How to Use Children’s Books to Raise Awareness for Charitable Causes:
Interview with Visionary Author D. W. Lawhorne
D. W. Lawhorne was born and raised in central Virginia, He is the husband to the best wife ever, he loves spending time with his children and grandson. He has a heart of gold and has a passion for giving back and helping others.
What he says about the interview: “I will share what inspired me to write a children’s book. How to step out of your comfort zone and be successful. I don’t like to set goals because I think that can hurt you and I will explain why. Find out what drives you and use that in a positive way.”
Read the Interview Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Hello, everyone. It’s time for The Nonprofit Exchange. We have yet another wonderful guest today with a great story of inspiration. We’re all celebrities in our own space. No matter where we think we are in the system, we can make things happen. Philanthropy is the love of humankind. We can do things for humankind, and it’s not about money. It’s about time, talent, and then some money. If you have time, talent, and passion, you can make things happen.
I met this gentleman at a church gathering, where he was telling his story. I said, “D.W., I want you to share that with our audience of nonprofit leaders and clergy.” He said yes, and he’s here today. D.W. Lawhorne, tell people who don’t know you a little bit about who you are and what’s your passion.
D.W. Lawhorne: Thank you for having me on here. I really appreciate that honor. I’m really just a simple, normal guy. Born and raised in central Virginia here. Worked hard all my life. Had a family. Like everybody else, I have kids who frustrate you, kids in school, kids who are grown, grandkids. But I have always had a helping side. I always want to help people. Always see people with a need, whether it’s something simple or challenging. That’s always intrigued me to step up and do something. That’s pretty much my life, just as simple as it can be.
Hugh: I like simple. Lewis Grizzard was a columnist and comedian for the Atlanta newspapers, and he said, “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God.” We are in fact Southern. It’s nice being ordinary folk, doing some amazing stuff, major things one step at a time.
I went to this church gathering. It was a Thursday night dinner gathering, a gathering of faith leaders to hear stories of the community. They said, “This guy is going to be talking about children’s books.” I said “Yawn.” When you started talking, I was interested. Cover up your camera a minute, and show us your background. It’s not just about children’s books. Tell us how this happened. What was the birth of the idea for this series?
D.W.: I currently have three books out. The whole series is about Boots the Cow. True story. Boots is a true cow that is out in the field by the side of my house every day. I see him every day. He does not look like he does in the book. I have been asked that when people see me. He is that funny and does the stories, but he is just not that cute, so we had to change him up a bit. The fourth book will be coming out in the middle of April, hopefully right before Easter, called Boots Meets a Bee.
How this started is I am on the board for the Carter Craft Foundation out here in Lynchburg, Virginia. Real nice nonprofit that was started by very dear friends of mine in honor of their son, who tragically lost his life in an accident. Before he passed away, he had started doing real good things for the community and talked about his vision. His parents picked it up and went with it and wanted to make it happen. I was honored they asked me to be a part of that.
Like most nonprofits and organizations, you have to have fundraisers and money coming in to do stuff. A lot of the things we were doing, like golf tournaments, car shows, etc., all came to a screeching halt because of the pandemic, like most everything. Anything we were using as a fundraiser required people to be gathering in groups, which we could not do.
Sitting back and seeing that, I had already written stuff when my kids were growing up years ago. Grabbing normal books off the shelf and saying, “Hey, do you want to read this book tonight?” they had already read it 100 times; they had memorized it, so it was going through the motions. I would write stories including the kids, making them the characters, using stories they were doing.
I had this idea, “Hey, I have another story about this crazy cow at my house. Let me see if I can get it published.” I told them up front it was silly and crazy and probably wouldn’t go anywhere, but if it does, part of the proceeds will go to the foundation to help pick up the slack from this lack of donations.
I wrote the first story. It goes #2 on Amazon and takes off. Then I had to write some more to follow up. It fell right into place. That’s how we got to where we are right now.
Hugh: When people hear this, you’re not a child, but you have children.
D.W.: Yes. And grandchildren.
Hugh: You actually like children.
Hugh: As a simple guy, I think the message is that children are going to understand it, and it’s easy enough for adults to understand. Sometimes we make things too complicated. There is a whole hill to climb here. You hadn’t written a book. You weren’t an illustrator. You didn’t know how to publish. You didn’t know how to get it out there.
