written by: Martin Thiele
What is the project about?
Books 4 Life is a chain of 2-hand charity bookstores in the Netherlands. Founded in 2005 by the former student Laura van der Vees at the University of Tilburg, this bookstore primarily aims at raising donations for social and humanitarian charities by selling second-hand books. While its two main charities, Amnesty International and Oxfam Novib, receive 25 per cent of all proceeds respectively, 50 per cent are given to a charity which is voted upon by the volunteers of each bookstore. The staff consists of a chair, secretary, shop manager, treasurer as well as approximately 5-10 volunteers, who all work on a voluntary basis. The following example is based on the experiences from Maastricht between 2009 and 2011.
What did you concretely change at your university / What did the project improve?
Since the inception of the bookstore in April 2009, Books 4 Life Maastricht reached mainly 3 goals: to engage people, recycle books and to raise money for a good cause. The bookstore became a venue for students to read, drink coffee and buy 2nd-hand literature to affordable prices. Moreover, volunteering for and managing this bookstore brings valuable real-life experiences to students of all studies. In establishing a partnership with the libraries of the university, older books (sometimes just 2 years old and otherwise thrown away) are collected and made available for purchase to students.
How did you manage to come to this change? How did you proceed? What was necessary? Who supported you? How did you convince people at your university?
As a group of people interested in volunteering, the first crucial step is to find space and a start budget to build up a shop with shelves, furniture and inventory. Fortunately, after preparing a convincing project proposal, universities will provide you with both at best. For the next tasks all you need is great promotion and/or a promotion event. Be sure to attract widespread attention through personal and professional networks. Since donated books and volunteers are the resources you will depend on in the future, ensure clear communication to your target audience. In Maastricht, we have a contact email, a basket outside the store for book donations and a person assigned to establish and keep contact to possible large-scale donators (i.e. libraries, student groups). The facility management of university faculties or otherwise deans were very helpful in finding a location for the bookstore. Besides, mouth propaganda and social networking sites are the best and most inexpensive way to promote your shop. It all starts with a small group of dedicated volunteers, who favorably have an interest in building a business later in life and gain hands-on experiences next to their studies. The question is how to find these committed students. Whether using catchy phrases on posters, an external book sale, a lecture with a famous author. Everything is allowed to attract the attention of your audience as long as it is in line with the mission and vision of your own 2nd hand charity bookstore.
What would you do better when looking back?
A central problem for the board is to find committed volunteers for longer than 6 months. Most volunteers are (external) students, who are busy studying or need to leave after their studies. Thus, to involve elderly people and other people who are clear about their intentions and interests may be wise. Since accounting is to be taken seriously, you would want to have an accountant or student from accounting as your treasurer. As a registered association all tax forms to the ministry of finance need to fulfill all formal requirements.
What advice can you give others who want to achieve the same change at their university?
Books4Life is welcoming any possibility for your own franchise. Almost all Dutch shops meet on a bi-annual basis to coordinate their activities, talk about and solve problems together and help each other out wherever they can. If you wish to open a new shop don’t hesitate to contact Books4Life directly (firstname.lastname@example.org; in English or Dutch), ask for permission, learn from their experience and use free PR material. Everything else depends on your ability to find devoted volunteers and suitable sponsors for your endeavor. Good luck!