ILAS pushing harder on holiday campaign

The Indianapolis Legal Aid Society has again kicked off its annual holiday campaign, the nonprofit’s major fundraiser that has undergone many tweaks and alterations in recent years but remains the primary source for unrestricted dollars.

This season, the nonprofit is hoping to bring in at least $150,000. Donors are being asked to start their giving at $150, though contributions of any amount will be accepted.

Annually, ILAS is serving about 5,000 clients in Marion County and the surrounding communities with a range of civil legal issues.

John Floreancig, general counsel for ILAS, said the donations raised through the campaign go toward “true legal aid work” of helping clients. These so-called unrestricted dollars are becoming more important as ILAS’s main supporter, the United Way of Central Indiana, is shifting its focus from giving a yearly appropriation to taking applications and awarding grants for specific projects.

This is pressuring ILAS to continue to do more to bolster its fundraising.

For the holiday campaign, the legal services agency has focused in recent years on making the annual event more effective at bringing in contributions. The changes have included recruiting “donor captains” to make personal appeals, sending letters mainly to attorneys who have provided support in the past and switching from enclosing an actual dollar bill to a cartoon dollar drawn by Indianapolis Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel.

“I cannot overstate the importance of the campaign,” said John Trimble, first vice president of the ILAS board of directors. He pointed out in order to become more self-sustaining, ILAS is relying more on the private donations.

At the same time, as the legal aid agency is stepping up its fundraising, the clients coming for help have been bringing more complex cases.

Board member Elizabeth Russell is retired from private practice but has been a volunteer attorney at ILAS since 2015. She said lawyers are supporting the nonprofit, but the need is great. Clients have multiple legal problems and they encounter a very confusing court system when trying to represent themselves.

Even though ILAS has been getting grants, N. Kent Smith, second vice president on the agency’s board, said the money from the legal community is important to help ILAS give legal assistance to low-income clients. Also, the major philanthropic organizations, which can be another source of financial support, want to see lawyers supporting the legal aid society.

Trimble, partner at Lewis Wagner LLP, asserted that clients helped by legal aid providers are then able to better take care of themselves so they do not have to turn to other charitable agencies for assistance. “What we are doing could not be more vital to the health and well-being of our community,” he said.

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