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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Lawyers Stepping Up to Help Families Keep Their Homes

You may have noticed that a couple of recent posts below reference the home foreclosure crisis.  With the growing number of foreclosures in South Carolina and across the United States it is no wonder the housing market is such a hot topic. 

One of the links referenced below is a story from NPR: Lawyers Make Pro Bono Leap into Foreclosures.  It is the story of a man named Mirkab.  Mirkab is a hard working man who ended up with two homes because just as his family purchased a new home and attempted to sell their old home, the market began to crash and they were unable to sell their second home.  Like many other hardworking Americans, Mirkab is trying as hard as he can to keep his finances in good standing, but battling with the mortgage lenders on his own was getting him nowhere.  The story highlights the generosity of lawyers who have responded to the mortgage crisis by doing pro bono work for clients like Mirkab.  With so many families in the same position as Mirkab’s family, we need even more lawyers to step up and take these cases.

According to the National League of Cities 1 in every 374 housing units were part of a foreclosure filing in April 2009.  Due to this insurmountable number, pro bono lawyers willing to tackle the mortgage crisis are desperately needed.  For attorneys who do not specialize in this area of law the learning curve is steep, so a number of organizations across the country are finding ways to make it easier for attorneys to step up and take on these cases.   At probono.net there are resources for attorneys interested in these pro bono cases including templates for legal documents and links to state specific resources.  The Pro Bono Institute reports that legal service programs are typically the only access to the legal system that the poor and those of modest means have.  Foreclosure cases are swamping their work load and pro bono help is needed to share the responsibility.

The Center for Responsible Lending created the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance that awards grants to non-profits and legal aid offices that with adequate resources can help those suffering from the housing crisis.  The grants range from 250,000 to 300,000 and are dispersed over a 3 year period.

The housing crisis hits close to home for many South Carolinians.  The Post and Courier in Charleston, SC ran an article in February telling how Family Services, Inc. was awarded $1.7 million from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Council.  Recipients of the monies included Appleseed, South Carolina Legal Services and Charleston Pro Bono Services.  These programs and this type of funding certainly help to put a dent in the aid needed, but there is much more required if individuals are going to get the legal help they need.

As Robin posted below, the South Carolina Supreme Court lifted the TRO on foreclosures as of Friday.  The Order lifting the TRO  lays out specific steps that must be followed and items that must be included within the court documents to determine whether an individual mortgage qualifies for President Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program.  The need for attorneys who are knowledgeable about the recent legislation and court orders dealing with the mortgage crisis as well as South Carolina Foreclosure law to take on these pro bono cases is great.  Thank you for all of those working so hard to work within the legal system to find solutions for those struggling with a home foreclosure.

-Allie