The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), for the first time in its 47-year history, has launched a fundraiser in order to bolster its endowment.
"After 47 years as a dues-funded organization, we have reached a critical crossroads," NBCC fundraising committee chair Tess Taylor wrote in a letter emailed to members on Monday. "As we move into the future, we need a greater and more stable endowment to fund the upkeep of our website, to support our emerging writers initiative, and to allow our board to conduct its business."
Currently, the NBCC, which is a nonprofit organization, is funded by its members' dues, which, with the exception of a $500 lifetime voting membership, are paid yearly. The organization offers six membership levels, with the lowest being a $15 non-voting student membership and the highest yearly membership being an $85 voting membership for members with staff positions at institutions that support their membership. This drive, which is being run via PayPal, is independent from the organization's dues; non-members are also eligible to donate.
The NBCC bestows the National Book Critics Circle Awards on a yearly basis, given each March to honor the best books of the year in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The organization also confers a number of additional honors, also awarded in March: the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which comes with a $1,000 honorarium; the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award on a distinguished author, editor, publisher, or literary institution; the John Leonard prize for a first book; and the recently-launched Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics fellowships, yearlong mentorship programs for aspiring literary critics.
"The National Book Critics Circle also is the only national literary awards whose awardees are handpicked by critics themselves," Taylor noted in her letter. She added that the NBCC is "proudly free from publisher or individual influence on our awards process and we choose not to appeal to publishers for donations."
Speaking to PW, Taylor explained that the campaign would help to fund day-to-day operations, including improvements to the organization's website—the upkeep of which, let alone improvements to it, requires a paid employee—in addition to funding the new Cheuse fellowships, which inducted a sophomore class of ten emerging critics in May. (Fellows receive dues-free membership to the NBCC and admission to their events and annual reception for one year, in addition to mentorship from members of the NBCC board.) Her hope is that more funding will help NBCC continue in their mission while also helping to create a new generation of critics in an era in which "cultural conversation is shrinking."
"The NBCC been a members-only organization since the beginning," Taylor said. "We don't accept big donations from publishers. We throw a gala once a year that's open for people in the industry to come," she added, noting that the event does not typically bring in a lot of funding, "but we've been an independent organization all that time."