Averting Disasters

From time to time you will encounter obstacles and snafus, some of which may lead to a full fledged crisis. Below are some examples of what can happen and what to do when it occurs.

Crisis #1: Donated books overflow available storage space.

This is bound to happen sooner or later. The following suggestions can be used simultaneously.

Reorganize your space more efficiently. Add more shelves and make them deeper and taller.

Clean out the “dead” stock. With experience you will come to learn the types of books that don’t move very fast. These can be traded at used book stores or sold at your book sales. You can list what doesn’t sell at your book sale for free on Craig’s List and use it to build good will with your community.

Be more selective in the donations you accept. Turn down collections that contain predominately subjects that are overstocked

Crisis #2: Incoming requests are backlogged to the point where you are over 6 months behind in answering them.

Prisoners are often moved, transferred, paroled or released. The mail forwarding capabilities and address correction practices of most prisons are poor at best.

If you are answering requests that are over 5 or 6 months old, many will be returned and you will have wasted that much effort and postage. It’s a good idea to check every inmate’s location in the prison system’s online data base to see if they have been transferred or released. Check the Department of Corrections website of the state(s) you serve to look up inmate locations.

Hold a pack-a-thon. This is a marathon packing session of 12 hours or longer during which your volunteers have solicited sponsors who are pledging some amount of money for every hour the volunteer is packing. It takes some planning, but a good pack-a-thon can become quite a festive event, with donated food or even donated massages for the tired arms and shoulders of the packers. If you can collect some of the pledge money in advance, it helps to cover the increased postage costs of sending so many packages at one time.

A last resort is to simply discard the backlog of requests and start on the recent ones. Don’t throw away everything though. Open and read all the letters you receive so that anyone you are regularly corresponding with isn‘t lost. You may also want to answer the educational/self help requests or the letters from those who show a political awareness. If you decide to discard requests without filling them, it’s a good idea to let the prisoner know what you are doing and why.

Crisis #3: Departure of key person

An all volunteer group has no contracts or requirements for advance notice of resignation. Anyone at any time may have to cease his or her involvement for any number of reasons. To prevent one departure from creating a crisis, try to have each facet of the operation known and understood by more than just one person. Someone may take on all the grant writing and donation solicitation, but if there are others who keep abreast of the process and relevant details, the life of your operation won‘t be in danger should the fundraising expert suddenly depart.

Crisis #4: Funding dries up

The nature of grants is that they aren’t automatically granted and there may be a delay of several months between notification and the check arriving.

Without an ongoing effort to seek new grants and fill out applications, your funding may run dry. What will not run dry is the steady stream of requests from prisoners. Some measure of financial security can be gained by maintaining a balance of different types of funding sources. Don’t abandon the concept of book sales, speaking events, or punk shows because you just got a nice check that tripled your budget. In six months your financial picture won’t look so rosy if you haven’t been planning ahead.

You can temporarily shut down outgoing mail operations until there is enough money to pay for postage. Do not pack a large batch of books if you don’t expect to have the postage covered in the foreseeable future. As per Crisis 2, you may be forced to discard a backlog of requests in order to get back on track.

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