How to run a Nonprofit Used Book Sale

This is a guide that will help nonprofit organizations coordinate, organize, and run a used book sale

Obtaining items to sell


Setting guidelines to what items you will and will not accept is the first step to a successful sale. Many organizations set these guidelines to help prevent spending hours sorting and displaying unsellable items. Some common items that are requested NOT to be donated are:

  • Reader’s Digest condensed books
  • Encyclopedias, Textbooks, Computer books, Medical books over 5 or 10 years old
  • Magazines older than 1-2 years old
  • Romance Paperbacks
  • Water damaged books or books with mildew
  • Promotional items
  • Books without covers

Also setting guide lines on what you will accept may help people know what they can donate. For example, people who are donating may not know your organization will also be selling CD’s and DVD’s and may not them. Some common items that are requested for donation are:

  • Encyclopedias, Textbooks, Computer books, Medical books published within the 5 years
  • Puzzles and computer games
  • CD’s, LP’s, Cassette tapes
  • DVD’s and VHS tapes
  • Magazines published in the last year
  • Audio Books
  • Art prints/posters
  • Children’s books
  • Nonfiction/fiction books of all kinds

Advertising for donations

Making a flyer to post around your organization, local libraries, churches etc will help bring awareness that your organization is collecting. It is also a good time to add on your flyer on when your sale will be held (if it’s known) or add a phase such as: watch our website for more information on the date, or look out for our next flyer.

Another important item that should be specified is where to donate the books. It is also helpful to put contact information on the flyers and request anyone donating a large number of books to contact your organization ahead of time. This would allow you to know if help will be needed to move the donations to the storage area.

Incentives to receive donations

In order to try to incentivize donations, some libraries have offered free book coupons. To prevent a system such as this from being abused, it would help to set a specific guideline along the lines of 1 free book coupon for every 25 books that fit the donation guidelines. This system does have a couple downsides. It cannot be used for book drop off boxes, and may require more work by those accepting your donations. One solution to this would be to give out the coupons on the days of the sale for anyone who brings in a donation on the first day. There are many ways to alter this type of promotion and it really depends on how your sale is set up.

Other promotional offers can be used to encourage donations. Another popular route is to team up with local businesses who may want to offer coupons or other incentives. For example, your local diner or restaurant can offer free Ice cream coupons. Many businesses have established policies to help local non-profit organizations in their communities. It never hurts to ask.

A final important policy is to clarify if the donations qualify to be tax deductible. If they do, it would be helpful to have a preprinted receipt/form for those who donate. Advertising the ability to let donations qualify, may help you receive more donations.

Donation Boxes

Another way to collect books is to make donation boxes around your library, school, church etc. This allows you to collect donations without having a person present 100% of the time, but does leave your donations open to theft.

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Why do you organize books?

Organizing books help streamline your sale by giving people the ability to head to areas of interest. Simply put, the easier it is for the customer to fine what they are looking for, the more they will buy. Organizing your books can be as simple as fiction and nonfiction or as complex as 20+ categories. Remember though, the more categories you have, the easier it is for book buyers to find the books they are looking for (which again will result in more sales).

Sorting books into categories takes volunteer time and expertise. The more complex your system, the more time and expertise you will need. Therefore it is important to understand the number of volunteers you have, the amount of books you anticipate, and the ability of your volunteers to accurately separate books.

Organizing before the sale

Organizing as donations come in will help avoid a lot of work right before the sale. If your storage area is small, you can section off books into boxes/bags of the various categories you plan to use. Close them up once it is full of a category, mark the box, and stack the sorted books to clear room for more donations. Also organizing allows you to set the books up in boxes with spine up. This would allow easy set up time before the sale since the books are ready to be sold.

Some commonly used categories are as follows:

  • Arts & Photography
  • Audio Books
  • Business & Investing
  • Children’s Books
  • Comics & Graphic Novels
  • Computers & Internet
  • Cooking, Food, & Wine
  • Crafts & Hobbies
  • Entertainment
  • Heath, Mind, & Body
  • History
  • Home & Garden
  • Literature & Fiction
  • Memoirs & Biographies
  • Mystery & Thrillers
  • Nonfiction
  • Outdoors & Nature
  • Parents & Family
  • Politics
  • Professional & Technical
  • Puzzles & Games
  • Reference
  • Religion & Spirituality
  • Romance
  • Science
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Self Help
  • Sports
  • Teens
  • Textbooks
  • Travel

Organization at the sale

At the sale it is very helpful to place signs for the category in the area. Signs allow buyers browse easier than trying to guess where the categories start and end. If possible a map of the room would help buyers locate the books they are looking for but these are mainly useful for larger sales.

