Vol. 42, No. 6

A new executive director walks into a bar … foundation: Overarching themes

by Steve Grumm

Lawyers have organization-leadership limits

Law school does lots of lovely things for us, but it does not teach us to understand foundation or donor culture, to raise money, to market the mission, to maintain donor and grantee relationships, and so on. It’s one thing to draft good bylaws; it’s quite another to give life, purpose, and vision to the nonprofit organization those bylaws govern.

As noted in the first half of this article, since its inception our foundation board has been 100 percent lawyers, as the bylaws required. Our current board has just amended the bylaws and is now recruiting outside our association’s ranks. We need new kinds of expertise—fundraising, money management, and communications/marketing. The only conceivable arguments against recruiting outside the bar are dilutions of lawyer leadership and legal culture. But it’s easy to manage the former in the bylaws by controlling the number of “outside professional” board positions. As to culture, I believe our law foundation would be best served by de-emphasizing “law” in favor of more “foundation” emphasis. And the value of adding new expertise is so great that it’s worth a little culture change.

Donor age demography matters

This returns us to a topic raised earlier: the concern about Baby Boomer retirements and whether Millennials will commensurately engage with bar associations/foundations. Below are some considerations.

First, Boomers are our most significant donors. They have the disposable income, and some have large gift-making capacity. By one recent estimate that was referenced in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, people age 55-74 possess 57 percent of America’s wealth.[1] The percentage of wealth residing with those under the age of 45: 12.8.[2] Under the age of 35: 2.6%.[3] Other research confirms the notion of Boomer giving importance: “Baby Boomers will exert an outsized influence on charitable giving for the foreseeable future. Representing roughly one-third of all adults who give, Boomers contribute 43 percent of all the dollars donated.”[4]

And those Boomers who are financially comfortable at retirement need not stop donating after they stop working. So, it’s worth the effort to remain engaged with our more senior bar foundation givers, including through phone calls, handwritten notes, and discussions of planned/legacy giving options.

As to Millennials, we know that most have not had time to accumulate significant wealth, although many have accumulated student debt. I’m operating on two principles concerning Millennials:

  1. Engage Millennials with volunteer opportunities. Millennials, according to some research, place equal value on their time and money.[5] But from the perspective of the organization seeking their buy-in, I know that they have more time than money to donate. I’ll begin there—recruiting younger attorneys as volunteers.
  2. Aim for small, repeat donations. This isn’t a new idea anymore, but we’re just getting into the “Donate $X a month on an automatic bank account debit” game. I’m optimistic about generating a lot of smaller, consistent donations.

We’re broadening our beneficiary base

My background is in civil legal aid. I’m proud that our foundation has prioritized supporting our neighbors at MidPenn Legal Services. This support will continue. But as we grow our revenue pie, we can dish out more, and bigger, pieces in support of more public interest projects (pie metaphor sufficiently tortured).

We are using our Community Grants program—which makes mini-grants of less than $7,000—to fund access-to-justice projects, from pro bono mediation services to language translation of our local courthouse’s self-help forms. It is also teaching us to be discerning grant-makers, and to think strategically about how our grant-making, in the aggregate, will serve a broad-based access-to-justice mission over time.  

I am also participating in more local nonprofit task force and coalition meetings to learn how we can most efficiently help, through foundation giving, volunteerism, and partnerships with other groups. This experience confirms the foundation board’s conclusion that welcoming professionals from outside the law will serve us well.

What does our community need from us?

We are not as well informed as we could be about how to efficiently make the biggest impact. If we are to be a niche grant-maker and manager of programs that provide our most vulnerable community members with meaningful access to our justice system, we must continue learning. One example lies with our York County neighbors. The York County Bar Foundation’s Victoria Connor offers: “[As part of our foundation’s growth process] we engaged experts … to conduct a needs assessment and gather input from community stakeholders, collect and analyze relevant data, and quantify the economic impact of the delivery of legal services. Currently the community’s largest private funder of law-related programs, the … foundation has become a recognized leader and partner.”

We are not presently able to perform a sophisticated community needs assessment. And we may not have to, given that other local organizations have performed similar assessments. But we can make a goal of intelligence gathering and analysis so that we are as informed as possible—both to do the most impactful work and to avoid duplicating other service providers’ efforts. 

When in doubt, ask

The list goes on, and I have already learned that I am prone to the pitfall of my “lawyer leadership limits” principle. Because I have worked with and for nonprofits for my entire career, I occasionally assume I have more knowledge than I do in fact. I will continue learning, by making mistakes and in other ways. The “other way” I’m coming to favor most is recognizing that, even in the face of many uncertainties, there is much to be drawn—experience, expertise, and best practices—from the attorneys and other professionals who have already trod down similar paths.

In that sense, it comes back to a principle we’re taught in kindergarten: When we don’t know, ask someone who does.

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy (April 2018), “$9 Trillion and Counting: How Charities Can Tap Into the Transfer of Wealth,” p. 10.  

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Rovner, M. (2013) “The Next Generation of American Giving—The Charitable Habits of Generations Y, X, Baby Boomers and Matures.” p. 5. Blackbaud Institute. Accessed at: https://institute.blackbaud.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/NEXTGEN.pdf

[5] See “Inspiring the Next Generation Workforce—The 2014 Millenial Impact Report” (2015) Case Foundation. Accessed at: http://casefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/MillennialImpactReport-2014.pdf.

Steve Grumm

Steve Grumm is the executive director of the Lancaster Bar Association and the LBA Foundation, having begun in both roles in November 2016. Bar Leader asked him to share his thinking about the foundation’s future, and how that relates to his work with the association. In this half, he shares some of the important themes that have emerged and that may affect both organizations.