Published: March 2009

Advancing financial literacy in Wisconsin

Coalition: Money Smart Week Wisconsin

Over the last three years, Consumer Action’s Sol Carbonell has served as the Dane County Marketing and Promotions Committee Chair for Money Smart Week, a weeklong financial literacy awareness and education campaign that takes place in the state of Wisconsin during the month of October. In this article, Carbonell shares some of the accomplishments and behind the scenes coordination efforts of this campaign that reached thousands of consumers with financial literacy information.

“Consumer Action is proud to be part of Money Smart Wisconsin and urges state partners to join the movement and continue promoting financial literacy,” said Carbonell.

The History

Spearheaded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Money Smart Week began in 2002 as area organizations were convened to work together and share resources and ideas to achieve greater public awareness of the programs and services available in the city of Chicago.

The result was Money Smart Week — six days of focused presentations by community groups, financial institutions, government agencies, educational organizations, and financial experts, all designed to help consumers learn to better manage their personal finances. The effort showcased different programs, helped consumers get information and brought together different organizations — many for the first time — and helped them share expertise and leverage limited resources.

Today, Money Smart Week is much broader in scope and continues to expand, creating new partnerships, heightened exposure, and substantive events. The Money Smart Week model has grown beyond Chicago with successful campaigns taking place in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan, among others.

In Wisconsin, the campaign was embraced by Governor Doyle’s Council on Financial Literacy. Launched in 2006, it was the first-ever aimed at an entire state, targeting every city, town and village throughout Wisconsin.

The campaign

The goal of the campaign is to help consumers learn how to manage their personal finances. This helps individuals raise their standards of living and also contributes to the welfare of neighborhoods, communities and cities.

Hundreds of banks, financial institutions, schools, non-profit organizations and government agencies join together to provide a week of classes and events aimed at helping consumers make informed choices when managing their personal finances. Roughly 500 free educational classes take place around the state and focus on financial topics for people of all ages and walks of life.

Dane County Efforts - 2008

Serving as a catalyst for this effort, the Financial Educators Network, a group of professionals that meets once a month to exchange resources and information to better serve consumers, took the lead in Dane County and worked diligently to make the campaign a success.

Members of the FEN developed several committees staffed by volunteers: fundraising, marketing and promotions, outreach and evaluations. Volunteers included members of Madison Gas and Electric, Heartland Credit Union, the Financial Education Center, United Way of Dane County, UW Credit Union, Common Wealth Development, the University of Wisconsin, Northwestern Mutual, HCubed and Green Path Solutions, among others.


The fundraising chair worked closely with all the heads of Marketing and Promotions, Outreach and Evaluations committees to develop an overall budget (2008 budged reached approximately $25,000), wrote letters of request with specific levels of contribution and secured funding from sponsors. Consumer Action has proudly served as fiscal agent for Money Smart Week.

Marketing and Promotions

Led by Sol Carbonell from Consumer Action, the Marketing and Promotions (M&P) committee developed an aggressive strategy that included print media, radio and mall advertising, along with distribution of a calendar of events, flyers and bookmarks at community fairs, public libraries and community-based organizations.

The target audience was adult, low-to-moderate income consumers. Some of the marketing materials created include:

Calendar of Events: Working in partnership with Capital Newspapers, M&P created a 16-page calendar of events that was distributed along with the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal to more than 250,000 subscribers. The calendar featured letters from First Lady Jessica Doyle, County Executive Kathleen Falk and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President and CEO, Charles Evans, exhorting consumers to participate in the events. It also included articles by partners and sponsors such as Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation with tips on how to increase your credit score and the advantages and disadvantages of using credit cards.

20,000 extra copies were printed and distributed at churches, social service organizations and community agencies serving minorities and low-income consumers.

Bookmarks and Inserts: Designed with the assistance of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the 100,000 bookmarks and inserts provided details of the event and offered quick tips on how to Be Money Smart!

Mall Marketing: Thousands of consumers eager to spend their money visit regularly both the East and West Towne malls in Madison, Wisconsin. Banners and signs strategically placed around the food courts and main entrances to the malls displayed the campaign website along with the dates and how to get more information about the events.

Radio Marketing: In partnership with Midwest Family Broadcasting, M&P identified the main radio station reaching out to adults ages 24-55 and created a sponsorship packet that included a series of radio ads and web presence promoting Money Smart Week. Two 15-second ads sponsored by Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and Northwestern Mutual appeared on Magic 98 almost 40 times each throughout the 5 days prior to Money Smart Week. In addition, a 2-week display and banner was secured at, which attracts almost 30,000 visits a month, and referred visitors to the campaign website:

Street Banners: Two banners were designed and strategically placed in two of the busiest streets in Madison, getting the attention from drivers, pedestrians and passersby.

