The annual holiday giving campaign brought in more joy last year for the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society.
The nonprofit received a total $164,068, an increase of roughly $10,000 from the previous year. The holiday campaign has long been a staple of ILAS, but its importance has grown as the United Way of Central Indiana has reduced its contribution.
“I think lawyers are realizing more and more what good we are doing in the community,” said ILAS general counsel John Floreancig. “They know the campaign is a big help to us every year.”
The donations from the holiday fundraiser go directly toward operations. Floreancig described the donations as “vital” to the society’s work and said the funds will be used primarily to pay the staff attorneys’ salaries and provide whatever else is needed to represent the clients. According to its 2016 annual report, ILAS had 10,906 individuals contact the office and was able to help 5,524 people.
ILAS would like to see the holiday contributions top $200,000 and to build a donor base that includes nonlawyers. Thomas Davis, ILAS first vice president, said reaching beyond the legal profession would require a lot of education to explain what legal aid does and how having an attorney represent someone in a civil matter can benefit the larger community.
Even so, Davis, partner at Frost Brown Todd, believes the boost in the holiday campaign comes from more people knowing about ILAS and the work it does.
The society broadened its profile in recent years through its annual dinner and roast of a local celebrity. Another is being planned for this year. Also, Davis said, lawyers are realizing the need for pro bono legal services is going up while the resources for providing assistance are decreasing.
ILAS has been hit by the cut in funding from the United Way.
As part of a new policy it adopted in 2013, the United Way has been cutting its support of nonprofits. The goal is for the agency to provide no more than 30 to 35 percent of any nonprofit’s budget. ILAS has had its United Way contribution slashed form $301,486 in 2014 to about $199,000 in 2017.
The holiday campaign has been key to filling the funding gap. In 2015, the annual fundraiser reached $157,871 but the amount slipped in 2016 to $154,750. The success of the 2017 campaign has brought a financial as well as emotional boost to ILAS.
“I’m so grateful to the lawyers in this community for what they do for us,” Floreancig said. “It is uplifting to me personally to see all the support we do get.”