Selling Jewellery for Literacy

Interested in fundraising for your local community literacy program? Here’s the story of someone who held a jewellery fundraiser for literacy!

Pat Campbell, who has been involved in community-based literacy programs for more than 30 years, explains a creative fundraising idea that resulted in supporting literacy by many residents of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

Pat is well-versed in the needs of learners, how to manage local literacy programs from an administrative perspective, as well as how to run a successful business. She began working in adult literacy in 1986, when she was hired to be the director of PROSPECTS, a one-to-one tutoring program based in Edmonton.

“It was an exciting time for educators to be working in the field of adult literacy,” she recalled in a recent interview.

In 1996, she and a business partner founded Grass Roots Press, which is a publishing company that specializes in educational and professional development resources for adult basic education.

Today, Grass Roots Press is the largest publisher of adult basic education materials in Canada.

“We try to meet the changing policies and practices of publishing and the needs of educators and students,” Pat explained. “This fall, we will be publishing bilingual books in Spanish and Arabic, in the hopes that the latter can be used by Syrian refugees.”

Jewels for Literacy – Planning

Pat became further involved with local literacy when she and Terry, her husband, moved to Salt Spring Island in 2011.

Initially, she combined her interests in community-based literacy and book publishing when volunteering at their community-wide book sale (which Pat calls “GIANT”). Eventually, she increased her involvement by joining the organization’s board of directors.

“Like most boards,” she noted, “we are always looking for a way to generate funds for the program.”

Pat’s idea was inspired by what she saw at a conference in the United States.

“My husband and I came across [an event called] Jewels for Hope when we participated in a trade show at a national literacy conference in Denver,” she remembered. “The conference delegates were not lined up to buy books; instead, they were swarming the jewellery display! When I learned the jewellery had been donated, the lightbulb went on!”

Pat thought that the idea would translate well to the Salt Spring Island community. The new venture was called Jewels for Literacy (JfL), which is held in conjunction with the long-running Giant Book sale.

Here’s how the event works: community members donate jewellery, which is sorted, cleaned, repaired, and priced by the JfL committee and other volunteers. The jewellery is then sold at the book sale, with all proceeds benefitting the same local literacy program.

Salt Spring Literacy supported the concept of selling used jewellery, and a special committee was then formed. The committee conceptualized the fundraiser and began to plan the communications, promotion, display, and jewellery collection.

“We advertised JfL on the Salt Spring Exchange [an online bulletin board] and distributed posters and leaflets around the community, asking people to clean out their jewellery box for a good cause,” Pat recalled. “We accepted handmade, vintage, costume and designer jewellery.”

Initially, jewels did not materialize en masse. “Donations were far and few between during the summer, so in a panic, I phoned relatives in Winnipeg, asking them to mail their used jewellery to Salt Spring,” Pat said. “And then, in September, the floodgates opened. One day, I brought home a heavy bag of jewellery from one of our drop-off depots. I put the bag on the scale and it weighed 35 pounds! That’s a lot of jewellery!!”

The Day of the Event

Jewels for Literacy occupied a corner room at the Giant Book sale, and used a total of six tables: four tables for the jewellery display, one table for cash, and one table for silent auction items. However, in the first hour, Pat and the committee found that this space simply wasn’t enough.

“The sale ran for three days, from 10 till 4. During the first hour of the sale on Friday, we had to enforce crowd control!” she recalled. “As people entered our area, they were given a salad bowl that became their ‘shopping cart.’ The jewellery, which was sold at $2, $5, $10, $15, and $20, flew out the door. Volunteers were constantly restocking the displays.

Enhanced payment methods helped with sales. In addition to cash, volunteers used a square (a point of sale application on smartphones) to accept credit card payments securely.

Pat’s business experience in customer service was helpful for ensuring that supporters – both buyers and volunteers – were thanked and encouraged to return. Each customer received organza bags and a thank-you card for each purchase. As well, an informal wine and cheese party was held a week after the event to thank the volunteers.

“The volunteers loved participating in this fundraiser and we have a waiting list of volunteers for the next sale,” Pat noted.

Achieving Community Support

Jewels for Literacy received widespread support from the community. Grass Roots Press provided $1,400.00 to cover the start-up costs. The funds were used to purchase display materials such as organza, tulle, twine displays, design work, and marketing materials.

A designer from Victoria working with an illustrator from Vancouver donated much of their time. Together, they designed a banner, a poster, leaflets, and a business card.

A representative from a local gallery helped to determine the authenticity of semi-precious jewellery. A printer provided a deep discount for printing materials. Two shops served as drop-off depots. And, of course, the community donated their jewellery.

Tips for Planning

The JfL committee made two important decisions during and after the event.

“We wanted the JfL display to be very attractive, natural, and inviting,” Pat noted. “We chose a colour theme that was reflected in our banner, poster, leaflets, and table display.”

In addition:
• Jewellery was arranged on bleached driftwood and arbutus branches, and used twine head displays for necklaces.
• Vintage, ornate picture frames with gold gilt were used to display earrings.
• Rings and smaller items were placed in wooden bowls filled with rice.

Price-wise, the committee wanted the jewellery to be very reasonably priced so that people would purchase pieces without blinking an eye.

After the event, the JfL committee made a decision they plan to implement next year.

There were two “buyers” who came in during the first hour of the sale; they scooped up the expensive jewellery to resell themselves.

“Next year, we will distribute the expensive items for sale throughout the event,” Pat said.


All of the proceeds from the event went to Salt Spring Literacy.

“The event was held less than five months after [the initial planning meeting],” Pat said, “and to our surprise and delight, we raised $4,604.00! The Jewels for Literacy sale was the talk of the town!”

Due to the timing of the sale, many people walked away from the sale with their Christmas shopping list completed. Many returned to the sale each day, looking for a special treasure for themselves or a loved one.

“I believe that this sale, which will be an annual event, will grow with each passing year,” Pat said confidently. “I hope that other literacy programs in British Columbia are able to use this idea for their own fundraiser.”

Make a difference! If you’d like to host your own Jewellery for Literacy event, contact Pat Campbell – she can provide you with the design work that she used. For general information about fundraising for literacy in your community, contact Gail Hanney.

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