Legal Services: 5 Tips to Tap into Grants

Historically, legal service organizations have not been a large beneficiary of grants from community foundations.  At the last South Carolina Access to Justice Commission meeting, Tom Keith from Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina (Sisters of Charity) and Mac Bennett from United Way of the Midlands  (UWay) provided insight into this practice as well as information to change it.

One obstacle for many legal service providers is geography.  Sisters of Charity is the only statewide community foundation in South Carolina.  Most community foundations in South Carolina limit the grant award to specific geographic regions.  This presents a problem for entities that provide statewide legal services.

Another reason for the lack of funding from community foundations is the failure to ask.  According to Tom Keith, in the last 10 years, Sisters of Charity has received only 10 requests from legal service organizations. 

Despite the prohibitions for statewide legal service providers, the need for legal services is currently on the rise. 

Mac Bennett reported that United Way of the Midlands recently interviewed approximately 1500 people in a local Bi-Lo parking lot to learn how the economy was affecting them and what they were struggling with the most.  The 3rd highest indicator of need with people earning less than $25,000 a year was the need for legal services.  This survey reflects a need for legal service organizations to more effectively communicate to community foundations when seeking grants. 

Here are the FIVE TIPS from Tom and Mac:

  1. Educate the foundation throughout the year.  Do not wait until it is time to ask for funding to notify the foundation about who you are.  Send the foundation newsletters, brochures, links to websites—anything that will introduce your organization to the foundation before the funding request is due.  Foster a relationship with the foundation PRIOR to your request.
  2. State measurable outcomes in your request.  Community foundations want to know that their money will make a tangible difference in the life of your organization and those you serve.  The more numbers you can track and report,  the better.
  3. Clearly state the need.  Be specific about the need(s) the grant will address.  Clearly state who you are going to serve and the impact their dollars will make. 
  4. Make requests geared towards a specific program or project.  Community foundations are often hesitant to fund salaries and/or operational costs because they do not want an organization to become dependent on their funding from year to year just to keep their doors open.  They prefer to fund projects and programs that will have a specific impact on the community.
  5. Make sure your mission matches the mission of the foundation.  Community foundations are mission driven.  Be clear about how the mission of your organization is in line with the mission of the foundation.  Pay attention to the funding priorities of the organization so you don’t waste your time or theirs. 

-Allie

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