Even coming off a holiday fundraiser that pulled in just over $150,000, the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society is expecting the 2016 expenditures will throw its budget in the red for the first time in decades.
ILAS board chair Richard Young and executive director John Floreancig noted the organization has been broadening its donor base and reaching out to funders beyond the legal community. Still, replacing the loss of roughly $200,000 in annual support that has been lost over the past six years from United Way of Central Indiana has been difficult.
“This is the first time in my tenure that we’ve run a red budget,” said Floreancig, who has led the nonprofit since 1994. “From a personal standpoint, this is a hard pill for me to swallow but it’s getting to the point where there’re only just so many funders in this area.”
Each year, ILAS makes a push for donations through its holiday dollar campaign. Floreancig was not expecting much response from the 2016 fundraiser because ILAS had celebrated its 75th anniversary in the fall with a special event that bought about $140,000.
However, the holiday campaign tapped into a different set of contributors and reaped $150,395 with a few more donations possibly trickling in. The amount is in the neighborhood with what the ILAS has gotten in the past from its end-of-year fundraiser.
Floreancig said he is very appreciative of the lawyers in the community who support ILAS. The money from the holiday effort goes directly to client representation.
For the 2016 campaign, the ILAS used a redesigned cartoon dollar drawn by Indianapolis Star political cartoonist Gary Varvel. Also, the nonprofit asked donors to increase their annual gifts to $125, the amount that can help one client.
Young, partner at Kightlinger & Gray LLP, anticipated the state’s new pro bono reporting rule that allows attorneys to count contributions in place of handling a case for no charge would boost the holiday fundraiser.
He knows from his own experience in private practice that many law firm attorneys do not feel they have the competence to represent a civil legal aid client with a divorce, child custody or landlord-tenant issue. So he believed the contribution provision would give lawyers a way to participate but, in the end, he does not think the rule had much impact.
ILAS could find its 2016 budget out of balance by as much as $50,000 although a grant from the federal Victims of Crime Act’s Crime Victims Fund could lower the amount to $30,000.
The legal aid society can dip into its reserve of approximately $500,000 to make up for the deficit but Young and Floreancig said if the red ink flows in the coming years, the organization could be force to take drastic steps.
“If it continues, we’ll have to reduce some of our staff and provide fewer services,” Young said.
Currently, ILAS is handling about 6,000 cases per year.
Young wants the board to keep focused on getting more donors involved or at least aware of the need for civil legal aid. He knows many nonprofits need support but he said once people understand the importance of legal help, they are happy to give.