Interview with Brenda Campbell of Make A Difference – Wisconsin

Hey everyone! Joshua here! If you are reading this, I hope you are having a positive and life changing day! As some of you know, I am working on a series entitled “Women Who Will Inspire You To #DoWhatYouDesire”! Today I had the opportunity to interview Brenda Campbell of Make A Difference – Wisconsin! Brenda helps empower youth between the ages of 16-18 with knowledge about finance! I am happy that she accepted my interview reqeust because I believe that money, credit, budgeting and financial literacy is something that most of us don’t understand. When I saw that she was making it a priority with Make A Difference and involving financial industry professionals in Wisconsin to help teach, I knew it was something that I wanted all of you to learn more about! I hope you all enjoy this is as much as I did!



Interview with Brenda Campbell of Make A Difference – Wisconsin

I would like to start off by saying welcome Brenda! How is everything going in your world?

It’s going very well. Thank you for having me and offering me the chance to share more about myself and the exciting work we’re doing at Make A Difference – Wisconsin.

I am grateful for you being part of my Women Who Will Inspire You To #DoWhatYouDesire series! Can you please tell me more about who you are? What would you tell a stranger who struck up a conversation with you …

I would tell them about a young woman who inspires me! Fefe is a freshman at DePaul University in Chicago. In high school, Fefe was like a lot of teenagers: working her first job, not saving and unsure about how to plan for her future. Her teacher brought one of our volunteers into their Milwaukee high school, and Fefe soaked up the information like a sponge. She said she learned how to budget, why she should save, what it means to have debt and loans, “important subjects that all teenagers need to know.” Most importantly, she put these good money habits into practice. Now living on her own and attending a prestigious university, Fefe said she uses this information every day to stay on top of her finances and to live her dreams.

That is the essence of what we do and what makes me so excited to go to work every day – we empower teens to take control of their financial futures.

Can you take me back to your childhood, you being in school, you know, growing up…what do you remember about it? How did it shape you into who you are today?

Growing up in north-central Wisconsin, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the topics we teach. My parents were good savers, but we didn’t talk about where they put their money and why. We didn’t talk about investing. I am a first generation college grad and my parents were unable to help finance my education. Through trial and error (and many painful mistakes), I learned to budget, save and live independently. When I became a mother myself, I made it a priority to help my kids understand these concepts and put them into practice. For instance, with a lot of urging from mom, both of my kids opened a Roth IRA at teens with savings from their first part-time jobs. We all take our own paths, finances included, but it’s an incredible benefit to have someone who has been through it to help you along.

Can you tell me more about the organization you lead, Make A Difference – Wisconsin? What inspired its creation? What are some of the programs that you have implemented? What have been some of your biggest accomplishments?

We were founded in 2006 by Lloyd Levin, a local businessman who responded to a dying friend’s call to get involved in the lives of young people. From that initial interest, we’ve evolved into a nonprofit that has empowered more than 55,000 teenagers through nearly 800 volunteers at sites across Wisconsin and into Chicago. We have two primary programs: Money Sense shares financial fundamentals around budgeting, banking, saving and credit; in Money Coach, a select number of at-risk teens work with financial mentors throughout the school year on everything they’ll need to live independently.

Beyond the quantity of our lessons, I’m very proud of our quality, which we keep track of through regular surveys and evaluations. For instance, 81% of students in Money Sense use savings and money management tips they learned from the program. In Money Coach, 99% of teens continue to use a bank account and even two years out of the program, 93% of participants tell us they’re still tracking expenses. It’s clear that our lessons have become habits that these teens take with them into adulthood, leading to lifelong financial capability!

I know that you are very passionate about helping teens understand financial literacy. Can you tell us why there seems to be a severe lack of education for the youth about finances and how it works? What have you found to be the best methods of reversing the lack of knowledge and empowering teens with information?

There are a lot of underlying reasons. Many parents or guardians don’t feel comfortable talking about money with their kids. One study said parents feel more comfortable talking about sex or drugs than money! Parents, guardians and other family members may also not have the best track record with money. As for the schools, most states do not have a mandate to teach financial literacy. There are many other mandates and, of course, limited resources and time in the classroom. This leaves many teenagers in a position to find out for themselves, which can make it hard to establish good behaviors or even know the right questions to ask.