In addition to producing the above mentioned marketing materials, the committee coordinated a press conference to promote the event to the media and generate coverage. A press release and fact sheet with detailed information and testimonies were sent to all media outlets in Dane County.

The press conference was held on October 7, 2008, at Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and highlighted activities and accomplishments from the 2007 campaign. Speakers included Alejo Torres, Senior Outreach Program Manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Dave Mancl Director of the Office of Financial Literacy for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and member of former president George Bush’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy.

Also present were Gabriel Banick, coordinator of Career and Technical Education for the Madison Metropolitan School District, who offered her perspective on the need to continue promoting financial literacy and educating youth on how to make smart choices with their money. Finally, a past Money Smart Week attendee and now volunteer at the Financial Education Center, Karen Fink, enlightened the audience with how she overcame her struggles by maintaining a positive attitude and a common sense approach to managing her money, and avoiding payday and credit card traps.


To generate awareness from potential partners such as schools and community organizations, the Outreach Committee hosted an orientation around early April. The orientation provided interested parties with information on the goals of the campaign, opportunities to become involved and help spread the message and responsibilities as a partner, among others. Curriculum directors crowded the orientation event eager to take this information to theirs schools around the district and be part of Money Smart Week.

Marketing and promotions materials were distributed at libraries, social service organizations, churches, community agencies, senior centers, and others.

The results

Money Smart Week was held during October 12-18. Over 2000 consumers attended more than 30 free classes offered throughout the week. Classes included:

  • Make Your Money Work For You
  • Financial Aid 101
  • Foreclosure Prevention
  • First Time Home Buying
  • Refinancing Your Home Loan
  • Car Buying Strategies
  • Do You Own Will and Other Important Documents
  • Stretching Your Household Budget
  • Insurance Fair
  • Business Finance Seminar
  • Growing Your Green
  • Social Security and Medicare
  • Identity Theft
  • Financial Planning for Women
  • A class participant commented, “The Make Your Money Talk series was wonderful! It was presented in a way that made it relevant to real life. I commit to using what I’ve learned to develop my own financial plan…in fact, with Deb’s [the instructor] help, I have already set detailed goals for my future and have started to make it happen! Thank you for this course…without it, I would still be living day to day without a plan for the future.” Nichole S.

    In addition, several other events gathered large numbers of attendees. Approximately one thousand students participated in various simulations called “City Money Reality Stores” hosted at several schools in Madison. At “The Power of Change,” a family-friendly event organized by the Financial Education Center, more than one hundred children learned strategies on how to save money and had fun watching a magician that made coins disappear, among other tricks.

    A Money Smart Kid essay contest pilot program was launched in Stoughton, Wisconsin. 147 middle school kids participated in the program and submitted essays on the topics of money management, planning saving and investing and being a critical consumer. The winner received $1,000 EDVEST scholarship from Wisconsin’s State Treasurer.

    The campaign received the media’s attention, with several news stations highlighting key events. WKOW-TV, our biggest partner, invited experts for a segment on financial literacy that aired on October 16, and allowed viewers the possibility to call in and get their questions answered. The popularity of the segment prompted WKOW-TV to organize a second live panel of experts, which was broadcasted on November 13.

    Moving forward

    Money Smart Week Wisconsin is on its fourth year. Having exchanged best practices, partners across the state are gearing up for the 2009 campaign and refining their strategy and approach. The passion, dedication and commitment from all the regional chairs and committee chairs, as well as from other volunteers involved, have been key to the success of each region’s initiatives.

    Here are some of the first steps that we have taken in Dane County for 2009:

    • Revised 2009 strategy, including goals, outcomes and priorities
    • Improved committee structure and responsibilities
    • Prepared overall budget
    • Set timelines and accountability chart
    • Agreed on communication protocol
    • Recruited new volunteers

    Wisconsin’s lead in making Money Smart Week a statewide campaign is exemplary. So it is the support provided by the regional Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which offers various resources, including funding to support specific activities and promotional materials.

    A volunteer-run effort, Money Smart Week allows agencies to generate further awareness about programs or services that help consumers make smart financial decisions. It is a unique opportunity for government agencies, financial institutions, non-profit organizations and others to come together, leverage limited resources and provide valuable information to consumers. Whether you are buying your first home, planning your retirement or simply trying to stay afloat and manage your money more effectively to survive this economic crisis, having the right tools and knowing where to go for help can make a big difference, ultimately impacting not only an individual family, but the community as a whole.

    Lead Organization

    Financial Educators Network

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