Pam French, executive director of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), remembers when the foundation was funded by the modest donations of Borders bookstore employees. “It warms my heart to think that this year we will have almost raised $5 million,” she says via Zoom from Binc’s offices in Ann Arbor, Mich.
French started her bookselling career in 1986 at Waldenbooks and in 1993 took a role with Borders, where she stayed in management until 2008. In 2009 she became executive director of the Borders Group Foundation, which had established Binc to help Borders employees in need. When Borders liquidated in 2011, Binc transitioned to helping all booksellers.
Traditionally, Binc has offered household assistance to individuals, including bookstore owners, booksellers, comic shop owners, or comic shop retailers. “Our focus is on stabilizing the household,” French says, “which means people can pay their rent, buy food, or seek medical care. We give cash—our average grant is $2,100—but we also help with things like finding affordable dentists and therapists, if needed.” But in recent years, Binc has seen a rise in requests in the wake of natural disasters, like hurricanes in the south or wildfires in the west.
“This year changed everything, of course,” French says. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Binc pivoted to helping stores directly, while continuing to assist individuals. The charity ran a fund-raiser, the #SaveIndieBookstores campaign, spearheaded by the American Booksellers Association and seeded with $500,000 from James Patterson. That campaign, along with the Comic Book United Fund, resulted in Binc distributing more than $2.9 million to some 2,200 stores owners and employees.
“Much of this money was used for rent and payroll,” French says, “and to allow bookstores to continue paying for benefits, such as health care. This means Binc distributed more financial assistance grants in the eight weeks between March and June of 2020 than it did between 2012 and 2019. In the same March to June 2020 time frame, 3,514 readers and supporters made donations, and 93% of these donors were new supporters of Binc.”
The need this year has been especially great, French says. “In 2019, we would typically take two requests a week, but this year we have been getting six or more. This year we have also given out, in addition to the grants to stores, 608 individual grants, as well.” To handle the increased volume, the organization added several staff members.
French says that her priority as a leader has been to earn credibility, with donors and the industry. “I want to make sure people know they can trust us with their donations and, should they face them, their problems, and to know that we do what we say we are going to do,” she says. She adds that it is a privilege to be the person on the other end of a call who can offer words of consolation. “When you can tell someone that help is on the way, and you hear the relief in their voice, that’s the most gratifying part of the job.”