The origin story of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) is fairly well known to booksellers, publishers, and other members of the book community. Founded in 1996 as the Borders Group Foundation, with the aim of helping Borders booksellers who ran into to financial problems, the foundation underwent a fundamental change when the chain went out of business in 2011.

Anne Kubek, a former Binc board chair, was v-p of human resources at Borders when George Mrkonic, then vice chairman of the chain, came up with the idea to create a “United Way for company employees.” Backed by voluntary paycheck deductions from employees and matched by contributions from the company, the program initially met with skepticism, Kubek recalls. But when employees saw the financial aid the foundation could provide to those in need, as well as the scholarships it gave to employees’ children, it “became one the most popular and positive programs” Borders ran, she added.

When Borders closed, those involved with the foundation were determined to keep it alive and use its funds to provide assistance to all booksellers. The person tasked with making that transition was Pam French, who had taken over as director of the foundation in 2009.

One of the first meetings French had to establish the new Binc was with Oren Teicher, then the CEO of the ABA. She recalls the meeting as one of the keys to establishing Binc’s credibility with booksellers and publishers. (See “It’s Hard to Imagine...,” p. 21, for Teicher’s recollection of the meeting.)

Under French’s leadership, the foundation steadily developed a solid reputation throughout the industry and was in a prime position to provide the help that booksellers, bookstores, and comics store employees needed when the Covid-19 pandemic stuck. In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Binc was tapped by James Patterson and the ABA to oversee the #SaveIndieBookstores fund-raising effort that the two spearheaded to help keep indie bookstores afloat. Throughout the course of the year, Binc distributed more than $2.9 million to some 2,200 store owners and employees. This spring, Binc used the experience it gained in 2020 to administer the John Ingram–led Survive to Thrive fund-raising effort, which aimed to provide a financial bridge to stores that were teetering on the brink of closure. It administered $1.1 million in donations via the Survive to Thrive campaign and awarded one-time grants to 115 independent bookstores and comic shops.

Despite Binc’s outreach to bookstores during the pandemic, French stresses that its core program was to aid individual booksellers, and that is where she intends to keep the organization’s focus. In 2019, the overwhelming amount of money it distributed—$211,775—was given to 92 individuals, while only $8,170 was given to stores for disaster relief. The balance went to scholarships and matching grants.

French notes that 2020 was remarkable in many ways—none more so than the fact that, without prompting, the book and comics communities supplied enough funds to allow Binc to help everyone who came to it with a qualified need. She is now working to make Binc a sustainable organization, and she says that 2020 was the first year it did not need to draw on the legacy funds it inherited from the Borders Group Foundation. Her goal for 2021 is to raise $1.2 million so that Binc can avoid having to draw on its legacy funds this year as well.

French notes that attaining financial sustainability had been one of the primary focuses of Binc’s strategic framework for 2020–2023. And while the pandemic prevented its board from meeting in person last year, it is planning to meet in person this October and will be evaluating how 2020 changed the foundation and how it might move forward.

But even as it looks ahead, Binc is planning a virtual 25th anniversary party August 12 at 8 p.m. ET. The event will be hosted by author Isaac Fitzgerald and will be attended by authors, creators, grant recipients, and supporters. The guest list is reflective of the broad industry support Binc has received over the years. The list of the foundation’s donors is a who’s who of publishers, authors, creators, distributors, and bookstores, and the number of individuals who have made donations tops 4,000.

Author and Parnassus Books owner Ann Patchett is Binc’s first author ambassador and brought on James Patterson as her co-ambassador. Her connection to Binc is personal. Patchett had helped develop a “piggy bank” auction to defray the mounting medical bills of a young Parnassus employee who had breast cancer. The auction was a huge success, Patchett says, and she gave half the proceeds to Binc. That experience, she adds, “is what really got me thinking about the people who work in bookstores, and that they’re often one missed paycheck away from disaster. The success of a book rests largely on the shoulders of booksellers who are doing the job because they love it, they love reading, they’re passionate about books. The booksellers need to be supported.”

In her role as ambassador, Patchett is out to make sure that booksellers get the support they need. Her actions range from asking publishing houses to back the foundation to doing outreach when she’s on the road. On book tours, Patchett says, she often makes sure store employees are aware of Binc. She recounts an episode of meeting a young bookseller who told her he worked with a woman whose mother had just died and she didn’t know how she’s was going to pay for the funeral. “I told him to call Binc, and they came through,” she says. “One of the things I love about Binc is that they get the checks out fast. When you’re in trouble and you need money, you need it now, not six months from now.”

HarperCollins v-p of sales and marketing Josh Marwell also appreciates Binc’s ability to act quickly. “Binc has demonstrated that it awards resources to deserving booksellers in an efficient, consistent, and considerate way, and we are very happy to be a supporter of their efforts,” he says.

Patchett is gratified that so many other authors, such as Jeff Kinney, Garth Stein, and Amor Towles, have become involved with Binc. “That’s a wonderful thing to see,” she says. “We just need to keep getting the word out, both to the people who have the money and to the people who need the money. What with fires and floods, Covid and tornadoes, Binc is going to become a bigger, more essential part of the publishing and bookselling community.”

Binc’s key role in the industry is recognized by many. Ingram Content Group has been a longtime Binc advocate. “We are dedicated to supporting their mission to help booksellers during times of hardship and to provide a safety net that can’t always be provided by independent businesses,” says Ingram president and CEO Shawn Morin. “We know that Ingram plays an important role in the book industry and that when we support Binc, we help strengthen the bookselling community. To our friends at Binc, congratulations on 25 years of helping booksellers and strengthening our industry.”

Sourcebooks publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah says many Sourcebooks employees have worked with Binc because they all recognize the important role the foundation plays in keeping the bookstore ecosystem strong. “Binc is a rallying point for publishers and authors who have pulled together to support the needs of the bookselling community,” she says. “We all greatly appreciate Binc, which has been a significant force for doing good for over two decades.”

For Kubek, the success of Binc is the one positive thing that came out of Borders’s bankruptcy. “It is gratifying to see the foundation still helping deserving people and that it has a role to play in maintaining the health of a key part of the industry,” she says.

Below, more on Binc.

How Binc's Personal Touch Helped This Bookstore
The booksellers at Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Mass., greatly appreciate the information and resources provided by Binc.

Oren Teicher Explains Why the Binc Foundation Matters
It's hard to imagine the bookselling community without Binc, former American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher writes.

The Binc Foundation's Message of Fellowship
The story of the Binc Foundation is one of gratitude, compassion, kindness, and generosity, its executive director explains.

Introducing the Binc Foundation Team
Introducing everyone you need to know at the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.