Hugh: Our job at SynerVision is to help people take their strategy—I know you have different perspectives, but people can reach more potential if they share their goals with other people. We can teach you how to integrate all of those into performance. What you did, probably 3% of the population actually does. Out of 100 people, three do something. One of those will succeed. You had some pretty strong determination. Tell us about that journey of discovery and how you made this really happen.
D.W.: From the beginning, the first thing that stuck with me was being a board member on this nonprofit, you’re not filling a seat. You’re not just there to keep your seat warm. You have to believe in what you’re doing and step up to do what you expect other people to do. That’s what gave me the fire to do it. Of course, I was stepping out of my comfort zone, but I said I would do it.
You were right on the illustration side. If I had drawn these pictures, it would have looked like a kindergartener with a crayon. It would not have been close. But I do have a friend that does marketing and commercials. I touched base with him and said, “I have this idea. Where would I go?” He pointed me in the right direction. I hired an illustrator, a graphic artist out of New York. I grabbed some clip art of what I thought things would look like. It all started coming together. This same gentleman was able to get me published.
It went from there. I kept it simple, too. I have to keep it on a level that if I was asked to read it somewhere, I need to be able to do that.
During the pandemic, kids were home. I think that helped it. They had time on their hands. Parents got it. It’s a good story. It all works together.
Hugh: You had an idea in your brain. You had illustrations. Did you do a storyboard? How did you convey that image to the people that worked with you?
D.W.: I had typed up the story in Word form. Where I wanted the pictures to be placed, I found clip art that was similar to what I was thinking should go along on that page. I copied and pasted and put stuff together to get a general idea of what I was thinking. Luckily, the graphic artist took it from there. When I got the drawings back, even before they had become colorized, I was blown away at how amazing they were.
Hugh: Wow. A lot of people listen to this have ideas. Tell us about the obstacles. We all have obstacles. Sometimes people get discouraged easily. What were the obstacles and some missteps you learned from?
D.W.: Obstacles would be stepping out of your comfort zone. Obviously, this was not in the field of what I was already doing. Taking that leap to do that, that’s your first obstacle. Having your idea and believing in yourself to do it. You have to be the first one to believe your own ideas and go from there. That was the first obstacle.
Then some of the other challenges were when you present it to different people, as more people get involved, you encounter people who want to steer you from your original idea or suggest other ideas. Stick with what you want, with what’s in your heart. That’s what I did. I had several people make suggestions that I am so glad I did not go with. I kept it right to what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.
Hugh: That’s an important point. You might be listening to this sometime in history; we are recording this in March 2022. We are talking to you maybe at the end of what we call the pandemic. The themes here are consistent with leaders are people who make things happen. We are talking to D.W. Lawhorne in Bedford, Virginia, a book author by trade with a day job working for the town of Bedford, right?
D.W.: Yes, that’s correct. I’m the Director of Public Works. I have been at this for about 30 years. I love meeting people in the community and being able to help on that side of things. This is just my side gig to help with the foundation.
Hugh: Absolutely. Let’s go back to what you said at the beginning. This is important for leaders to hear. I can’t tell you how many nonprofit board chairs and executive directors say, “They’re busy. I don’t want to ask them to do anything,” which is the antithesis of what people on the board want. They are on the board because they want to serve. Talk about your inspiration for stepping up as a board member.
D.W.: First of all, when I was asked to be on the board, great honor for me. I took that as highly respectful, they thought enough of me to serve in that capacity. With that, I have to believe what I sell. You have to believe in your product. You have to be the face of that. You can’t just show up at quarterly meetings, throw out ideas, and expect everybody else to do the work. You have to be a hands-on person. Other people see that and hopefully are inspired by that. If they see you doing that, all the other people you’re asking to help out are more willing to join in and help you if you’re doing it.
Hugh: Your inspiration was there was a gap in fundraising, and you thought you could assist in filling that gap. You had a particular idea. Did you tell the board, or did you just do it and share it with the board?
D.W.: I told the board right from the get-go, “Don’t expect a lot because it might be the worst idea ever.” If I didn’t try it, it would be sticking in my mind forever, why I didn’t try it. I had nothing to lose by doing this other than getting stuck with some books I couldn’t get rid of. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Hugh: But you were also willing to put your money where your mouth was. You invested some of your money to make this happen, right?
