Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016: Dedicated Issue: Binc Foundation

Binc Foundation Coast to Coast

Editors' Note

Binc: 20 Years of Helping Booksellers

With the help of the organization, Shelf Awareness celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation, which does incredibly important work: helping booksellers and their families in times of financial hardship and giving booksellers and their families educational and professional scholarships. Learn how it is expanding its work--and how you can help.

East/West Literary Agency thanks Binc

Bookselling News

Binc: Past Accomplishments, Future Goals

The accomplishments of the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation are striking: since its creation in 1996, Binc has given more than $5.2 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.

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."

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.

Binc at BEA15

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.

NAIBA thanks Binc

Natural Disasters, Medical Problems: Binc's Amazing Help

Annie Philbrick and Pam French

Some of Binc's most invaluable help has come after bookstores have suffered natural disasters. A striking case involved Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., when, in October 2013, Tropical Storm Sandy caused a tidal surge that overwhelmed the store's sandbagged walls. "Tuesday morning we arrived to a very wet store and no lights, computers or anything but dampness and the smell of a beach at low tide," recalled owner Annie Philbrick. "Over the next two days, with the undying support of the local community, we packed up and moved the entire children's section to an empty apartment upstairs, and the remaining store into two Mayflower moving trucks to be held at a storage facility about five miles away until we were able to open up again as a bookstore."

Within days, Philbrick, who was then unfamiliar with Binc (but is now a board member), received a call from Binc offering emergency help to the store and staff. "Although Binc cannot give funds directly to the booksellers, they can help with rent, utilities, housing, medical costs and numerous other means of assistance," Philbrick noted. "We offered this to our employees, whom we could not pay for the three weeks we were closed, and helped them gather the paperwork to fax to Binc in order to receive help. For a young hipster bookseller who relies on their daily wages to pay rent and eat, this was a huge help to their existence during that month of November 2013."

Also, this past year, Binc helped a Bank Square Books staffer who, as Philbrick said, "found herself in a messy living situation with a pending divorce and a young child." She asked about financial help, and Philbrick put her in touch with Binc. "Our employee was able to move out of her apartment and find safe place for herself and her son. Binc was able to pay the first month's rent on the new apartment. The new place required her to drive to work, so we worked with Binc to set up a matching grant program where our employee could ask friends and family for funds toward a car purchase and Binc would match those raised funds up to $2,000. We were able to raise enough to match the $2,000 grant and some additional funds to help with her moving costs."


In another striking case that made a major difference in a bookseller's life, last year, Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., received a Binc grant to help pay for surgery that she otherwise would not have been able to afford.

"As a chronically ill person, I encounter a lot of treatment options that don't have predictable outcomes," said Geddis, who suffers frequent pain and disability stemming from endometriosis. For this surgery, the chances of improvement were very high, and Geddis decided that it was something she wanted to try.

"After working with my insurance company, the doctor and the hospital on a rough estimate of all the costs involved, I started to sob," she recalled. "There was no way I could afford this surgery on my own."

Geddis knew about Binc and remembered "how open and friendly Binc [staff members] was every time I encountered them." She met with Pam French at a conference before the surgery, and French walked her through both the grant application process and what would happen if Binc approved the grant request. From then on, Geddis was struck by how personal the entire process was. "Asking others for financial help puts you into a vulnerable position, especially when the bills you have to deal with stem from seemingly faceless organizations," she said. "Kit Steinaway and Pam French are open and willingly to listen sympathetically, and that helps so much when you're overwhelmed."

Binc also negotiated on Geddis's behalf to lower her hospital bill and set her up with an interest-free payment plan to pay for the portion of medical bills that the Binc grant did not cover. Said Geddis: "They have really changed my life."


Binc did similar crucial work for a bookseller at Copperfield's Books--which has eight stores just north of the Bay Area in California--when a massive tumor was discovered on the brain of its magazine specialist, Amy Farnsworth, who was 37 and had two daughters. "In the blink of an eye, she went from working full time to being hospitalized on radiation therapy," Copperfield's general manager Mimi Figlin remembered. "In addition to her ungodly medical expenses, she worried about pesky little expenditures like rent, food and utilities, all of this while suddenly being unable to work."

