Children's book project blends business and charity

August 18, 2015

ornamentA University of Wisconsin-Whitewater marketing alumnus is a newly minted children's book author and entrepreneur. Todd Zimmermann, who received his BBA in 1986, is not only publishing seven children's books, he's set up a unique Kickstarter campaign to sell the books and related merchandise and encourage book donations Midwest children's hospitals.

The experience is a new frontier for Zimmermann, who lives with his partner, John Hoerst, in Chicago, and does not have any publishing experience. After graduating from UW-Whitewater, he was employed as Midwest advertising manager for 20 years at Time Inc., working for both "Fortune" and "This Old House" magazines, and then started his own sales and marketing consulting firm, Open Windows Consulting.

In 2013, he found himself decorating a Christmas tree, and as he was just about to hang the last of over 200 ornaments on the tree, Hoerst said, "You don't have to hang every ornament on the tree."  

Zimmermann responded, "So what should I do, put this last ornament in the attic, where he'll miss out on all the fun?"    

Four days later, Zimmerman woke up at 3 a.m. and penned "Oliver the Ornament" in 45 minutes. All he needed was an illustrator.  

"So I took out a $25 ad on Craigslist and found one of the most talented illustrators imaginable," he said.  

Illustrated by Teddy Lu, the story features a host of colorful, engaging characters. Zimmermann knew he was onto something, and began thinking about how the effort might support children in some way. He devised a program to donate an increasing percentage of each book's eventual sales to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.  

"I'll donate 5 percent of the profits from the first book, 10 percent of the second, and will increase it by 5 percent for each subsequent book, until the seventh book, when I plan to donate 100 percent to children's charities," explains Zimmermann.  In addition, sales spur books donations to regional children's hospitals, including Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, and one hospital that wishes to remain anonymous.  

ZimmermanAs he built out the plan for the Kickstarter campaign, Zimmermann relied on the skills he gained at UW-Whitewater and honed in his professional roles.  

"The business and marketing education that I received at UW-Whitewater has been invaluable throughout my career. The experience I received from being a member of the American Marketing Association was a highlight of my years at Whitewater - we won Chapter of the Year the year I served as board member - and I'm employing many of the same strategies to promote "Oliver the Ornament" as I did when I was vice president of promotions for AMA."  

Another legacy of Zimmermann's years on campus is the rich network he could tap into to support the promotional campaign.  

"The relationships created at Whitewater are still intact today," says Zimmermann. "In fact, a number of UW-Whitewater classmates are helping to promote "Oliver the Ornament" by hosting their own "Oliver Ambassador Parties," including his good friends Tom '86 and Denise (Ernster) '89 Kazar.  

The campaign, which closes on Aug. 21, is very close to reaching its goal. As of Aug. 18, more than 290 backers have pledged more than $46,800 and, at this rate, Zimmermann will soon be donating more than 500 books to the hospitals.  

Visit Zimmermann's Kickstarter page at


Jeff Angileri

Sara Kuhl