BookMentors is a website that connects teachers and students who need books with donors who want to give books. Launched softly in 2013, the idea for BookMentors came from a group of friends who collectively saw how economically disadvantaged kids lacked access to books and wanted to do something about it.
As a reading specialist in urban and suburban public schools, founder and executive director, Jennifer Soalt, saw firsthand how many of the students living in poverty had very little access to books at home or at school. Jennifer learned that the ratio of books to children in middle-income neighborhoods is about 13 books per child, while the ratio of books to children in lower income neighborhoods is approximately 1 book to 300 children.
Debra Hunnula, one of BookMentor’s founding board members, saw how many of her clients lived in poverty as a former public defender. She dedicates time and money to BookMentors because she knows not everyone has the opportunity to read at home or school. Being a donor means that she can not only provide books to teachers who need them, she can also hear directly from the teachers about the impact her donated book made. This personal connection makes a big difference, according to Debra. In fact, it makes Debra want to give even more.
The process for BookMentors is simple. As a donor, you can browse the books that are being requested by teachers. Each request includes information about the book being requested, who it’s being requested by and why. Information about the teacher’s class and the economic status of the school is also included. Once you choose a book, you can add it to your shopping cart and purchase it like any other shopping website.
Donors can also give new books, which show up in the Offers section of the website. This gives donors the opportunity to choose specific books to give. Teachers, in turn, can request copies of these books.
BookMentors is a nonprofit organization, so when you purchase a book on the site, you also receive a tax deduction. You can even start your own virtual book drive for a school or teacher you know.
To make BookMentors sustainable over time, donors pay the regular list price for books. BookMentors’ vendor, Baker & Taylor, sells the books to BookMentors at a 30-40% discount. The “extra” percentage goes to BookMentors as a donation to help with operational costs.
Each time an order goes through, the teacher that benefits from your purchase is notified. As Debra shared, she often hears from the teacher just minutes after an order goes through. After our phone conversation, she donated a book to Ms. O’Donnell, a kindergarten teacher at Halle Hewetson Elementary School in Las Vegas, NV. She received this message in response:
“Thank you thank you from the “tops” and “bottoms” of our hearts! Our students do not always have access to high quality books and through your generous gift our students will be able to experience the wonderful writings of Janet Stevens. They can relate to characters facing hardships and overcoming adversity and your gift will only further inspire these young readers! We can’t wait to add this book to our library collection and enjoy it for years to come!!”
Teachers can request books from the website and easily share their pages via social media.
As Debra noted, BookMentors is an easy way to become an impactful donor without having to spend lots of money.
Have you ever donated books to schools?
Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. Read past stories here.