Raising Funds for Your Bar Organization
By Mason Wilson
Mason Wilson is an associate editor of The Affiliate and an associate in the Memphis, Tennessee, office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
Got money? That’s the question many bar organizations are asking themselves today as lawyers, firms, and clients struggle to make ends meet during the down economy. Tightening budgets and dwindling resources are familiar challenges in times like these. It seems that everywhere you turn, budgets and staff are being reduced, programs are being eliminated, and operational funds are shrinking. All of this is happening while expenses continue to increase. Although raising funds in this environment can certainly be challenging, there are still opportunities to boost your organization’s bottom line. With a little gumption, a lot of hard work, and a dash of creativity, your organization can weather the storm and even thrive. The following tips are just a few ideas to get you started.
Evaluate Membership Dues
I know, I know. I can hear your groans all the way in Memphis. No one likes to get a notice in the mail that membership dues are being increased, especially during times like these. Nevertheless, you’ll likely find that it’s worth your time to take a hard look at your membership dues in conjunction with the programs and services your organization provides. Does your organization offer free or discounted CLEs? Does it offer no-cost networking events, mentoring programs, and the like? What about free legal research, discounted insurance, or preferred vendor programs? Are your dues just plain dirt cheap? The point is your organization probably offers many valuable programs and services to its members without asking a lot in return. If that’s the case and your organization is struggling to stay afloat or to continue the same level of service, you may need to evaluate your dues structure. I believe you’ll find that people don’t mind paying for quality and value.
Another way to raise funds for your organization through membership dues is to increase the pool of potential members. Does your organization have a law student program through which law students can pay discounted dues to join the organization before they graduate? How about an honorary member program for those lawyers who aren’t necessarily “young” anymore? More dues-paying members, even at discounted rates, equals more money.
Plan a Signature Fundraising Event
Many young lawyer organizations produce a signature program each year. These programs often involve a public service event or a fundraiser for a specific legal cause. They are usually well-publicized, occur about the same time every year, and everyone in the legal community seems to have it marked on their calendars. Maybe your organization should consider implementing a similar signature event to raise funds. For example, many lawyers like to stay active. Your organization can raise funds by producing an annual golf or volleyball tournament, maybe even a 5K or a triathlon. If those types of events don’t appeal to your members, what about a silent auction at a local art gallery or a pancake breakfast at the courthouse? Consistency is the key to long-term success. Your signature fundraiser should be something that you can produce at the same time each year and, if possible, at the same location. Make it an event to remember and your organization’s signature fundraiser can be that one date each year that every lawyer and judge in town marks on their calendars.
Apply for Subgrants
Your organization may be eligible for subgrants and similar funding from other local, state, and national bar associations, nonprofit entities, or maybe even the government. This year, the ABA YLD will award thousands of dollars in subgrants to its affiliates to support public service and member service projects. See “ABA YLD Subgrants: Easy Like Sunday Morning” announcing the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s (ABA YLD’s) 2009 Subgrant Program on page 7 of this issue of The Affiliate . Public service awards are capped at $2,000 per subgrant and member service awards are capped at $500 per subgrant. Any ABA YLD young lawyer organization affiliated under Articles 3.1(a) or 3.1(b) of the ABA YLD bylaws is eligible and there’s no limit to the number of subgrant applications each affiliate can submit. The deadline to apply for an ABA YLD subgrant is March 1, 2009. For more information about the ABA YLD’s Subgrant Program, visit www.abanet.org/yld/subgrant .
Get Sponsored
You’re probably already doing this, but it’s worth a reminder that young lawyers are an attractive target for advertisers. We frequently read and hear about our age group being the most sought-after demographic for advertisers. If your organization has never used sponsors, you may want to check with your senior bar for any guidelines or requirements. Once that’s taken care of, go get that money! Sign up financial sponsors for your events, publications, your website, even your networking happy hours. If your organization does anything that costs money, ask a sponsor to contribute. Don’t be bashful.
In sum, there are countless ways to raise funds for your organization. In times like these, creativity and hard work are often the keys to success. If you have fun and give a good return on the money that is invested in your organization, your fundraising efforts will almost certainly pay off.