Case study

Bookdonors

A Scottish CIC that has redefined bookselling as a force for social and environmental change.

At first glance, Bookdonors, a social enterprise based in Selkirk, appears simply to sell books to raise money for good causes. In fact, it achieves far more than that.

Founded in 2005 by Lawrie Hayworth, Bookdonors has found a way to turn a burden – unwanted used books – into an asset producing a triple bottom line.

Its model is quite straightforward. Bookdonors receives a steady supply of second-hand books from charities, libraries and other organisations, and it sells them on the internet, through Amazon and AbeBooks. Books not reused go for recycling.

Around a quarter of the money raised goes back to each supplier, helping them to fundraise for their cause (that’s an economic bottom line). Tonnes of books are diverted from landfill (that’s an environmental one). And Bookdonors provides training and employment to people with disabilities and the long-term unemployed (that’s the social bottom line).

“Around a third of our staff and volunteers are registered disabled,” says Hayworth. “On top of that, about 80 per cent have come from long-term unemployment. So as well as being a social enterprise, we are a social firm – the first in the Scottish borders.”

Today, Bookdonors has a turnover of £850,000. It employs 22 staff and it has raised more than £200,000 in payments back to charities.

Bookdonors has been clear from the start that it works as a business, and that’s why it chose to structure itself as a CIC. “I previously spent years working for large multinationals,” says Hayworth. “That’s my background, and I wanted to run Bookdonors as a business too, but with clear social aims.”

The CIC model, he says, was the right one for Bookdonors because it enshrined the principles of being a business, not a charity, but working for a community purpose. “We didn’t want to go down the charity route because that doesn’t make the same statement about being a business,” he explains. “As a CIC, we are clearly defined and we have an asset lock.”

Although Bookdonors started with the aim of raising funds for charities – and that purpose still remains – Hayworth feels its biggest achievement has actually been the social element. “Creating employment for those furthest from the job market has been great,” he says. “I’ve seen people’s lives changed because of their involvement with Bookdonors.”

The organisation has big plans for the future and although the business start-up phase is now over, there is plenty of hard work ahead to make use of the opportunities needed to grow the organisation over the next five years.

Name Bookdonors
Location Selkirk, Scotland
Company structure CIC limited by guarantee
Founded 2005
Community interest statement A social enterprise trading in used books to help people, charities and the environment.

Find out more about Bookdonors)

Published 12 November 2013