On Thursday, April 29, the American Booksellers Association held a session on starting a new nonprofit bookstore or transitioning an existing bookstore to a nonprofit.
A recording of this session can be found on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org.
This conversation was moderated by Veronica Liu, Founder Collective Member & General Coordinator of Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria in New York City. Presenters include: Jamie Rogers Southern, Executive Director of Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Jeff Martin, Founder of Magic City Books and Booksmart Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Jeff Deutsch, Director of Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago, Illinois; and Praveen Madan, CEO of Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California.
Here are the top ten takeaways from the session:
- If you decide to pursue nonprofit status, don’t attempt this transition as a DIY project. Seek legal counsel when drafting your mission and bylaws to be sure you are meeting all necessary requirements.
- Draft a mission statement that details exactly what your store aims to achieve, such as preserving the in-store browsing experience or being profitable. Not only does this provide focus for your business, but it communicates your store’s importance within your community.
- Decide how your business needs to run in order to best serve that mission. If your business model is already helping you achieve that goal, don’t feel pressured to transition to a different one.
- Before beginning the transition process, decide what it is that going nonprofit will help your store achieve. Some examples include: improving staff wages, gaining access to tax-deductible donations, shift community engagement.
- Transitioning to a nonprofit brings an additional layer of complexity to your business and should not be viewed as a lifeboat. Instead, it’s an opportunity to change your business model to best suit specific needs.
- That said, nonprofits have some practices that can be beneficial for all bookstores no matter the model, including having a board that can act as advisers, assisting with policies related to emergency procedures, business continuity, and succession.
- For-profit bookstores have helpful practices, too. If you’re looking solely to increase profitability, consider options like starting a paid membership program or adding a living wage surcharge to every transaction.
- It might also be helpful to look at business models outside of the book industry that you admire — for example, the Seminary Co--op’s transition to a nonprofit was partly inspired by how newspapers revitalized what the newspaper can be in the 21st century.
- Nonprofit or not, prioritize engaging with your community. Building strong relationships is essential to both business models.
- Regardless of whether your store is not-for-profit or for-profit, ultimately, be sure to also keep your bottom line in mind.