Copperfield's contacted Binc, and Binc's Kit Steinaway became "Amy's angel," Figlin continued. "She helped Amy with the paperwork and utilized every ounce of assistance Binc had to offer. Kit also made us aware of Binc's matching grants, which matched the $2,000 that Copperfield's raised for Amy. The support, both financial and emotional, Amy received from Binc meant more to her and her family than I could ever convey."

In another example of Binc's help for booksellers with medical problems, Ken White, formerly manager of Books Inc.'s store in the Castro, San Francisco, founder of Query Books publishing house and a Binc board member, said that "a bookseller (whose identity is known only by two people on staff), missed a few days of work due to a heart attack. Yes, a heart attack. And that bookseller, God bless 'em, was already back at work a few days later. Between the medical bills and lost income, they were having trouble paying other important bills. Binc was able to step in and protect them from further hardship caused by the emergency. I'm proud of this bookseller who soldiered on, and I'm proud of Binc for helping a bookseller pay their bills during a rough spell."

ABA thanks Binc

Binc's Scholarship Help and New Programs

Binc has helped a variety of booksellers and their families help pay for higher education and provided key scholarship help for booksellers to attend industry events. Andrea Jones, who recently became co-owner of Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vt., was able to attend Winter Institute 11 in Denver because of "the generous scholarship from Binc," she said. "During the week in Denver, I learned from other booksellers and industry professionals, but also from the wonderful representatives from Binc. It was really nice to hear that in this very exciting and rewarding world of bookselling, there are people dedicated to working to help others so they can continue to share great books and knowledge, support writers and publishers, support communities in the free exchange of ideas."

At the Tattered Cover during WI11 in Denver: Scholarship winner Chris Hsiang from Compass Books with Pam French.

For her part, Veronica K. Brooks-Sigler of Octavia Books, New Orleans, La., was "thrilled" to receive a scholarship to Winter Institute 11, too. "I would not have been able to go otherwise, and the Binc people were in Colorado to welcome me, and I often went to their booth to decompress from one session or another."

Likewise, James Crossley of Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash., was able to attend WI11 because of a Binc scholarship that "reimbursed me for my flight and covered my hotel expenses as well as registration fees."

In Denver, he continued, "Pam French and Kit Steinaway were among the first people I met, and they couldn't have been more kind or gracious. They hosted a dinner for me and other scholarship attendees, and every time I bumped into them I learned more about how much their organization has grown over the years. I took away a lot of useful information from WI11, ideas that are daily helping my store thrive and better serve its community, but my experience with Binc was a highlight. I'm very grateful for what they did for me and what they continue to do for so many others."


The board has set up a dedicated scholarship and is considering creating additional such scholarships. Last year, it created the Karl Pohrt Memorial Scholarship in honor of the late owner of the Shaman Drum Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Mich., for a student who has overcome adversity. Lori Tucker-Sullivan, executive director of Independent Booksellers Consortium and a Binc board member, noted that "Karl was a true friend and one of the best and most dedicated booksellers I've ever known, and I'm so happy to have a small part in honoring him this way. Through [this and other] efforts, Binc helps booksellers and their dependents to reach goals, improve their lives, and become better, smarter booksellers."

Ken White of Query Books noted that Binc has formed a diversity task force and aims to create a scholarship to help people of color attend the Winter Institute and other industry events. The task force is working on "initiatives to create increased opportunity for people of all backgrounds to grow as professionals, to bring home fantastic ideas to increase profitability at their stores or companies, to contribute toward the common success of bookstores and publishers, and ultimately to become leaders in our businesses and organizations."

Reps to the Rescue

Two sales reps have been a major help in spreading the word about Binc to bookseller accounts and are now encouraging other reps to do so, too.

Kate McCune

HarperCollins field rep Kate McCune worked in bookselling before joining the publisher 14 years ago. "I spent so many years being a bookseller and working with booksellers that I know a lot of people don't have a cushion," she said.

McCune, who is also a Binc board member, initially heard about Binc at trade shows. "My kinship to booksellers kind of made me predisposed to work with Binc," explained McCune. She also felt that it was critical to support independent booksellers. "This channel is hugely important," she said. "I think it's crucial that we're there to just help people have the lives they want to have and not have it go off the rails. It feels like a no-brainer to help out on that front."

