route, whereas high schoolers can host book drives. Children can donate new or gently used books. "The Giving Tree" is always popular because of its theme!
And kids love to write things like, "This has a great ending," "I love the characters in this story," or "Hope you like it as much as I do" in the inscriptions. My son always writes, "Read and enjoy." I knew this program was working early on when, in 2004 or 2005, we heard a little girl say to her dad, "This was so great, Daddy. Can we come back and do it again tomorrow?"
Was it hard to set up the nonprofit?
Creating a nonprofit is a costly and lengthy process. It took about eighteen months and it would have cost up to $30,000 just to get the paperwork in order. I used my network and found a friend of a friend who worked as a pro bono lawyer and wrote all our paperwork. I definitely recommend asking around if you're looking to do something like this. That said, I had no idea how difficult and time-consuming the financial aspect would be. I'm lucky that I have two very talented board members who are invaluable advisers: One is a financial wizard and helps us file taxes and do our annual report. The other is a huge fundraiser. Without them, I couldn't do it.
Does the nonprofit bring in enough money to cover expenses?
We rely 100% on donations. When we sell materials, the money covers only the cost of creating them. We sell things like Bookies boxes that include stickers that say, "I donated," bookplates for the inscriptions, bookmarks and balloons to make the parties more fun. We are on a shoestring budget and have modest expenses.
What’s your typical day like?
I spend every day from 8:30 am to 3 pm at the Milk + Bookies headquarters in Santa Monica, where we facilitate all the Milk + Bookies parties nationwide, provide Bookies boxes if desired and help hosts find a recipient group in their zip codes. We also work on our local events and spring fundraiser.
In addition, I devote time to Milk + Bookies publications, which are books with the theme of giving, that we launched earlier this year. So far I've written "Sweet Pete," which is available on the website, about the joy of helping. We've also asked celebrity supporters like Jennifer Garner, Rainn Wilson, Jack Black and more to write books that reinforce the message of giving and sharing. The books will be available through our site.
What about after you leave the office?
I take the children home from school and get them playing outside. Then I get back on the computer and do another hour or three of emails and administrative work. My kids are big on running around in the backyard or skateboarding in the driveway, and I can keep an eye out from my home office. But at ages 6 and 10, they are pretty good without me watching over them. This is definitely one of the worst aspects of the job—the time spent on my computer and not with my own children when they get home from school.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?
I had no idea the commitment it would take, both emotionally and physically, to start a nonprofit. Thank God I have the passion for it, or I would have given up years ago. We joke that if we’d spent this much time on a for-profit, we’d all be millionaires by now. But I’m very passionate about creating this as a national movement. It’s similar to motherhood: You’re working on it all the time.
What are your tips for other moms who want to launch nonprofits?
I say absolutely go for it, as long as no one out there is servicing that same need already. There is always room for more good in the world, but starting a nonprofit takes a lot of time, money and more effort than you'd think. I recommend researching fully first to see if someone else is already doing it. If they are, you might find that you can spend your efforts more profitably by joining forces.