Scan any nonprofit’s budget and you’ll see almost every dollar allocated to fulfill the mission. There is simply no fat to cover ‘what ifs,’ especially if that contingency is legal advice. The choice can be going without (and in some cases the specter of liability) or cutting back on programming.
Enter, Pro Bono Partnership. This 21-year-old organization (a nonprofit itself) is devoted to providing free legal (non-litigation) assistance to qualifying nonprofits in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. For the most part, it connects nonprofit clients with volunteer attorneys who have the expertise the nonprofits require.
“When it comes to legal matters, nonprofits are just like any other business,” says Priya Morganstern, the Partnership’s program director in Connecticut. “They all deal with the legal issues of compliance and staying in business.” These issues include: corporate governance, human resources, intellectual property, real estate, contracts, mergers … the list goes on. Of course, nonprofits also have issues unique to their tax-exempt status, such as fundraising, charities registration, property tax exemption, IRS rules and more. The Partnership assists its nonprofit clients with all of these.
In the last year alone, the Partnership has provided almost $10 million worth of expert legal support to nonprofits in the tri-state area. [Priya points to a recent case where a small Connecticut nonprofit was gifted a house to use as its office, but before it could take ownership it needed legal advice. They turned to the Partnership, which was essential when you consider the cost of the legal work amounted to almost four times the organization’s annual budget!]
The Partnership was also on the case when A Hand Up of West Hartford merged into Hartford’s Journey Home. The two organizations collect and deliver furniture to those in need. “Since we provided the same service we all agreed working together would create efficiencies,” says Sara Salomons, director of development and communications for Journey Home, the surviving organization. Even so, saying goodbye to one identity and becoming part of another is not easy. “We wanted complete comfort and trust on all sides,” says Sara.
“We are so grateful to the Partnership for providing attorneys and also being the neutral go-between that got us there.” The result is stellar, as well. Sara reports that furniture deliveries and donations are up 30 percent. The Partnership was able to represent both parties to the merger, using two separate teams of attorneys. Mergers can be resource intensive, so this was a significant savings to the entire community.
The Partnership not only matches organizations with volunteer attorneys to resolve business and transactional matters, it also has a hotline for quick questions, provides educational programming, and can make referrals if the nonprofit is facing litigation. “Our real value,” says Priya, “is that we enable organizations to focus on their charitable missions, without diverting critical funding to attorneys.” And at the same time, this allows employees and board-members work without interruption.
So, if you need legal advice, let someone help you for a change. Check out the free online resources at probonopartner.org and jot down the Partnership’s phone number – 860-541-4951 – because you might need it someday.