In 2014, McCune and Kit Steinaway put together small, one-sheet kits for sales reps to take on calls. The idea, McCune explained, is for a sales rep to talk about Binc for just 30 seconds to a minute and leave behind some literature. McCune has found that a low-tech, face-to-face method, which she called the "pony express way," seems to be best for spreading information about Binc among both booksellers and sales reps.

Meg Sherman (along with many other bookfolk), in a Binc video of support.

Likewise, Meg Sherman, a sales rep at Norton, who was an independent bookseller for 13 years, is a major advocate for Binc. "Strong booksellers need stronger bookstores need a stronger book industry," she said.

"When booksellers aren't able to come to work because of things going on in their lives, when they're worried about how to pay their bills, they might leave [the industry] to take another job that they'd rather not take," she continued. "Anything we can do to help with that and keep those stores strong means a stronger industry and stronger communities."

After a series of historic floods in Colorado in 2013, she took notice of Binc's work. "They had worked with several booksellers at Boulder Book Store to help them in midst of the floods," recalled Sherman. "It was so immediate that they got on my radar."

Ever since, Sherman has been advocating for Binc. Sherman's territory as a sales rep covers seven Western states, and while giving rep talks around the region she takes time to mention Binc and the sorts of things they do for booksellers. And if she hears about a struggling staff member while speaking with store owners, Sherman doesn't hesitate to mention Binc. Sherman has also begun talking to other sales reps about advocating for Binc.

Sherman said has consistently been struck by Binc's multi-faceted efforts, which include providing grants to offset bills, advocating on behalf of booksellers while dealing with hospitals, insurance companies and similar institutions, and providing scholarships to booksellers to attend regional and national trade shows. "It really impresses me."

What We All Can Do to Help Binc Help Booksellers

Individuals and stores can easily contribute directly to Binc, which has a 20 for 20 Challenge, encouraging donors to give at least $20 and make it a monthly, automatic deduction.

Several companies have helped Binc raise funds in various ways. At Books Inc., which has 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay area, employees can contribute to Binc through payroll deductions, which are matched by Books Inc. up to $100 per employee per year. Books Inc. director of operations Andy Perham noted that the deduction program was "super easy to set up through our payroll processor."

Ken White originally brought Binc to the attention of Books Inc. managers. Perham remembered, "We were all immediately impressed by Binc's mission and have been even more impressed in the subsequent years as we've seen what Binc is able to do both in providing financial assistance to booksellers experiencing a financial crisis and in the scholarships they are able to provide."

Similarly, Sourcebooks partnered with Binc for its annual holiday drive: each time a Sourcebooks employee made a donation to Binc, the company matched that donation, and then one of Binc's donation partners also matched the contribution. Sourcebooks national sales manager Heidi Weiland commented: "We were thrilled to participate, and based on the response we received in 2015, we will absolutely partner with Binc again in 2016. We can't wait to see what we can accomplish together!"

Weiland noted that in working regularly with independent bookstores, "I have found it to be a universal truth that booksellers are constantly assisting their customers, community members, friends and family with issues outside the realm of books and reading, making a huge impact in their community. These same booksellers are often reluctant to ask for help when they are the ones in need of assistance. This is why Binc is so crucial. Whether they find out about a bookseller's need through industry professionals, bookstore patrons or community leaders, Binc is there and ready to help."

Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books, Bellingham and Lynden, Wash., raised money in an unusual way: in a bike ride last year from Washington to Illinois for his 50th high school reunion, he decided to raise money for three communities important to him. One was his home community of Bellingham, the second the community in Illinois where he grew up, and the third was "my community of booksellers all across the country," he said. "I took pledges for foundations that represent each of these communities, including Binc.  By the beginning of November, Binc had collected more than $6,700 from those pledges.

He added: "Many of those dollars came from others in the bookselling and publishing communities, but many came from folks in Bellingham and elsewhere who value books, bookstores, and the people who work in them. I would urge everyone who shares those values to contribute in some way to Binc. I guarantee that you, too, will be happier."

Siba thanks Binc

Ingram Congratulates Binc

GLIBA and PNBA thank Binc

MPIBA and NEIBA thank Binc

Binc Board of Directors thank Binc

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