D.W.: I did, yes. From the illustrator, that was one of the ideas that came back. They came back and said, “We’ll draw these pictures for future earnings, giving a percentage of the book series,” stuff like that. I said no. I upfronted the money to buy the pictures. Have them illustrate it where I own the copyright. That way, when I get the finished product, everything was mine, so when I sold it, they would get a certain cut, but after that, everything comes to me. I don’t have 10 other people getting a piece of the pie.
Hugh: That’s wise. We think we’re going to save a few dollars, but ultimately it would cost you a lot more money. You got to be #2 on Amazon in a category or overall?
D.W.: In children’s books.
Hugh: That’s quite remarkable. Why do you think that happened?
D.W.: Because I was doing a good thing. You reap what you sow. Once the word got out, I think it’s a good book. It’s a good series of course. I’m partial to it. But the story behind it helped push it, too.
Hugh: I search for Boots the Cow online, and there are a lot of bookstores that list your book. Physical stores do it, too. You’re in the welcome center in the town that you work. You told a story about getting a sponsor on a racecar. I don’t know what you did about that.
D.W.: I’ll give you the short version. I’m a big NASCAR fan. I go to a lot of races with the Craft family. I thought let me take a chance and reach out to some of the marketing firms and ad people who do sponsorships on cars. If I have to spend a couple thousand dollars to be on a sticker on a car, you will get a very small place, but if I thought I could get that and then in return get nationwide TV Coverage, it would come back. I would probably triple my money to give to the foundation.
I saw a driver list online that he was looking for sponsorship. It was on the NASCAR level, Xfinity Series. I sent him an email with my story. He was interested and said he was ready. It looked like it was going to happen. By fortune, two weeks later, this guy wins the Talladega race. That was when that whole “Let’s go, Brandon” thing kicked up. It helped to be on the car. As funny as it was when it happened, it actually hurt him marketing-wise. People wanted to stay away from him then. He’s a great guy. No fault of his. He got caught up in some stuff.
Then the people I was working with said, “We could try to get you on a truck team.” I was looking to do the Martinsville race. The truck team we got associated with did not work out. I’m thinking it wasn’t meant to be.
Then I got a call from a NASCAR driver, Corey LaJoie, who seemed to be a super nice guy. He got my books, read them to his kids, and liked them. He got back in touch and said, “This is a great thing you’re doing for this foundation. We’ll do it for free.” It was one of those things that fell into place. I worked with his people. We met him in Martinsville and got books for the whole team. Took some pictures. He worked with us in that race. He came back and did a video for us of him sitting down and reading the book to his son. He posted it online for us and put the story about us and our links. All the good things we needed to happen happened by fate for free because it was a good cause. That helped tremendously and opened up some doors.
Hugh: You were willing to go out and ask the question. You got that ball rolling. I want to make sure you recognize that you got it started. People think about, What if? But they never make the call or send the email or ask for the deal. That certainly helped you get to the rating you got to. You sold a number of books. You have three now.
D.W.: I have three published story books. We then put out a general notebook that kids can take to school and use to write in. We have a small cartoon that came out at Christmastime with the Christmas book. You can see that on the website, BootsTheCow.com. It’s the story of the Christmas book put to cartoon. That was pretty cool. Then the fourth book will be out soon. It teaches kids about how bees are good for the environment and how they pollinate.
Hugh: I love it. BootsTheCow.com is the website. You have The Day Boots Became a Cow, Christmas with Boots, and Boots is on the Loose! The newest one is Boots Meets a Bee.
D.W., this has obviously been an inspiration to other people, but it’s also been energizing for you. Talk about what it’s like to be a giver.
D.W.: It feels great. One of my inspirations when I was growing up as a young child, like a lot of people, in the summertime, you go stay at your grandparents’ house. They treat you wonderfully and send you back home with all these goodies. I was fortunate that I had a grandmother who was very influential on me. I loved her to death, and she loved me. We were sitting on the porch, talking or having ice cream. As I look back on it now, she would often give me so many words of wisdom that I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with her now as an adult.
One of the things she told me that stuck with me was, “If you find one true friend in your lifetime, you’ll be lucky. Be that friend to everybody you need and be there for them.” I have tried to do that. That drives me. From that point on, when I was in school, you had that group of kids who were all friends. Not trying to be mean, but they all hung out together. You always see that kid off to the side, who has social skill problems and doesn’t know how to reach out. I would go sit with that person and have lunch, be that person’s friend or help them. As I saw people in need as I got older, I would help them.
