Hello Book Thing friends,

We hope you are in good health and spirits as we all adapt to the new normal. The State of Maryland and our own Baltimore City are starting to consider how businesses can begin to reopen safely, but it’s clear the precautionary measures of the pandemic will be with us for a while.

Here at The Book Thing, we’re thinking about what that might mean for us once the City’s reopening is far enough along to permit us to interact with the book-loving public. Gone are the days of weekend hours and special public openings when a couple thousand people browse our shelves in the space of a day, at least for the time being.

What can we do instead? That is the million-book question!

Curbside pickups, mystery boxes, farmers’ market give-aways… please keep the suggestions coming in via the Contact form.  We truly appreciate the group brainstorming. There are no dumb ideas, but kindly understand that we can’t always respond to every suggestion… and that an idea that seems easy on the surface can turn out to be challenging after consideration of our various constraints.

You will recall that independent of the coronavirus, we went into hibernation in Jan 2020, shutting our doors to the public so that we could put our house in order. We have been operating at extremely low capacity for five months now. Even so, our February special opening was a huge success, run almost entirely by volunteers. Then in March we had to tell all our volunteers to stay home, safe, and healthy. Many of them by now are itching to get back to the book game, and we look forward to the day we can give them the all clear! But first we need to be sure we won’t put them at undue risk.

In short, we’re thinking about this challenge, but we don’t have any easy answers. These are uncertain, evolving times. We don’t yet know when we’ll be open again or what that will look like. And in the interest of full disclosure, that question hasn’t always been number one on the list this past month, because we’ve been focused on reinstatement progress!

Status updates 

Here are some of the things that have been keeping us busy:

  • We’ve finished the forensic accounting, and our overdue tax paperwork for 2018 is now in the hands of our accountant. We had already completed 2016 and 2017, so this puts the finish line in sight. Filing these returns as a package is one of the requirements for getting our nonprofit status back.
  • We have established a relationship with the law firm DLA Piper, which will be providing pro bono legal counsel on our reinstatement application. The two lawyers working on our case are long-time Book Thing patrons who happen to specialize in exactly the kind of law that we need. Again and again, we are humbled at the amazing community of supporters out there. We are very grateful to DLA Piper for donating their services.
  • We aim to submit our reinstatement application package to the IRS by July 1, 2020. It turns out that this is an ambitious target! In recent weeks, we have prioritized responding to the initial information requests from legal counsel so that they can dig in without further delay.
  • Deeper investigation of fiscal sponsorship and conversations with potential sponsors led us to the conclusion that this arrangement isn’t right for us at present. Fiscal sponsorship allows an organization to operate under the umbrella of an existing nonprofit while waiting for its own nonprofit status to be approved (or, in our case, reinstated). However, it entails costs, complexities, and a loss of autonomy that don’t make sense to us now, although they might be viable in the future.
  • So far, we have not applied for any disaster-relief funding because we have not found any programs that are both suitable to our situation and available to us given our loss of 501(c)(3) status. However, the preparatory financial work that we did has left us in good shape for our 2019 tax filing and our reinstatement application.
  • We have given away more than 2,000 books this month in response to bulk donation requests from non-profit organizations who are able to continue their operations despite the shutdown. These groups include the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, Family Services Inc., Pop!Farm community garden in southwest Baltimore, and our local Barclay Elementary & Middle School.

We’ve had some questions about why we’re willing to work with partners as far afield as Montgomery County. There are families in need in every county in Maryland, and rest assured, we are serving the Baltimore community, too! We absolutely welcome local requests for bulk donations, although we haven’t received many to date. According to an April press release, Baltimore City partnered with Maryland Book Bank to add books to children’s meal distributions. A supporter tried to partner us with Baltimore County for a similar effort, but ultimately County officials were not able to accommodate the added complexity of including books with school meal distributions. Given our own extremely low capacity these days, we’re not in a position to organize a book distribution ourselves. But we’re happy to entertain requests to supply minimally sorted books to a charitable partner who can safely and legally get reading materials out to communities in need. Just send us a message via the Contact form.

What’s next?

As mentioned above, we aim to submit our application for retroactive reinstatement of our nonprofit status to the IRS by July 1st. Our top priority for the next month is the collaboration with our CPA and DLA Piper to prepare the best possible application. Depending on their advice, we may submit the tax package as soon as it is complete, ahead of the reinstatement application. After everything has been submitted, we’ll be waiting for an IRS ruling, but we don’t know how long that might take.

In June, we will continue to work with partner organizations that can distribute books to communities in need. We will be thinking how best to get books out to the public as the pandemic situation evolves. We will continue to support our small, part-time sales team, whose efforts these past two months are keeping the lights on (figuratively — they’re teleworking!). And of course, we will keep you updated about any future volunteer or book give-away events.

What can you do?

  • Do you have ideas for how we can safely give away books with minimal volunteer support? Do you know a place that would like to host “satellite” bookshelves in the future? Please contact us!
  • If you can, please donate. Your financial support will help us to survive this challenging time.
  • If you have fundraising or grant writing expertise, we’d still love to hear from you via the Contact form. We want to be ready to seek out appropriate levels of nonprofit sponsorship as soon as we’re eligible to do so. Thank you to those who have contacted us so far.
  • If you have prior Board experience and/or relevant expertise, please reach out. We are still collecting expressions of interest and expect to turn our attention to Board development activities after our reinstatement application has been submitted. Experience with strategy, non-profit management, accounting, fundraising, legal counsel, and the like is particularly valuable.
  • Please stay tuned. We will continue to use our website and social media to keep you informed.

Please stay healthy and safe out there as spring turns into summer. We miss you.

Please direct all inquiries to the Board of Directors via the Contact form on our website.

To donate, you can:

Click: bookthing.org/donate

Mail a check to:
The Book Thing
3001 Vineyard Lane
Baltimore, MD 21218

Please Note: Due to the revocation of our nonprofit status, donations made after 5/15/19 may not be tax-deductible. Please consult a tax professional.