The accomplishments of the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation are striking: since its creation in 1996, Binc has given more than $5.9 million in scholarships and financial assistance grants to more than 6,900 bookstore employees and their dependents. But this is only the start: the Foundation continues to grow, spreading the word about its generous and beneficial work and expanding fundraising to ensure a sustainable future. As it looks ahead, it’s also considering ways to help more people in the book industry.
An Internal United Way
The story of this unusual organization goes back 20 years, when it was created in response to Borders’ employees desire to aid each other during periods of crisis. Binc chair Anne Kubek, who at the time was v-p of HR at Borders, recalled a weekly executive meeting where CEO Bob DiRomualdo and vice chairman George Mrkonic presented the concept of the Borders Foundation, which Mrkonic called “an internal United Way” that would offer resources to employees who faced an undue hardship outside of normal benefits coverage. She commented: “Our employees were extremely generous and supportive of the program and some of the most heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories I would hear on store visits involved someone who had faced an unexpected crisis and was grateful to their fellow booksellers for providing a safety net. It truly has been a wonderful program, and I am proud to have Binc now supporting booksellers across the country.”
The Foundation could have closed in 2011, when Borders went out of business. But the board of directors decided instead to continue providing help–and try expanding that help to booksellers and their dependents at other bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
The American Booksellers Association and the regional independent booksellers associations helped Binc spread the word about its services to indie booksellers. “We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without their help,” executive director Pamela French commented. “Consistently in the industry, people want to support and help each other. It’s like family.”
Programs designed to help booksellers
Many indies are now familiar with Binc’s scholarships, which include scholarships for higher education for booksellers and their dependents. (In 2015, Binc provided 53 of these, for a total of more than $220,000.) But Binc also has a professional development scholarship program. Last year, it gave 17 booksellers financial assistance to attend such industry events as the ABA’s Winter Institute and regional booksellers association trade shows.
Perhaps most striking is Binc’s financial assistance program, which is a rarity in the business world. (It gave away nearly $55,000 in such grants last year.) Binc’s help covers a range of hardships and emergency situations caused by natural disasters and accidents as well as financial difficulties resulting from medical problems or difficult personal situations. Such assistance can help deal with, for example, funeral expenses, domestic violence, avoiding evictions or electricity cutoffs, and loss of income in a household. Besides financial grants, Binc offers counseling and help in learning about community resources. “Our goal is not just to help a person to get through a difficult situation but to balance out their household so the situation doesn’t spiral, so it’s a one-time incident and they’re back on their feet,” French explained.
For a time after it decided to continue to operate five years ago, Binc as an organization worked on developing skills concerning matters it didn’t have to deal with when it was part of Borders, which provided infrastructure, including IT, payroll, offices with computers, direct and easy communications with its audience and significant funding. “We always had strong operational and program skills,” French said. “But then we became a very small business and had to be entrepreneurial like any small business.”
Now Binc has two major challenges, French said. The first is expanding awareness among booksellers about Binc and what it offers. “It’s very different now to get the word out nationwide, building relationships, credibility,” French said.
At the same time, Binc needs to expand fundraising. Because Borders matched employees’ contributions 50 cents for every dollar donated, “for a nonprofit, it was a very luxurious situation,” French said. Already in 2015, fund-raising has grown 66% over the previous year, but is still not at fully sustainable levels.
This post is a reprint of Binc’s dedicated Shelf Awareness Issue from March 30, 2016. To read the full article, click here.