Binc is entirely funded by philanthropy. “Our mission is supported by all facets of the book and comic industries, from store employees giving a few dollars via payroll deduction, to bookstores and individuals giving monthly or holding events, to authors, publishers, distributors, and book agents giving yearly gifts of support,” explained French.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based organization was founded in 1996 by Borders Group staffers who wanted to create an emergency assistance fund for colleagues facing hardship, which formally became Binc in 2011. French said that healthcare is the number one reason people contact Binc for help, followed by homelessness prevention.
“Many of the people needing assistance for medical expenses have health insurance, but they are still unable to afford essential medical and dental care,” she explained. “Binc has helped people pay for medical-related expenses from down payments needed to schedule life-saving surgery, to pain-relieving and life-changing dental care, to emergency prescriptions needed to treat chronic illnesses.” French said that many also contact them needing assistance related to the highs cost of prescription medicines, medical and dental care, high insurance deductibles and donut holes, navigating medical treatment and billing, and the lack of affordable housing.
Booksellers and comic retailers in need of assistance can apply via Binc’s website. Those who qualify must face financial hardship due to a qualifying event such as domestic violence, natural or man-made disasters, homelessness, loss of household income due to emergency child or elder care, a death in the family, disability, disruption of business, or a partner or spouse’s job loss, serious medical expense, among other scenarios. Binc also helps pay for funeral expenses for booksellers and their immediate family members.
If approved, “A typical grant would pay essential household expenses (rent, utilities, phone, transportation, etc.) that are beyond the applicants’ ability to pay due to an unforeseen emergency,” explained French. Grants are paid directly to the service provider, such as rent to a landlord, never directly to the recipient, though Binc can’t help directly with car repair or replacement.
With funding from supporters and donors, Binc currently has the funds to help every qualifying bookseller and comic retailer who comes to them for help. In 2019, this meant 90% of the 122 applicants were eligible, and Binc helped 109 families with $238,361 in direct financial assistance that year, a 47% increase from 2018. “We see this assistance as part of a larger social safety net,” said French, noting that each grant recipient also receives at least three additional resources tailored to their location and situation, as well as books that may be relevant, such as titles on caregiving and living with chronic illness. In addition to funding, Binc also provides referrals to local food banks, domestic violence shelters, and online money management courses.
French said grant recipients mainly hear about Binc through word of mouth, noting, “When a bookseller has hit a rough patch, time and time again we hear that a colleague, their manager, or boss encouraged them to get in touch with Binc to see we if might be able to help.”
In emergency situations, such as the 2019 California wildfires, or the recent tornados in Tennessee, Binc is able to assist booksellers and comic retailers often within 24 hours. “We will distrubute emergency funds direct to applicants during a natural disaster, so they have money for fuel, medicine, food, diapers, and other essentials during an evacuation. We know that sometimes people are forced to leave their homes with just the clothes on their backs, so a quick response time is essential,” said French.
Binc also provides scholarships, including over $1.9 million toward higher education, along with professional development scholarships to attend national and regional trade shows, stating on its website, “The Foundation believes that the future of healthy bookstores lies in the continuing education of the owners and employees.” Regarding higher education, French explained, “Helping a child, spouse, or partner with education costs can often cause a bookseller to have to leave their position. The scholarships allow valuable booksellers to remain in their bookselling positions while helping to pay for the education of their dependents.”
The organization recently started offering pilot programs related to grief counseling and financial literary. The counseling, for groups or individuals, “allows those left behind to better cope with this difficult situation,” said French. Binc also works with people dealing with prolonged medical issues of their own or as caregivers. “A significant amount of our Program Manager’s time is spent helping people navigate and track the care they are receiving and the resulting bills. We have created a personal medical care journal to help people navigate the medical industry,” said French.
In addition to aiding grant recipients, French said Binc’s board is also working on helping the bookstore industry, and exploring ways to “support the opening and ongoing sustainability of new bookstores, particularly in underserved markets across the country. We hope to someday be able to be involved with advising, supporting, and funding the opening of more bookstores across the country.”
Asked the most gratifying part of their jobs, French and Binc Communication Coordinator Kate Weiss said, “Being able to tell someone that help is on the way and being present to hear that silence or exclamation or thanks on the other end of the phone as that information settles in, is a real gift. You can almost feel the weight that they’ve been carrying being taken off their shoulders.”