Booksellers Take a Page Out of the Nonprofit Book to Help Literacy

As part of its annual Holiday Book Drive, Barnes & Noble customers donated nearly 1.2 million books to children in need across the United States. The books go out to schools, libraries, and social service organizations for distribution.

Sticking to What You Know

Research proves that children who read for pleasure have better chances in life. Yet cutbacks at schools and libraries have affected children’s access to books, which has opened a huge opportunity for booksellers to do their part as good corporate citizens.

Barnes & Noble focuses their charitable efforts on improving literacy, the arts, and education. Individual stores sponsor and donate to local organizations in those three areas while the B&N corporate office gives to national organizations.

Donation criteria includes serving the greater good and offering opportunities for in-store events whereas sponsorship involves an extra layer of criteria—organizations have to be able to drive traffic into Barnes & Noble stores.

A Trend Towards Giving

WH Smith, the UK’s largest bookseller, also focuses on promoting literacy by investing one percent of pre-tax profits to support charities and community projects. In 2010-11 they invested nearly £1 million in local communities by marking charitable Christmas cards, charity pin badges, and certain other products for charity. In addition to their Christmas cards they also offer a range of greeting cards in which charities can include their images, giving them the opportunity to get some free advertising.

Canada’s big-box bookseller Chapters Indigo did some research into school book funds in the country and found that school staff spent $143 million of their own money to buy books and other learning materials for their students in 2001. In response to the school’s funding crisis, they started the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to elicit a love of reading in children so that they can reach their full potential. The company encourages customers to donate or purchase specially-marked “Love of Reading” merchandise to both raise funds for local schools and raise awareness for the cause. They also ask customers to take political action by filling out their petition and by contacting their government representatives to act on this issue.

But Not for Amazon

Massive online retailer Amazon, has routinely been criticized for its lack of philanthropy. An article on Slate, “The New Scrooge” suggests, “There are lemonade stands that donate more to charity than does.” Though it may be an exaggeration, it’s not far off. The writer dug up very little evidence of Amazon’s charitable giving and to support the claim, questions to the director of corporate communications went unanswered despite repeated attempts to make contact.

Countless millions of books are sold every year, yet many children in high-needs schools are not getting good access to them. And many children in less developed countries don’t have access to books at all. Literacy is such a fundamental determinant of success in life and many booksellers, being in the position they are to help out, are responding to the need.

On a more general level, Barnes & Noble, WH Smith, and Chapters Indigo offer an example of how companies can have a direct impact on local communities in a meaningful way. Nonprofits can look to these for-profit companies and adopt their best practices as part of their broader efforts to accomplish their philanthropic goals.

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