One thing teens don’t lack is the thirst to learn about money. It’s so relevant to their lives – they’re getting their first paychecks, preparing for college and careers. So, when you bring a mentor and basic lessons on money to their classroom, students truly respond. From what I’ve seen over the past decade in financial education, teens are ready to learn about money and eager to put it into practice. Teaching them around 11th and 12th grade, there is a “just-in-time” effect on their ability to learn about financial concepts and put them into practice right away. We just have to give them the chance.

I wanted to do these interviews after going to women’s empowerment conferences and meeting many entrepreneurial and powerful women at them. One thing they discussed is that women still are not on equal ground with men and that more men need to advocate for equality in gender. Can you tell me how men should advocate for equal treatment, equal wages and equal respect for women?

It’s about taking action and walking the walk. Men and women in power benefit when there are initiatives in place to enable women to be involved in leadership roles. I heard a great talk recently from Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of Manpower. He was describing their successful model for expanding opportunities to everyone in the organization, particularly women. One part of the model involved reaching across department “silos” to give women exposure to P&L and operations. This is so critical given that the lack of operational experience is why so few women are seen in the top jobs. This is the type of thing that can happen on a broad scale and would work greatly toward inclusion.

In life, we all face greatness and heartaches in every avenue of life. Can you tell me what have been your biggest accomplishments? Biggest setbacks? How did you overcome them?

My biggest personal accomplishment is raising two children who have become responsible adults with a keen appreciation and commitment to social and racial justice and gender equality.

Professionally, I am very proud to lead an organization committed to our youth and giving them an opportunity to become financially capable. There have been many challenges along the way, but I have overcome them by being open to change, focusing on quality, measuring outcomes, carefully listening to stakeholders, taking some risks and staying true to the mission.

You are the leader of a very well respected and successful non-profit organization. How important is it for people and businesses to be involved in helping in our communities? Why do you think that many of us don’t realize the importance of investing in the youth?

I continually come back to the value of what our organization does in the community. One of the rewarding aspects of our mission comes from community partnerships. Our volunteers come from the business and professional world, but they may not have been in a high school since they graduated. Our education partners are vigorously involved in teaching youth, but may not get a lot of external support. We bring these two groups together in a really proximate way around shared financial futures. People are aware of the issues and they want to be able to do something about them. What we’ve done is create a unique opportunity for people to get involved and be part of the change. So, if you’re reading this out there and want to get involved – as a volunteer, as an educator, as a supporter, as a student – we want you to help lead this movement!

My mantra and brand is #DoWhatYouDesire – what does #DoWhatYouDesire stand for in your words? 

I love that! This means so much to me and I think often about whether I am doing what I desire. It boils down to this question I ask myself frequently: Am I living in a way that allows me to prioritize my time for the people and the causes that are most important to me?

How can we find out more about you and your organization? Facebook? Twitter? Website? Instagram? Snapchat?

We’re always looking for new people and organizations who share our passion for teen financial empowerment. You can find more from us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and YouTubeOur website is updated regularly with inspiring stories and insight on financial literacy trends. And if you are looking to join our movement of financially empowered teens – as a volunteer, in your school, as a supporter – please contact me directly at

Can you provide us some last words of wisdom or advice for a woman who has faced hardships, setbacks or loss? 

Regardless of the pain and challenge, my advice is to keep moving forward. Accept what has happened, and then plan and take action. Surround yourself with positive people who care about you and believe in you. One way to stay positive is by practicing gratitude. Take a few minutes every day to acknowledge who and what you are grateful for. And remember to be kind to yourself.


Brenda’s bio

Brenda Campbell has led Make A Difference – Wisconsin since its inception in 2006. Campbell has years of experience in program development, management and evaluation in the areas of financial literacy, education, workforce development and child welfare. She has been a regular source of insight on financial education to Wisconsin media and was honored as one of Milwaukee’s Women of Influence by the Milwaukee Business Journal in 2010. Brenda’s ongoing passion for teen financial literacy comes from the powerful changes she has seen teenagers make in using financial savvy as adults.


Speak up! Let us know what you think.