When Valerie Staat became executive director for the Baltimore-based International Book Bank in May 2007, the nonprofit's board of directors handed her some very specific orders. Staat, 53, was asked to increase the bank's profile, diversify the types of books the company accepts and find new donors.
The work is challenging, says Staat, who came to Baltimore with experience at three other nonprofits and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Now, after living in several other countries and growing up surrounded by books (her mother was a librarian), she gets to help others worldwide do what she considers imperative: read.
FOR THE RECORD - In an article in Sunday's Maryland Closeup section, the name of the executive director for the International Book Bank was misspelled. Her name is Valerie Staats.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
The International Book Bank was founded in 1987 in Chicago and moved to Baltimore three years later. Its 43,000-square-foot warehouse off Eagle Road in West Baltimore houses about 1.5 million books, mostly leftover textbooks from major publishers.
What made you decide to work for the International Book Bank?
Several hooks. I served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, and I lived in Morocco for 2 1/2 years in my 20s. That really shaped my world view and my awareness about needs and issues and development work. You've got the wealthy countries of the world pouring development dollars into poor countries, and I learned a lot about that during my time in the Peace Corps.
I was a teacher for 15 years, an English teacher at different levels, mostly with college students, or adult learners. From my teaching background, that was another hook. I'm very passionate about the importance of education and the difference that education makes, especially with girls, women and people struggling.
I've lived and traveled in Guatemala ... [Costa Rica, Spain and France], and I had an extended stay in China.
International peace, teaching peace, then the third [hook] is books and libraries. ... I grew up around books, just books everywhere. And I'm still a books junkie to the maximum. I'm usually reading three or four at a time, and ... I am a library junkie. And what we do is supply books to libraries and others.
Why leave the stability of teaching?
I felt like coming back to a very familiar world. It's true nonprofits can be mercurial ... but even with the challenges, you have incredible opportunities to be entrepreneurial. And that's really fun. For example, when I started here, I immediately re-branded, launched a new Web site. I've been trying to do new things, like purchasing an ad in this electronic newsletter that goes to all the overstocked book dealers in the country. On the day that came out, the traffic to our Web site doubled. Of course I hope it will lead to book donations and individual donors supporting us. ...
And usually in a nonprofit, you get to work with great people. There is a different mind-set. Our working conditions are not plush. We're not climatized. There is no air conditioner and no heat during the winter. And the guys keep coming.
Where were you living before and how did you hear about the opening?
This is my fourth consecutive executive director job of a nonprofit. And what I do, my specialty is management and taking the organization to its next logical level. ... The job preceding this happened to be in Austin, Texas, and I was the executive director of a big Audubon. They were at a point where they had a ton of money because people were constantly donating to them. But they didn't have any office or staff. So they hired me to set up the whole organization with professional staff, get all their systems in place, launch some planned fundraising and development work. ... I had a ball.
Where does your funding come from?
We basically generate what is called program revenue. That means that the program that we deliver to is where we get our income. That's one of the things the board wants me to change, to diversify that
For example ... World Vision was shipped today to Zambia. World Vision pays all the shipping expenses, and they also pay us a handling fee. It's very modest, but in their particular case, it's a 40-foot container, and the handling fee for that is $8,600. What they're getting for that is a 40-foot sea container full of brand new, high-quality books that they selected from our list, which is key. ... And in addition, we have done all the labor and expertise involved in getting the books, processing them, warehousing them, and we manage the shipping process. ...
So for that $8,600 they not only get all those goods and services but anywhere from a quarter of a million to three-quarters of a million dollars' worth of books, depending on what books they've chosen.
The revenue is used for ... ?
All overhead. That's what pays the rent [and staff]. We don't have any government support. We're totally independent. But I'm slowly but surely building an individual donor base. But that's a challenge starting from zero. I recently read where there're 26,000 charities in Maryland. Getting your name above that heap is a real uphill climb.
Who came up with all of this?