Although I have a rule about keeping my charity activities mainly private, and any calls for donations off PBW, I thought this particular situation might make an interesting post for those of you who do get involved in international donations involving books or other reader or writer stuff.
On Monday I'll be shipping a donation for a silent auction at a romance convention in another country, so I have a day to put this together. My main priority is for the books to arrive in good condition, but I'd also like them be easy to store and later show at the auction, and hopefully look attractive enough tempt everyone to bid on them.
Just sending the books in a box means they may be removed and added to another, larger box of donations, which can result in things becoming misplaced or lost in the shuffle. Gift baskets generally don't travel well internationally, and with the new concerns about booby-trapped packages you want your contents to be simple to inspect should customs decide to take a peek (something shrink-wrapped baskets also inhibit.)
For all these reasons I'm going with a sturdy, attractive tote bag. Some authors have bags custom-printed with their cover art or promo, but as a reader I'm more inclined to use a bag that is more universal, like this B&N tote (click on image to see larger version):
I always like to send bookmarks along with book donations, and usually I insert these in the books themselves to prevent them from getting dented or dinged in shipment. Since my e-special Darkyn novella, Master of Shadows, isn't available internationally yet, I'll add in a CD containing a review copy (this I'll put in a jewel case which I'll then bubble-wrap to prevent breakage.)
Food, perishable and fragile items are some other things you should avoid shipping internationally; most countries have restrictions against shipping things like fresh fruit that may carry pests or diseases that could contaminate their crops. But if you're shipping from the U.S. and you're not sure, go to the U.S. postal service's Index of Countries and Localities and check out the destination country.
Here's what they have for Australia, the country my donation is destined for:
Coins; bank notes; currency notes (paper money); securities of any kind payable to bearer; traveler’s checks; platinum, gold, and silver (except for jewelry items meeting the requirement in “Restrictions” below); precious stones (except when contained in jewelry items meeting the requirement in “Restrictions” below); and other valuable articles are prohibited.
Fruit cartons (used or new).
Goods bearing the name “Anzac.”
Goods produced wholly or partly in prisons or by convict labor.
Perishable infectious biological substances.
Registered philatelic articles with fictitious addresses.
Silencers for firearms.
Jewelry is permitted only when sent as an insured parcel using Priority Mail International service. In addition, Australian Customs regulations prohibit importation of jewelry that is made with ivory or from endangered species, such as snake, elephant, or crocodile, that does not have an accompanying Import/Export Permit in relation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Meat and other animal products; powdered or concentrated milk; and other dairy products requires permission to import from the Australian quarantine authorities.
Permission of the Australian Director-General of Health is required to import medicines.
Duty may be levied on catalogs, price lists, circulars, and all advertising introduced into Australia through the mail, regardless of the class of mail used.
Looks like a tote bag and books are okay, unless someone considers vampire fiction seditious literature, which actually wouldn't be a first. But if I were donating something like an antique quilt, it might fall under the "used bedding" restriction, so I'd probably have my shipper contact the appropriate authorities over in Australia to get a ruling or give them prior notice (which usually results in more paperwork to fill out, but for a good cause it's worth it.)
Before you pack your donation, one nice and helpful thing you can do is first arrange it how it should be displayed, take a photo of it and include the picture in your package. That way you can pack it sensibly (i.e. bubble-wrapping delicate things and folding up a tote bag) but the person who receives it has a visual on how you'd like it to be reassembled.
So there you have it. And for those of you who are planning to attend the 2011 Australian Romance Readers Convention in Sydney at the end of March, please do stop by the Silent Auction ARR is holding for the victims of the floods. Among the many things to bid on will be the above tote bag with a signed set of all seven of my Darkyn novels, a CD with a review copy of Master of Shadows, and maybe a few more little surprises.