What is the Pro-Bono Project?
The Pro-Bono Project at Charitable Allies is a donor-funded initiative to increase the availability of free legal services for nonprofits organizations and their stakeholders to help them more effectively execute their missions.
The Pro-Bono Project enables Charitable Allies to play a larger role in the nationwide effort among legal advocates and charitable organizations to bridge “justice gap” – the gulf between the civil legal needs of individuals and organizations and the resources available to meet them.
As nonprofit organizations proliferate across Indiana and the US, and as demand for legal services rises, the justice gap for nonprofits and their stakeholders is growing, and very few firms are able to meet the need for highly competent legal advice in the nuanced area of nonprofit law. Even fewer firms are able to provide their services free of charge.
Why is the Pro-Bono Project Needed?
Nationwide, more than 85% of legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. Nearly three-fourths of low-income households experienced civil legal problems each year in a wide range of areas.
The vast majority of charitable legal aid firms are structured to provide low- or pro-bono legal support to individuals and families, which means that for low-income individuals seeking legal assistance, there are a variety of nonprofit law firms, legal aid clinics, and local agencies to which they might turn. But when a nonprofit organization—a homeless shelter or an animal rescue—needs competent legal advice on any one of the complicated issues that it may face during its life cycle, very few options are available.
Each week, Charitable Allies receives more than a dozen qualified new inquiries for help from nonprofit organizations located in nearly every state, and we conduct up to 25 pro-bono telephone consultations every week.
The justice gap for nonprofit organizations is growing nearly as quickly as the nonprofit sector itself (by over 20% in the past decade), and with so few options available to affordably meet their needs, nonprofits and their stakeholders – along with the individuals, families, and communities they serve – are struggling to stay focused on their critical missions instead of on the complexities of the law.
During the past near-decade, Charitable Allies has served hundreds of nonprofit clients who pay either significantly reduced rates or receive our assistance at no cost. For many nonprofits, a brief consultation with one of our highly-competent attorneys allows them to resolve the issue they are facing, and in some cases, a call with Charitable Allies saves an organization thousands of dollars in legal fees to private firms. These savings can then be re-invested where the organization needs them most.
We find there are particular areas of law that are both particularly challenging for nonprofits:
- donations and donor intent (e.g., the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, the Uniform Prudent Investor Act and charitable trust law);
- the two state and four federal conflict doctrines–the doctrines and laws that control how a charitable entity should behave when dealing with a transaction in which there might be some level of conflict or private benefit;
- rights and responsibilities of members, including non-voting members;
- rights and responsibilities of directors and trustees;
- nonprofit affiliation exceptions to the franchising laws;
- Board liability management; and
- unrelated business income taxation and related doctrines, among many others.
Ultimately, Charitable Allies can answer questions in these fields very quickly where it would take another attorney many hours to research in order to be able to give sound advice.
Other nonprofits need more involved assistance, but because Charitable Allies focuses exclusively on nonprofit law and is intimately familiar with the most common challenges, we are able to respond to and resolve problems reliably and quickly. Still other clients need ongoing legal counsel to assist them with complex disputes, governance issues, or compliance matters.
Charitable Allies offers the following tiers of service to qualified Pro-Bono Clients:
- One-Time or Short Consultations
- This in-person, video or telephone one-time or short consultation helps nonprofits understand the basic considerations of the legal issue they are facing, sometimes even solving the problem completely on the call.
- Charitable Allies currently offers free consultations nearly every hour, on the hour, from 1pm-5pm Monday through Friday, throughout the year.
- Today, these consultations are tightly limited to the latter half of each day, and are funded through our work with low-bono fee-paying clients.
2. 2-hr Engagements
- Provide opinion letters on compliance, governance, compensation, and other issues.
- Outline Legal strategies and plans, and evaluate case strengths and weaknesses.
3. 5-Hour Engagements
- Assistance to launch and structure a new nonprofit
- Review filings with IRS and state agencies, contracts, leases, or other agreements.
- Presentation to Boards of Directors in best practices and risk management
4. Customized, ongoing Representation
- Retained representation in the case of more complex disputes
- Customized guidance on substantial changes to the nonprofit such as mergers, franchising, dissolution, or reorganization.
- Comprehensive counsel for general, transactional, and litigation needs.
Though each client is unique and every engagement is different, nonprofits generally face the same range of issues. Charitable Allie’s Pro-Bono Project helps donors to ensure that the organizations they support have access to high quality legal advice – at no cost to the nonprofit, allowing nonprofit leaders to focus their time on their important programs, and to direct donor funds to addressing the problems they care about most. In this way, the Pro-Bono Project helps community nonprofits preserve core funding for programs and avoid the necessity of seeking additional donor funds to respond to inevitable legal issues.
Which Nonprofits Are Eligible?
Charitable Allies allocates Pro-Bono Project resources to organizations that meet certain criteria, directing free legal assistance where have the greatest impact.
In order to maximize the impact of the Project, we focus on nonprofits that have a bona-fide financial need that is timely and urgent. We identify those nonprofits through a robust client intake process that includes the following questions:
- Charitable Class Information
- Leadership and Governance Questions – Is the potential client part of a defined charitable class? Are they led by a person who is a member of a charitable class?
- Constituent Questions – What communities does the nonprofit serve? Does the nonprofit serve a predominately charitable class including low-income people or minorities? What geographic location (zip code)?
2. Funding Availability
- Has the nonprofit attempted to find funding elsewhere? If not, is there a legitimate reason? Alternatively, is the scope of engagement small enough that chasing a small amount of dollars would be an unacceptable burden to entry?
- Is the matter an existential one for the organization? (only applies to existing organizations)
- Has the organization ever budgeted for legal services? Is it open to doing so in the future as it grows and scales?
3. Timeliness and Urgency
- Is the project needed?
- Does the project or the potential client fill a previously unmet need in a community?
- Is the nonprofit meeting a current need, like providing support for those suffering from COVID-19 or is it intended to address a specific natural disaster or the like?
- Is the entity suing or being sued? Why? Are they innocent actors?
- Will the results create or potentially create new law in the nonprofit/public charity space?
- Is the potential client the “underdog”?
- Is the potential client in a niche field that has a unique need for legal services?
For More Information about Charitable Allies’ Pro-Bono Project, please contact Alexander Guin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 463-229-0229.