For your convenience, we have a file download with category flyers for the categories bulleted in the Organizing before the sale section. They are located on the seller dashboard.

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The most important thing about pricing is to be consistent. Either have set prices for hardbacks/paperback/children’s or price each one in the same place. Not being consistent on how items are price can cause confusion and delay your checkout line.

There are two methods of pricing, one is set prices based on type and the other is pricing items individually. There are also several other pricing exceptions for the first night and bag sales. More information on that is under the Special Sale Days section.

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Bundled advertisement

Holding the sale during a community event such as a fair, or town garage sale, will help bring people to your sale without a lot of advertising on your part. These events also bring in out of town customers and allow your sale to be exposed to a wider range of people.


Advertising your sale on your organizations website will help spread the word of your sale without any cost. Also consider listing your sale on You will reach many book lovers across the nation and our site sends out a notification to the people registered in your immediate area. Basic listings are FREE on our site.

In return we ask if you could link to us on your site, post one of our flyers at your sale or ask for an advertising package from us that contain a couple color flyers and bookmarks to give out at your sale. Promoting helps spread the word of our site and helps promote awareness of other sales in your area along with your sales in the future.

Posting your dates as soon as possible helps give Google and search engines times to index your information on your page and increases the amount of times it comes up in search results for people looking for books sales in their city, area, and or state.


Nice colored flyers can cost money to print, but simple black and white ones can be printed for pennies. These flyers can be posted around your local libraries, community centers, grocery stores, school etc that will allow you to post them. This is a cheap efficient way to promote your sale and also a way to ask for donations on the same flyer.

Lawn signs and Banners

Lawn signs and or banners outside the location of the sale will draw attention to the sale. Putting these up a week or two before hand will serve as a reminder as people drive buy on the days before the sale.

Newspapers and Newsletters

Purchasing advertisement spots in local newspapers or newsletters, or submitting an article will also help bring awareness to your sale. This is a great way to reach a broader range of people in your community.

Contact members

If you have a member list of your organization, it would be a good idea to send them a reminder of the upcoming sale. If these members purchase a membership at your last sale, chances are they will want to attend your upcoming sale again.

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Sale Day

Planning ahead of time for the sale day can help prevent delays, extra work, and provide a more efficient fundraiser. The following are a couple topics to consider


Setting up a schedule helps volunteers know when to arrive and what time they will be needed. The first day (and first couple hours) will most likely be your busiest. Also bag days or the first couple hours of your half price days will also be rather busy. It is a good idea to schedule more workers at these times.

Extra boxes and bags

While some people may bring their own boxes and bag, there will be customers without their own. It is a good idea to have extra bags and boxes on hand to help customers carry their books home.

Check out lines

The first night is a good night to have a separate line for big orders. This helps out not only those ordering a lot of books but also those who are purchasing 1-2 books. Bigger orders may need more than one volunteer to help tally the order, while another unloads and loads boxes.

It also may speed out check out to have tally tables and only 1 (or 2 depending on sale size) cashiers. The tally tables can count up the cost of the items the person is purchasing and from there they can file into 1 pay line.


Tally sheets help the volunteers add up the cost of the books. For your convenience, we have a file download with sample tally sheets. They are located on the seller dashboard.

Tab tables

Another solution to avoid purchasers of many books from checking out/paying many times is to have a tab table. This would be a table where the tally sheets would be collected and held (with the buyers drivers license) until the buyer is ready to check out. This gives you their information with a form of ID they will not skip out on to avoid paying a bill.

This method helps clear congestion in the lines and allows them to make one big purchase at the end.

Book holding areas

If your sale is big enough to have people purchasing 100’s of books you may want to contemplate a holding area: A place where people can place books with their name to be purchased when they are ready to check out. Specify that they must purchase these books and not go through them later (to avoid a big mess of rejected books).

Book Dealers

Book dealers will travel long distances to attend book sales. They tend to purchase many books, and will be in line hours before the sale starts. There are several things to consider while planning the sale to help keep the sale running smoothly while still receiving the money from these large sales.

Hoarding – This is a practice where a book dealer or group of dealers working together will grab a lot of books from an area put them in a corner or in boxes and look through them later. This does a disservice to the sale since they are not out on the tables to be purchased by other customers. Also several dealers will not place books back in the category they belong, causing an unorganized mess that will require volunteer time to clean up.

