A ROMANTIC WAY TO RAISE MONEY

Dodie Milardo of Westbrook has taken a novel approach to fundraising - so to speak. She founded To Give is Divine, Ltd., and is donating 90 percent of the net proceeds from her romance novel "Penelope's Cruise" (her first) to charity. Milardo, who calls her own life "blessed," says the arrangement a win-win for everyone. Donors get "a little romance" in their lives, and non-profit groups get a little more support. To read an excerpt, visit www.penelopescruise.com

Which came first- the desire to write a book, or the launch of To Give Is Divine?

The desire to write the book came first. Actually, I didn't even want to write a book at first. Awhile ago, I took a vacation. When I returned and told my friends what had happened and what was continuing to happen, they kept saying, "You have to write a book! You have to write a book!"

In college, I was a math major and my math major brain wanted no part of writing a book. However, several years later, I was blessed with the luxury of some free time and I decided to give it a shot. So, I sat down at the computer and it just gushed out of me. I was shocked. It flowed out so easily and ideas came one right after the other. I'd get lost in it for hours. As this continued and I kept thinking how unbelievable it was that I was actually writing, it occurred to me that there must be some divine intervention going on. And that's why I decided that I needed to do something important with the book. So, I decided to use it to raise money for non-profits. I'm donating 90 personal of the net profits to charity. There are also several spin-offs from the novel which I also believe can be used to raise money for charity. So one fundraising idea became several and I decided to start a company whose mission is to create and develop innovative fundraising campaigns and donate a portion of the proceeds to charity. The first campaign is "Penelope's Cruise." There is a vintage car, a 1978 Datsun 280Z, which is written into the novel and which I own. I would like to use it as a fundraiser by restoring it and auctioning it off for charity. Also included in "Penelope's Cruise" are lyrics to a song my mom wrote. This will be another fundraiser.

While I was writing "Penelope's Cruise" I happened to see a segment on Oprah about how tent cities were cropping up outside of Sacramento, Calif., because people were losing their homes and had no place to live. They talked about how children and their families were living in tents and I just couldn't imagine how you can expect children to do well in school and succeed when they are living in tents. Where do they get ready in the morning, where do they shower, what do they eat, how do they cook? I have never been in a situation like that. I have what I need: a wonderful husband, a house, a car, heat, food, clothes. I wanted to help people in difficult situations like the tent city situation. My primary focus was on homeless, hungry and children at risk. It has expanded as the word as gotten out and as I have been approached to help other charities.

The mission of To Give is Divine is a nontraditional take on fundraising. How did you come up with the idea?

The idea just evolved as I was writing the book. As I said, as corny as it might sound, I think there was a great deal of divine intervention. The fact that I actually WROTE a book is a miracle. If I get a couple of emails and I have to answer with more than a couple of sentences, I agonize over it. So, to write an entire book so easily – well – it's divine intervention!

How does the partnership between the organization and a typical non-profit work? Whom have you worked with so far?

It's pretty simple. It doesn't cost the non-profit anything. I do request that they include me in their advertising. If I am doing a book signing at an event, at the end of the event, I write a check to the organization based on the number of books I sell. I get such a wonderful feeling writing that check. In a short period of time, I've already been able to donate over $1,500 to charities – that's with no budget for PR or marketing or advertising. While $1,500 is good, it's nowhere near where I want it to be. I would like to make this fundraiser at least national and then turn it into a movie and donate a portion of ticket sales to charity. I can't do this alone. As they say, it takes a village. I welcome any help in making these projects successful. Also, if people order Penelope's Cruise through my website, there is a drop-down menu on the order form where purchasers may choose which organization they would like me to support. Right now, the following organizations are on that list.

American Red Cross

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Dr. Dana Flavin's Foundation for Collaborative Medicine & Research

Children's Community Programs of CT

Autism Speaks

Bethsaida Community, Inc.

Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut

Connecticut Food Bank

CT Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

National Coalition for the Homeless

Feeding America

Feeding America's Hungry Children

Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence

I am doing a book signing for the Killingworth Library on April 30th with the proceeds going to the library's children's programs. Their state funding was cut, so this money will help make up for that.

How did you come up with the idea for the story? Were you envisioning it as a movie from the get-go?

"Penelope's Cruise" is loosely based on an experience I had. I've fictionalized it and embellished, added, etc. I've made things happen that I wanted to have happen, omitted things I didn't want to have happen, etc. As my husband and I talked about all of this and a few family and friends read it, the idea of making it into a movie started to bubble up – with Penelope Cruz being cast for the lead! At first, it was one of those, "yeah right!" things. But we started to think more and more about it and want to pursue it.

Who will most relate to the character's experiences?

Any woman who has ever been in a relationship – no matter what age – can relate to Gina's experiences. She has many dating experiences and if you have ever asked yourself "What was I thinking?" or "Why didn't I pay attention to that behavior before?", you can relate. There is a Penelope in the book, but I'd rather not say who she is – I don't want to ruin it for readers.

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