Bar Foundation Plays Crucial Role in Public Interest Community
The Legal Intelligencer
February 7, 2008
More than five years ago, the trustees of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation asked us to participate in a focus group to look at the mission of the bar foundation. The foundation was asking its grantees to give real feedback about the role of the foundation and its continuing impact on the legal services community in Philadelphia.
At that time, we said that the bar foundation played a critical role, helping more than 30 organizations in their jobs of providing legal services to the poor and the disadvantaged in Philadelphia.
In 2008, we feel the bar foundation's role is still critical.
Together with the bar association, the foundation has helped build the public interest providers into a cohesive and collaborative community that works together to further the interests of Philadelphia's most vulnerable residents. In a gathering that is likely unique in the nation for its number and breadth of membership and consistency of attendance, the directors of all the organizations meet monthly with bar foundation and bar association leaders to discuss substantive issues and recent developments that have impact upon their clients and agencies. Because the foundation funds all of the organizations, the directors have a common interest in the foundation's success and a desire to coordinate their fundraising efforts with each other and the foundation. Through the foundation, they share information on fundraising and work together to maximize the support that the whole community receives.
The bar foundation faces a never-ending question: Why should a firm (or an individual) give to the bar foundation when, instead, the donation could go directly to one of the legal services providers?
We don't see it as an either/or situation. Legal services organizations will continue to build relationships with individual donors - we depend on those personal interactions, sometimes based on years of loyalty, sometimes the result of an attorney taking a pro bono case, sometimes a referral from a member of our board. We treasure those relationships, and they are important to our overall fundraising plans.
At the same time, though, there is an important role for the bar foundation to play with individual donors. The bar foundation, with programs like the recent "Raising the Bar" campaign, can work to promote giving across the legal community, reaching potential donors we might not be able to contact. The bar foundation performs the due diligence for donors, meeting with each grantee, reviewing their financial records, making sure that the donations are invested wisely.
The bar foundation is uniquely qualified to go after some sources of funds which its grantees cannot pursue. For instance, some state government programs are prohibited from giving to individual organizations but will give to the foundation. The foundation can receive residual funds or cy pres awards from class action lawsuits, and some judges or counsel prefer making such an award rather than giving to a grantee organization that might represent a current or future litigant. Private foundations can take advantage of the bar foundation's vetting process by giving directly to it and also can thereby direct their money to multiple grantees for collaborative service projects. The bar foundation has increased its efforts to attract these new sources of funds, and its grantees benefit through larger grants and support for exciting new works.
Support from the foundation also assists Philadelphia's public interest organizations as they seek funding grants from other sources. It is helpful for a grantee to be able to tell other charitable foundations and potential donors that the Philadelphia Bar is providing significant dollars to support the grantee's work. Legal community philanthropy shows that lawyers care and actively contribute to the public interest organizations, convincing other funders that they, too, should care and contribute. Without donations from the bar foundation and lawyers, other charitable organizations might ask, "Why aren't the lawyers and law firms supporting you, and why should we when they don't?"
Finally, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation helps to get the word out about the good works of the public interest bar and our many collaborators. Through events, articles and the involvement of volunteers, more people in the legal community learn of the importance of the work of the organizations that struggle to provide assistance to Philadelphia's poor and vulnerable.
As Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project, a bar foundation grant recipient, has said, "I see the bar foundation as the community ally for a very strong public interest community. The bar foundation represents the interests of all 31 public interest agencies who serve Philadelphia's poorest citizens and provides a daily reminder to the private bar of the importance of taking care of our less fortunate."
We need the bar foundation, today more than ever. We hope that you will agree and will provide your financial support to the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
CATHERINE C. CARR is the executive director of Community Legal Services. CLS is the largest provider of civil legal aid in Philadelphia, and is nationally recognized as one of the most sophisticated and effective nonprofit legal services programs in the nation.
FRANK P. CERVONE is the executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, the lawyers pro bono program for abused and neglected children in Philadelphia. In this capacity, he provides both direct representation to child clients and a variety of systemic reform, leadership and community education services.