Some libraries ban dealers in general, to avoid the big mess left behind. However there is one solution that allows you to continue to receive the money these dealers bring in and prevent the mess. This solution is to “ban” hoarding. Some libraries do this by a 1 box/bag policy. Once you fill up a box or bag of items you want, you must purchase it and take it out to your car. This enforces the behavior to only take what you want to purchase off the table.

Scanners- Book dealers will use scanners to search for books they are looking for. While most of the time this will cause no problems to the people around them, some deals do have sound on their devices which will cause a beeping sound. One simple solution (without losing the income from these dealers) is to ask them to turn the sound off or use a head set.

Some libraries ban scanners, to prevent book dealer from crowding out community members. While some do it for the whole sale, a few are starting to only ban it for the first day. This allows community members or non dealers to have first picks at the books, but does not completely cut out book dealers who usually purchase large amounts of books at a time.

Bake sale/concession stand

Some customers may be there for an hour or more. Selling snacks, bottled water and having a sitting area may bring in some extra money for your sale (depending on your sale size).

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Special Sale Days

Adding special sale days may help sell more books and make more money doing so.

Preview sale days

Preview sale days, or the first sale day is a perfect opportunity to make more money for your organization. Many organizations have the first night (typically 2-4 hours) opened for members of the organization only. This allows those who are a part of your organization have first pick at the books. By selling memberships at the door will help grow your membership while raising more funds for your cause.

Other organizations, who do not have a membership to their club, will charge a entrance fee. On average a sale that is up to 10,000 books will charge $5 a person, and more for a larger sale. Some organizations will charge less for children (or allow them at attend for free) they will also have family admission charge, for example $20 for a family to attend.

Another option for a first night, if you do not want to charge admission or require membership, is to increase the price of the books. You can double, or have a 50% increase in the price of books for the first night for those who get first picks at the sale. This will help you make more money on desirable books.

Half Price days

These are exactly as they sound. These are days where every (or almost everything) is half price. These days are usually the last day or the second to last day if you choose to have a full bag sale day. If you choose, you can exclude collectable books, special items, or like new books from half of day.

Bag sale

These days are great ways to clean out many of your books for cheap prices to your customers. These are usually held on the last day (or second to last day if you have a free day), and the price of bags range from $1 to $5. Organizations will usually provide bags (typically the paper grocery bag kind). These are sometimes donated to the organization from a local grocery store.

Some other variations on this sale day are:

  • Box sales which can range in price from $5 to $10
  • If customers purchase a tote from your organization they can fill the bag for free
  • Decreasing bag prices as the day proceeds

Free Day

These days are used to avoid storage of books for the next sale, or the volunteer hours to clean up the books after the sale. Some organizations limit these days to nonprofits and or teachers, or give those organizations the first couple hours of free day before they let the general public in

Discounted bag sales for other nonprofits or teachers

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Clean Up

After the sale, clean up procedures depend on how your sale operates. Arranging the way your books will be stored/donated will help you plan on how to proceed after the sale and will prevent wasting hours of your volunteers time by moving them a couple times before they reach their final destination. Below are several options for what to do with the remaining books.

Store them

If you have the space to store them until the next sale, box them up and make sure the categories are labeled correctly on the boxes. This will help you be ready for the next sale. Condense the boxes as much as possible, and break down or store the unused boxes. You may need to use these for your next round of donations.

Auction them

Some libraries have success with auctioning off the remaining books on ebay or an equivalent site. You could make a listing, give the time window for the buyer to pick them up and have them box up and remove the books at the sale. Be sure to clearly state this in your listing, and specify that the books are the remnants of a book sale.

Donate them

Contact local Thrift Shops, Libraries, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Daycare Centers or Schools to see if they would like any/all of the books that are remaining. Some online options for donating are: - You must pay for shipping to soldiers - located in MA

Recycle them

Contact your local recycling center or waste center and ask about recycling options for your remaining books.

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Taking care of the Volunteers

Volunteering for a book sale can be hard work. It is nice to give back to the volunteers that help make this fundraiser happen. You can do so in a couple ways.

Provide snacks or a meal while people are working: This can be as easy as chips and beverages provide a meal like pizza or pot luck.

Allow volunteers to purchase some books before the sale. Doing so is usually limited to a dollar amount or 1 bag of books. Some organizations also allow volunteers to pick out a bag of books free of charge for their hard work at the sale.

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