This month we reached out to Betty Lanke, from Terre Haute, Indiana. This is her 25th anniversary as Create-A-Book dealer. Her passion and mastery of the Give-A-Book program are nothing short of inspiring. If you’ve thought about doing a Give-A-Book program, or want to know how our most profitable dealers sell most of their books, this post is you you.

Betty’s runs a Give-A-Book program every year, which provides personalized children’s books for every kindergartner in the Vigo County school district. And it’s no small endeavor. Together with her amazing sponsors, they are able to provide books for all 18 schools in the district — almost 1500 students every year. We asked her to share her story and advice.

What’s your story, how did you get started?
I remember watching a news story on “60 Minutes.” During the report, I learned a sad statistic. At the time, approximately 10 percent of high school students could not read their diplomas. For me, that was a turning point. I had learned about Create-A-Book and the Give-A-Book program while on vacation in 1990-1991. I had a successful career, and I decided that this was the way to give back to my community and make a difference. We’re just not motivated to read. And I thought it’s going to take a special book, a book to keep for a lifetime.

As soon as I purchased my license, I went to the superintendent of schools whom I knew from networking events. I told him about my goal of giving books to every kindergarten student in the district. He was very skeptical that I could do it, but I didn’t let that deter me. I just went to the banks and the real estate organization and drummed up committed sponsors the very first year. One of our sponsors has been supporting the program for 25 years, and our current additional sponsors have been with us for the last several years.

How did you get sponsors so quickly?
I reached out to people I knew. We all know lots of people, and if you believe in what you’re doing, those people will believe in you, and they’ll want to be a part of your project. Go to people that you do business with, such as banks, radio stations, utility companies, car dealerships, restaurant owners, and local businesses. Reach out to your current connections. Bring a book with you, and explain your costs and goals. But remember — you’ve got to talk to the decision-maker, or it won’t work.

Do you choose a different book each year?
When I began the Give-A-Book program in 1991-1992, I selected the “School Fun” book. It was my favorite, and the teachers love it.

What personalization do you include in the books?
It’s important to thank our sponsors, so we include “Given by” on the dedication page. The books also include the child’s name, individual school, the teacher’s name, and school year. Instead of listing individual friend names, which would be impossible, we say “the students of … elementary school.” It works beautifully with the existing text. And if a student goes by an alternate name, like “AJ” or “Buddy,” the teacher lets us know.

How long does it take you to make so many books?
I work for 4–5 weeks each year beginning in October. First, I contact the schools and get email addresses for the teachers. This year, we had 47 teachers who gave us the names of their students. Of course, I have help. I couldn’t do this without help. But in terms of numbers, I can make books for an entire school on a single Saturday, even if there are multiple teachers.

We make the books and hold a kick-off event in October at one of the schools. These kick-offs are very popular; our sponsors hand out the books, and we receive television and newspaper coverage every year. We make sure to take a class picture, so all the students get their picture in the paper, and I give additional photos to our sponsors.

Can you explain further, what is a kick-off?
This is when we go to one of the schools to personally distribute books to the children. Since we have 18 schools, we can only visit one each year, so the school district keeps an alphabetized list of schools, and we visit them in order. Keeping it fair to everyone is important, so we let the school system set the order. The books for the other 17 schools are delivered by early December.

What’s your secret for attracting the media?
Every year, I write a press release for the local television stations. What’s nice about the press release is that you really only need to write the first one. Then, every year, you can simply change the date and location and send it out.