Project for How to Hold a Used Book Sale

The Basic Steps

Step 1: Plan the Sale

Determine where the profits from sale will go:

  • Reach out to the local community center, schools, fire department, etc. to see what specific need or programs they would like to pursue but lack funds. Choose a need that’s compelling in your community. Set a realistic goal of the amount of money you might raise for this cause and identify what that might purchase (e.g., purchase school supplies for # children; dinner at the women’s shelter for # weeks; needed parts for the volunteer fire truck; weatherization supplies to warm homes for # frail elderly persons; etc.).
  • Note: This activity is suggested as a way for individuals or groups to get involved in volunteerism and give back to the community. This proposed activity is not one that involves charitable donations resulting in tax deductions, for any individual or group.

Develop a list of volunteers who can be involved in this project:

  • Consider your friends, work colleagues, neighbors, library volunteers, etc.
  • Make a list of volunteer roles. The size of your sale will determine the number of volunteers needed. Engage volunteers to gather books at their place of faith, school, and community center. For the sale day, plan for a greeter, one or two cashiers, a book organizer to keep stacks neat and extra volunteers to help shoppers. Recruit enough people to cover any last minute cancellations and/or large crowds of buyers.

Identify the location for the book drop off and sale:

  • Ideally, hold the sale in the same location as the drop off to minimize the laborious process of moving books.
  • Consider local community locations such as the library, school or community center.
  • If possible, identify extra space in a cool, dry area to store the books.
  • Ensure that someone will be at the location at all drop-off times.

Determine what guidelines or restrictions you will provide: (For example, will you only accept books?)

  • Many used book sales accept new and gently used books, DVDs, CDs, vinyl records and comic books. Some do not accept magazines, law books, Reader’s Digest condensed books, removed library books, romance novels, damaged books (mildew, water, fire, ripped...) or encyclopedias more than 10-years old.

Arrange for a place to donate any unsold books:

  • Offer the books to the local library, nursing home, hospital, etc.
  • Recycle remaining unclaimed books through established community recycling programs

Step 2: Promote in the Community

Develop a flyer for the program:

a. Provide a date, time and location for the book drop off and sale, where books can be donated, where the proceeds will go and who to call with questions.

b. Schedule the drop-off deadline at least one week before the sale so there is plenty of time for book sorting and prepping.

Solicit for books to be dropped off:

  • Reach out to family, friends, community organizations, schools, faith organizations, libraries, etc. and ask them to ask others in their community to drop off books for the sale.
  • Explain the program, the timeline and how they can make a difference.

Check the Publicity Tip Sheet in this kit for more suggestions on how to promote your sale.

Promote the used book sale – both the donation and purchase of books – to the community:

  • Reach out to family and friends through word of mouth; use message boards throughout the community; seek out the support of a local radio or TV station or contact other non-profits that may want to partner with you.
  • Reach out to community organizations, schools, faith organizations, libraries, etc. and ask them to promote the book sale.

Create large signs to be posted on the day of the sale with all the relevant information.

Step 3: Prepare and Price

As books are dropped off, begin organizing them in the following categories:

  • Paperback/hardback
  • Fiction/non-fiction
  • Adult/children’s
  • More categorization by genre will be needed if you have a very large sale.

Price the books:

  • Recommend simple pricing such as $1.50 for hardcover, 50 cents for paperback and 25 cents for children’s books – this will prevent the need to individually price each book and will simplify transactions during the sale.

Check with your state or local tax authority to determine if the used book sale is exempt from sales tax or not. If you need to charge tax, try to locate a tax price sheet to help the volunteers at check-out.

Develop a staffing schedule for the day of the book sale:

  • Two- to three-hour shifts are best.
  • Develop a schedule. View this example of a schedule that can be used to help organize your sale -example
  • Provide some beverages and snacks for the volunteers. You may even want to sell some beverages and snacks to raise additional funds.

Step 4: Set Up for the Event

Post signs near and at the location, and at key gathering places close by.

Check out the Used Book Sale Check-Out Tips for suggestions on how to organize check-out.

Have a pre-sale meeting with the volunteers to explain your mission, roles and responsibilities and solicit any last-minute questions. Provide a place for volunteers to lock up their belongings.

Have change ready, including coins and $1, $5 and $10 bills. And don’t forget shopping bags or boxes.

Clean up during the sale so the area is appealing for shoppers.

Step 5: After the Sale

Arrange for the drop-off or pick up of any unsold books:

  • If libraries, nursing homes, schools, etc. have previously identified which type of books they’d like to have, take those there.
  • Recycle the remainder.

Donate the proceeds to the selected community program:

  • Total the funds collected and arrange a time to make the donation.
  • A money order is a helpful way to provide a record of the transaction.
  • Consider requesting a letter from the organization stating the amount collected and its intended use, so that you can share it with volunteers and others.

Sincerely thank all the volunteers for their time and effort:

  • Inform them of the final donation amount provided to the community program, and what that will achieve for this important cause.
  • Ask the community program coordinator for stories about the project your donation funded, so you can share it with the volunteers and your community through the media in the coming weeks and months.

While the program is still fresh in your mind, develop a list of lessons learned so you can implement any modifications in the future.

Step 6: Inspire Others on!


We want to hear stories ( about how you helped give back to your community. You just might inspire others to do the same.


Remember, whether you’ve got five minutes, five hours or five days, you can make a positive impact in your community. And if you have more time, consider organizing another service activity, finding local opportunities and posting your events at