Boston — Schools, colleges, and universities, take note. A $250 investment can net you a $3,000 annual return. But you'll have to take payment in floor cleansers, desks, and electronic components, not stock dividends.
The National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIR), a nonprofit organization based near Chicago, collects surplus-inventory supplies from individual and industrial donors and distributes them free of charge to member educational institutions.
This year, the association expects to distribute to its more than 1,200 member institutions $10 million worth of laboratory, maintenance, and office supplies. The donors are eligible for tax deductions.
The exchange group, founded in 1976 by Norbert C. Smith, a former executive at metalworking and electronics companies, has seen its membership and the amount of surplus supplies it distributes double each year.
About one-fourth of the 1,200 members (each paying an annual fee of $250) are colleges and universities. The rest are school boards, high schools, educational organizations, and nonprofit service groups.
''Billions of dollars of equipment are thrown away or sold to speculators each year,'' Mr. Smith said, ''while at the same time educational institutions are buying the very same stuff, sometimes from the speculators at much higher prices.''
Smith got the exchange idea while working as a gift-in-kind consultant for large corporations in the early '70s.
''The combination of tax laws, civic-mindedness, and need existed,'' he says. ''There is $515 bilion of inventory on the shelves of business and industry today. Being really conservative, if just 1 percent of that went to schools you're talking about $5 billion.''
Most items are standard materials, from brooms, desks, and hacksaw blades to typewriters, electronic instruments, and computers. Gifts range in price from a low of $200 for a typewriter to a record high of $2.5 million in art supplies given by a group of lawyers. One bank gave an automatic teller. Parts were cannibalized and distributed to needy schools.
The association hopes to expand from its present warehouse (the present space is donated by a telephone catalog company) into 10 regional warehouses. This will not only lower shipping costs but make its services more available.
Some companies deliver their gifts directly to the receiving institution after clearing the paper work with the association. Otherwise the recipient picks up the freight tab.
There are two parts to the distribution program: a bulletin printed four times a year listing all of the available items and a ''Wish-list, want-list'' from new members.
Members receive the bulletin and request supplies from it. ''When more than one school requests something, we always favor the member who has received the least from us,'' Smith said.
New members send in a wish-want list, and ''when we get it we crank it into our computer and see if companies in that area of the country have what is requested. We match donor and donee and then have the company ship it direct to the school rather than come through Chicago,'' Smith said.
''We needed tamperproof bolts, the kind that you can tighten but not loosen; NAEIR was there with thousands of them for us,'' says Earl Fuller, property administrator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ''Since we joined three years ago, we've received at least $10,000 each year. I can't see how any nonprofit organization wouldn't belong.''
The average value of surplus items received by members equals $3,000 a year.
Applications for membership are available from the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, 550 Frontage Road, Northfield, Ill. 60093.