Firm Doing Good For Itself From Book Donations

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May 8, 2011; Source: | Some Oregonians are torn up about a for-profit company that has set up bins around the state to collect discarded books that people think are going to support charity. According to, even though these bins have yellow labels that read "Books for Charity," most of the tossed titles are either sold online or turned into pulp. Only 25 percent of the books are handed out to nonprofits.

The bins are managed by Thrift Recycling Management, which has about 200 employees in 10 locations nationwide and which takes in about $26 million a year in revenue, according to Jeff McMullin, president. McMullin disputes charges that the company is strictly a money-making operation. He says that not only does the company donate books but all proceeds from pulp sales are given to nonprofits.

Whether or not the recycling company is all that charitable, it still represents competition to libraries that rely on books donated from the public for their fundraisers. Nan Bodgan, treasurer of the friends of the Tualatin Public Library, located outside of Portland, says since the bins starting popping up, the library has seen a fall off in books being donated. "I'm dismayed," she said. She claims the recycler is "taking advantage of donations that should go entirely to libraries or schools."

Craig Cedros, president of Friends of the Multnomah County Library in Portland, expresses worries about the long-term threat from Thrift Recyling Management. "Our business model to raise money would have to change," he said. "We are a volunteer organization. I have a full-time job and a family."

Some are also concerned about the ties between the company and a nonprofit called Reading Tree that McMullin started three years ago with two others. McMullin who serves as president of the nonprofit's board, says Reading Tree receives up to 90 percent of Thrift Recyling's donations, and also manages distribution of books to charities deposited nationwide in its 2,500 bins.

He is aware, though, of the concerns some people have about the ties between his company and Reading Tree. "We have spent time with attorneys on both sides to make sure my involvement was done correctly," said McMullin, who said he plans to step down from Reading Tree's board soon. "And that Reading Tree received greater benefit from my participation than not. We've tried to explain it clearly and make sure we have been transparent about it."—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Kathi Jaworski

    This type of project walks like, talks like a Low-profit Limited Liability Corporation (L3C)– for better and worse.