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Legal service nonprofits look to private dollars as public funds shrink

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The alteration the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society made this season to its letters soliciting donations reflects a strategic decision by the nonprofit to go after higher contributions and underscores the need for service organizations of any kind to be aggressive.

Each year, ILAS runs its annual dollar campaign by sending a letter and a dollar bill to potential donors. The organization then asks the individuals to return the dollars with the hope they will reach into their wallets and add more.

John Floreancig Floreancig

This year’s letter, in addition to explaining what ILAS does and touting its ability to handle a case for $100, encourages donors to give specific amounts. About 350 donors were mailed special letters asking for high dollar contributions, while another 7,600 donors were invited to give the equivalent of a billable hour or an amount that would help a certain number of clients.

“If we can show the bar we really can help people for $100, maybe a donor will say, ‘I’ll help 500 people,’” said John Floreancig, general counsel at ILAS.

The legal aid society has to be more upfront about its need since its main source of funding, the United Way of Central Indiana, decided to reduce the appropriation made to ILAS by $126,000, or roughly one-third.

To cover the shortfall, ILAS has to look for money from other sources, especially private individuals. However, Floreancig conceded that whether central Indiana is willing to give more support to another legal service provider is unknown. That’s why ILAS is trying to aggressively position itself in a competitive nonprofit market.

Individual donors – inside and outside the bar – are becoming more important for all legal service nonprofits as money from federal and state sources shrinks. Complicating the fundraising effort is the confidential nature of the work the legal aid attorneys do and the little understanding non-lawyers have about legal aid.

Yet, experts in philanthropy contend the obstacles are not insurmountable. The key is educating the public and offering a compelling reason to contribute.

While many people may agree that providing access to the judiciary is important, they will not necessarily give financial support to the effort. Individuals who have been helped by legal aid or know someone who was in a difficult situation and received free legal assistance will be more likely to give because they have seen evidence that the organization is serving a need, said Kris

Kindelsperger, senior executive consultant with Johnson Grossnickle and Associates.

Indianapolis Legal Aid Society has hired Johnson Grossnickle and Associates to help develop a plan for its fundraising efforts. The nonprofit has already determined it wants to reach outside the legal community for donations.

The legal service providers will have to explain to potential donors what they do, why the services are necessary and the impact the organization has, Kindelsperger said, because many times the clients helped can be invisible to other sectors of the population.

Funding sources

One way to cultivate donors from outside the legal community is by building relationships. During the ILAS’s 2012 dollar campaign, board members made personal appeals to colleagues, which increased donations to a record high of more than $150,000.

Chuck Dunlap Dunlap

In Evansville, a trivia night competition to raise money for legal services has started to attract non-lawyers as well as increase awareness among attorneys. The Evansville Bar Association sponsors this event and other activities to solicit contributions for the Evansville Legal Aid Society and the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana.

Jean Blanton, attorney at Ziemer Stayman Weitzel & Shoulders LLP and Evansville Legal Aid Society board member, said the funds raised by the bar association give the nonprofit flexibility.

The ELAS gets 50 percent of its budget from the city-county government and 50 percent from the United Way of Southwestern Indiana. However, Blanton said, the funds come with strings attracted and can only go toward certain expenses.

Conversely, donations from the bar association can be used as the nonprofit wants. For example, ELAS upgraded computer equipment with the money from the bar.

Long-term, the funds from the government could hamper the agency’s ability to meet the increasing need. As Blanton explained, the attorneys and staff who work at ELAS are considered government employees, receiving salaries and benefits comparable to other public-sector workers.

This helps to entice people to take the lower-paying legal aid positions, but with no budget increases coming from the municipality, ELAS may not be able to add more workers. Even though the organization could possibly find a new funding source to hire another employee, that worker would not receive government benefits like the other attorneys and staff members get.

seiler Seiler

Evansville is not the only place feeling the crunch of government cutbacks. According to Chuck Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, federal and state appropriations have been falling as the demand for services has skyrocketed.

Legal Services Corp., the federal agency which provides grants for legal assistance, has recorded a $60-million cut in funding from Congress during the two years since fiscal year 2011. In fiscal year 2013, Capitol Hill budgeted $340.9 million to the organization.

The 12 pro bono districts in Indiana are given money from the state’s Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts. But with the recession and the drop in interest rates, the amount in the fund has sunk from $3 million to $300,000.

One bright spot: The state’s Civil Legal Aid Fund, which supports legal aid providers around Indiana, was given a $500,000 bump in 2007 to $1.5 million. The money in this pot comes from the Legislature and is administered by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, located in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, cobbles together funding from federal and state sources along with donations from individuals, corporations and churches.

Contributions from private sources comprise about 10 to 15 percent of the clinic’s $2 million annual budget, said Josh Abel, executive director. In the past, these donations totaled 25 percent of the yearly budget. The percentage has dropped despite the dollar amount remaining steady because funding from other avenues has picked up.

Abel said the clinic does not have as strong an individual donor base as other nonprofits like domestic-violence shelters and food pantries. Non-lawyers do not always understand why people need civil representation and often are confused why public defenders are not providing the service.

To educate people, the clinic puts the spotlight on the individuals it helps rather than identifying itself as a legal service organization. Stories of protecting victims of domestic violence and assisting immigrants fleeing persecution are more likely to resonate with potential donors.

The clinic has worked to create programs that are responsive to the community’s needs, Abel said, and that attracts contributions.

Room for one more

Still, getting contributions even from the legal community can be difficult. At the Hammond Legal Aid Clinic in northern Indiana, executive director Kris Sakelaris has found it easier to ask attorneys for pro bono help than to ask for money.

The clinic was established in 2003 by Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., an attorney and recipient of the Randall T. Shepard Award for pro bono work. Its entire budget is appropriated from the mayor’s discretionary fund.

Sometimes attorneys make donations or clients may include a few dollars in a thank-you note, but otherwise the clinic does not put much effort into soliciting contributions.

A former magistrate in the Lake Superior Court, Civil and Family Division, Sakelaris has friendships with many local attorneys and knows whom to call when the clinic needs help. Making a request for pro bono services is more likely to bring a yes than putting a hand out for money, she said.

As ILAS prepares to escalate its fundraising activities, the question is raised as to how that will impact donations among the other legal service providers.

Both Kindelsperger and Tim Seiler, director of The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, agreed that donors do not usually stop giving to one nonprofit to shift their money to another organization.

In addition, central Indiana has not hit a saturation point in terms of giving, Seiler said, although he conceded others hold the opposite view. National studies show individuals give an average of 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent of their disposable household income to charities, which to Seiler indicates there is room for nonprofits to solicit more contributions.

“Our experience is that central Indiana has a lot of very generous individuals and organizations,” Kindelsperger said. “It is a community that is philanthropic by nature. It’s not easy to raise money, but one of the obstacles is not that people aren’t philanthropic.”•
 

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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