ILAS sets ambitious goal for annual holiday fundraiser

The cards have been mailed and the team captains continue to encourage colleagues to donate as the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society moves forward with a ramped-up holiday campaign that has a goal of raising $400,000 — nearly double the record amount received in 2020.

Indianapolis attorney Lee Christie, chair of the ILAS holiday fundraiser, said more dollars are needed this year to help address the increase in difficulties that the society’s clients are facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal issues with such matters as employment, children and housing have all become more acute, particularly for low-income individuals and families.

Without the ILAS, Christie said, the burden on the private bar would increase. Lawyers would be under pressure to provide more pro bono services while many households would not get the civil legal help they need.

Christie, partner at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell, described a donation to ILAS as a way for lawyers to support their profession.

The holiday campaign has for decades been the primary fundraiser for the society. However, the annual drive for dollars has become more important as the nonprofit’s major donor, the United Way of Central Indiana, has slashed its financial support over the last several years.

At the peak, United Way appropriated roughly $400,000 to ILAS each year, but by 2019, the contribution had dwindled to a $65,000 grant.

ILAS regrouped and focused on getting grants as well as introducing new fundraising efforts, like the society’s annual roast, to fill the gap created by United Way’s shift in priorities. Christie and John Floreancig, general counsel and CEO of ILAS, said they are optimistic about the 2021 holiday campaign.

Last year, as the country struggled under the brunt of the public health emergency, the annual fundraiser brought in a record $227,987. ILAS credits the strategy of tapping supporters to be team captains who would then personally reach out and request donations from their colleagues in big, medium and small firms.

The team captains were able to generate a level of excitement in 2020 even when in-person interaction was limited because many partners and associates were still working from home. That success underscored for ILAS the value of networking.

“When ILAS did a little better job of getting the word out,” Floreancig said, “people were generous.”

In addition to again enlisting team captains, Christie and other ILAS leaders have met with law firm managers to talk about the work ILAS does and the need for financial support. Christie pointed out that the society does not receive any federal funding and is a “locally-funded, locally-run” legal aid organization.

The dollars raised in the 2021 holiday campaign will go directly to client services, Floreancig said. Increasingly, ILAs has been relying on grants to support its work, but these dollars are often linked to a particular need in the community the funder wants to address.

As a result, Floreancig said he worries that the money ILAS receives will all be tied to specific legal troubles, meaning his attorneys will have to start turning people away because the issues the clients need help with are not covered by the grants.

The money from the holiday campaign is unrestricted, which enables the ILAS team to work on whatever civil legal problem arrives at their office.

“We’re happy with the response,” Floreancig said of the 2021 holiday campaign donations thus far. “We’re just thankful the lawyers are so giving to their profession.”

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