Hugh: I’m a member of the local Rotary club here. Their motto is “service above self.” More people could be focused on serving others. It is really a pleasure to be able to help other people without any expectations of return.
D.W.: That’s true. There is always a need out there. Sometimes it could be simple needs, and sometimes it could be challenging needs. If you just find where you fit in with those needs to help out, even on a small scale, it’s still helping out.
Hugh: We’re on the last few minutes, but I want to explore a couple other things. First of all, for those who are not educated and in the know, we’re in the hotbed, the energy field for NASCAR in the South. Martinsville is one of those short tracks, like Bristol. The best seats are not in the front row. Just the opposite of going to the theater. We’re pretty lucky. We have a number of tracks within a few hours’ driving distance. That’s for people not in the know. That’s our local sport.
The leadership piece of this. We are visionaries. Sometimes it’s friends and family who are our worst barriers. You tell them your vision, and they go, “What are you thinking?” Your guiding principles are “I am going to do this, and I am going to make decisions for the benefit of this project.” You don’t have to name names or give specifics, but how did you know some of the advice they gave you wasn’t going to resonate? Was it hard saying no to people?
D.W.: I didn’t find it hard to say no at all. I already had in my mind where I thought this would go and what it would do. The other thing is when you look at people giving you advice, you need to look at them and say, “How is your own advice working out for you?” You can see that with people. You can very quickly separate that out.
One thing I wanted to point out to people is if you have an idea, do it. I don’t set goals. That’s one thing for me. Goals can be a distraction because you get more focused on that goal. You get so stressed out about trying to achieve that goal that you lose sight of what your whole idea was about. If you have an idea, just go with the idea, and let it go.
Hugh: I would share that in 33 years of doing this, there is another perspective on that. Writing proper goals that inspire you and then looping other people into your vision. Without knowing it, you were pretty strong about your goals and your principles. What kept you from getting discouraged along the way? Also, you had a group of people who were like, “Attaboy, let’s do it” around you also. How did you find those champions to help propel you across the finish line?
D.W.: What helped me get it done was looking at my own life and family and looking at how blessed I am, how happy I am in life, and how I want to see that with other people. The only way I am going to see that happen is to get out and do this stuff and not sit on the sidelines. That is a good driver. Make people happy and help them out.
Hugh: Love it. We’re a nonprofit, so we can’t sell things. However, if you want the books, they’re at BootsTheCow.com. Grandparents can buy them here and ship them to their grandchildren.
D.W.: Yes, they can. If you want them personally autographed, it would probably kill the value of it, but I will sign a book for anybody. If you go out to the stores, we’re as far south as Greensboro right now. We have some stores up toward the lake and the Bedford Welcome Center. We also have stuffed cows of Boots that are only sold in the stores. We have some pins and other cute merchandise that goes with it.
Hugh: If people wanted to contact you, there is a contact button on the website?
D.W.: Yes. It will go straight to us. My wife handles all my online stuff. Quite often, when I get home in the afternoons, she will have stuff laid out. “Sign these 50 books.” She’s loaded them with sticky notes on who they should go to with proper spelling. I’m happy to do all that. I love doing that. Now with the pandemic easing up, we do have some book signings planned. We will be up at the lake probably first of May.
Hugh: Are you limited in book signings? Do you only go so far?
D.W.: I’m pretty much good to go anywhere. We didn’t get to do much during the pandemic, but if people contact me and want me to come out, we will come out. It’s not a problem.
Hugh: Good to hear. If you want D.W. to come do a book reading, he reads the book, and it’s in his voice. It’s great to hear coming from the creator.
What you heard here was a vision faithfully executed. He learned what not to do by listening to people, and he learned what to do by listening to people. He was able to stay to his principles that he articulated as he laid out this course for the book.
No doubt I am going to get this series for my grandchildren, so you will be signing some for me. I know they will be blessed by this.
As we end this really inspiring interview, what challenge or call to action do you want to leave with people who have an idea?
D.W.: If you have an idea, go with it. Don’t hold back. Don’t have regrets in life, going through and thinking, What if? If you got it, do it. You have it inside of you. You can make it happen. Nobody will make it happen for you. You have to be the first one to believe in yourself, step up, and do it.
Hugh: D.W. Lawhorne, the inspiration and perspiration behind the Boots the Cow series. It’s not just a book. It’s a whole energy field of inspiration. Thank you for the goodness you brought to the world. Thank you for being our guest today.
D.W.: Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.
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