Here are some answers about starting our nonprofit
The short answer is that we used our own money to start The Free Book Bus in 2018. We established the organization as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit before we even had a bus. Startup costs vary greatly depending on whether you can obtain free legal advice. I was fortunate to have help from friends and colleagues in writing the bylaws and doing the paperwork. For a frame of reference, the fees for starting a corporation and filing nonprofit paper work in 2018 were around $750. Once the nonprofit was approved, people were eager to donate books and volunteer at events.
We bought our first bus in an online auction from the government website GovDeals. School buses can be popular - we lost five auctions before winning a bus out of New Jersey. Our second bus was generously donated to us through a grant from The Perry Foundation, Inc.
Shelves: We spent about $475 on wood and supplies to build the shelves (in 2018, so lumber costs will probably be more now). We bought whitewood, which is a little more expensive than pine. My husband Derrick did all the work, so that part was free.
If I were doing this without in-house carpentry, I’d find a few local carpenters and get quotes. Another thought - check scrapyards within neighboring states for an old bookmobile you could get the shelves out of - sometimes they show up on Facebook Marketplace. If you live near a university, they often have cheap surplus shelves. You can even start with book bins on the floor!
Seats: getting the bus seats out was the most difficult part of both bus renovations. This is because they are often bolted through the floor. I would advise keeping at least one seat for volunteers riding along.
I am happy to talk with people who want to start their own bus. However, questions about this have become so frequent that I now charge a fee for my time and advice. If you would like to schedule a call, it will be $25 for a 40 minute phone consultation, all of which goes to book bus general operations.
Here are the websites that we find helpful:
Skoolie Dot Net - a wealth of school bus information
Those who are near Virginia and would like to come see the bus at an event are welcome! You can email or check our calendar.