How can we work together to build a $50 Million national fund that will work as a foundation focused on bookstores and give grants and loans and offer fundraising training to bookstores?

Host:  Praveen Madan, CEO, Kepler’s Books


Georgie Court, Bookstore1Sarasota

Jeff Waxman, sales rep for IPG

Nina Barrett, Bookends Beginnings, Evanston, IL

Kathy Brozek, independent consulting working with nonprofits/financial services, writer

Evan Karp, Booksmith

Larry Engel, Reader and Author

Jhoanna, Bel Canto Books

Lisa, Buffalo Street Books

Ron Charles, book critic at The Washington Post

Elaine Ktazenberger, City Light Books

BrocheAroe Fabian, River Dog Book Co. (helped with notes for this session)

Stacie Williams, IPS Field Sales (New England/upstate NY)

Billie Bloebaum, Third Street Books

Stephanie Denton, Kepler’s

Jean Forstner, Kepler’s

Executive Summary:

There was a lot of enthusiasm about this idea of a central fund/ foundation at the national level focused on bookstores. Most of the conversation focused on suggestions on how to find the money, how to administer the fund, who will be able to benefit from it, what other services the foundation should provide, and identifying issues and questions to be further explored. Some participants liked having a big audacious goal of $50 Million and others pointed out that it might not be big enough.


Bookfairs and public radio are both considered publicly funded institutions; why aren’t bookstores more intrinsically linked in this same way?

We should answer questions about how this foundation will make decisions, who will get funds and who won’t, where would it make sense to open a new bookstore and where it won’t make sense.

Don’t place blanket parameters from the top-down. Any parameters should be as inclusive as possible and allow variation/ customization from community to community.

(Jhoanna) Love the bold statement with a big audacious goal! If we can find a way to work as a collective that would be more powerful. There is a desire for socially conscious companies to work on this. Recently spoke with Emerson Collective – sounds like they are looking at creating some kind of national fund/structure to help bookstores with funding, education, mentorship. I’d recommend reaching out to them to see where they are.

Biggest obstacles to entry are not just where to get money but also what you are going to do with the money. New bookstores need more than money and they will also benefit from business planning help, business coaching, etc.

Private investments/tax-deductible contributions could be a funding source.

Creating a narrative – where donors are being asked to give money to an organization that is still a retail operation – will be a difficult task.

If a separate nonprofit model wasn’t needed for for-profit stores, but they could just focus on the mission and do the work, that would be helpful. Reminiscent of B corporation models, or the intention of them.

Tricky to have both a nonprofit and a for-profit because it’s not always legal (state-by-state) to have a nonprofit fund the for-profit. (Praveen’s note – Actually this is never legal as per federal laws).

Also problematic if one bookstore in a community is running as for-profit and one is non-profit; lots of pushback from community possible about funding discrepancies.

Line of succession issues with profitable bookstores – they can’t get the funding to purchase the store, so must find alternate funding model/ funding partners.

Questions to explore: 

  1. How can we match the money to the idea?
  2. Will this fund be a nonprofit? Tricky for foundations to give grants to for-profits. 
  3. Internship programs? Working with the city to create youth programs?
  4. How do libraries fit into the mix? They perform an important function, they shouldn’t be competition, is there a collaboration here? Some libraries have their own bookstores/ provide free books/etc., so this collaboration might not be always possible

Suggestion: publishers are one important source for funding.

Many high net-worth donors just give money to United Way or something like that – not b’cos they have any personal attachment to the cause. Many of them will be happy to donate money to bookstores. Just find the people who want to help you and work with them.

Can get plenty of pro-bono lawyers to help set up the structure.

Running a community focused bookstore — how do we work together as bookstores. Considering if we should have a nonprofit arm. Have had many conversations with government sources. 

Makes so much more sense to have a central fund, rather than each bookstore having to raise money from foundations on its own as that’s tough business.

It will take a few big game-changing actions. This gathering is one of them!

We need an Oprah for bookstores!

Jeff: I used to work for a nonprofit and we used to get lots of free books. Create a narrative in which bookstores are the social good – where giving money to effectively a retail operation – is seen as a good thing!

There is a huge gap between who can own and run a bookstore, and who can work there – large monetary gap! Booksellers need to get a gift or win the lottery to assume ownership of a bookstore where they might have worked for ten years. I got fired up about this issue. How much can this industry blossom with a fund? This has been a long time in coming.

Attractive to think big! Pay attention to something our society needs and all societies need. Literacy!

Stuck by the amount – big amount – but it’s still not big enough. Need is far bigger. $50 Million won’t go very far.

NPR and Poetry Foundation are good role models!

Jean: What attracts me to this is we have been innovative at Kepler’s, but bookstores across the country are under-resourced. Disheartened that many young people enter our industry but they can’t stay for long b’cos it doesn’t work for them financially to stay.

Billie: Not interested necessarily in starting my own bookstore but want to help the industry. Been in bookselling.

Still thinking about what Larry said that the money is out there! Sat next to someone at a bookselling event whose job is to help rich people give away their money. Is that a real job? 

  • Yes, one of my best friends does that job! — helps rich people interested in the arts give their money away to arts organizations.

Who has a narrative in our culture – celebrities. Can we get some celebrities onboard with the idea of “bookstores as a social cause.”

Lisa: I’m going to have to leave for a board meeting, but will be back tomorrow. I want to state the obvious – that publishers are one important resource for funding – how do we make that happen??? More Tomorrow, and thanks to all for participating today!

Mackenzie Scott funding us!

How do we learn more about funding models that work?

We are not trying to create a one-size fits all model for indie bookstores.

Jeff: common enough problem that we don’t know enough rich people.

Jean: look at private capital, since foundations can be limited to 501c3 organizations

Larry: In some states you can’t do a hybrid like Kepler’s

People might want to fund interns to do jobs at for-profit bookstores

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