On March 31 and April 1, 2016, representatives from 11 states gathered in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP) Leadership Summit. This gathering focused on strengthening partnerships between the civil legal aid and philanthropic communities. The summit was part of a larger vision, supported by grant funding from the Public Welfare Foundation, which gives IOLTA programs and philanthropic associations resources, tools, and practices to collaborate effectively. At the NAIP Leadership Summit, IOLTA leaders were joined by state, regional, and national philanthropy leaders to explore how best to communicate that core social and human issues are addressed through civil legal aid.
The genesis of this project was an emphasis on the value of expanding partnerships between philanthropy and civil legal aid. Put succinctly in Natural Allies, a 2013 paper published by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, “helping low-income people resolve their legal problems is ‘smart results-oriented philanthropy’. . . Ultimately, civil legal aid is a powerful tool that can increase the impact of a funder’s support. At the same time, it empowers low-income people and communities to have an equal shot at the justice they deserve to meet their basic needs, promote more dignity and stability in their lives, and create pathways out of poverty.”
In February 2014, the Public Welfare Foundation granted NAIP $150,000 to promote civil legal aid to private philanthropy through IOLTA program leadership and engagement. NAIP awarded 11 mini-grants—ranging in size from $10,000 to $15,040—to IOLTA funders in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, and Texas. The majority of the funded mini-grant projects focused on bringing access to justice and philanthropy leaders together to:
- produce briefs, webinars, videos, and other materials on where and how foundations can integrate civil legal assistance into their work;
- conduct statewide and regional presentations to foundations on the value of including civil legal aid in the grant-making decisions for community, nonprofit, and social service agencies already working on addressing the needs of the poor;
- encourage participation by NAIP member organizations on the boards or committees of state philanthropic membership organizations;
- survey foundation staff on their perceptions of civil legal aid and understanding of where civil legal aid could benefit the community served by existing grantees;
- gather data on current types and extent of support from foundations for civil legal aid;
- support the efforts of IOLTA programs to join state and regional grantmaker organizations; and
- identify and correct misperceptions held by funders about what civil legal aid is and how it can be leveraged within existing social service and community programs.
Evaluating the Results of the Mini-Grants
The NAIP Foundation Leadership Summit
By March 2016, representatives from the 11 mini-grant recipients were prepared to meet together at the NAIP Foundation Leadership Summit, which was funded through a second grant from the Public Welfare Foundation. The Summit was designed to examine, clarify, and articulate what worked best in partnering between civil legal aid and the philanthropic community; and to develop an action plan for expanding this initiative within and beyond 11 states.
The Summit brought together teams of IOLTA and philanthropy leaders from the grantee states, along with national leaders from the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, Council on Foundations, American Bar Association, National Association of IOLTA Programs, Voices for Civil Justice, Kresge Foundation, and Public Welfare Foundation.
Through robust participation and facilitated dialogue, this group of 34 participants shared the resources they had developed through the mini-grants and explored the strategic lessons they learned, including:
- the importance of expanding and deepening connections in both directions between the IOLTA and philanthropy communities, recognizing that the challenges of speaking the same language and understanding each other’s communities are mutual;
- the goal of having IOLTA funders begin to identify themselves more clearly as part of the larger philanthropy community;
- the value of personal relationships and connections in leveraging funder dollars to produce a greater impact;
- the abundance of national philanthropy-serving organizations that have missions concentrated on similar issues as those of IOLTA programs (such as family, housing, homelessness, health, education, aging, consumer, immigration, financial security, and community development).
- the merit of talking about justice, equity, human services, and basic human needs rather than about “civil legal aid” or “delivery systems;” and
- the timeliness of moving civil legal aid from an insular idea within the legal community to a broader platform where it can be diffused throughout the goals, strategies, and public discourse of the philanthropic community.
The Summit also included an active discussion about developing a philanthropic civil legal aid communications plan and toolkit and a vision for expanding the project to include additional IOLTA states and philanthropy partners.
The NAIP Foundation Leadership Alliance Project
Following the Summit, at the August 2016 IOLTA Workshops in San Francisco, the NAIP Foundation Leadership Alliance Project was launched. Through a third round of funding and the leadership of the Public Welfare Foundation, a new phase of this project was developed to bring additional states into the process, institutionalize these partnerships, and develop a joint impact project between the philanthropic and civil legal aid communities.
At the San Francisco meeting, Public Welfare Foundation President Mary McClymont emphasized to attendees that now is the time to dynamically and actively expand connections between IOLTA and the greater philanthropic community. She reminded the group that this is a two-way conversation—a mutual challenge of understanding and translation. While money is always a critical ingredient, the inspiration for this project includes getting civil legal aid and philanthropy leaders in the room together; talking and learning from each other; showing up at each other’s conferences and meetings; and jointly building a deeper foundation for integrating civil justice with human and social service priorities.
The theme for the August session was the value of personal partnerships and mutuality, and the shared goals of educating each other—funder to funder—to build a common language. There was also a recognition that we want to train IOLTA organizations to communicate effectively with other funders. We seek to talk about justice, not legal needs. We search to find the words that fit our individual programs and regions while resonating with a broader community. We explore succinct and creative ways of emphasizing basic fairness, fundamental human needs, and a right to decent living conditions.
Institutionalizing the Collaborative Model
Linda Rexer, Executive Director of the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and Chuck Dunlap, outgoing President of the NAIP board and Executive Director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, announced at the session that NAIP had created a standing committee to institutionalize dynamic follow up. The new phase of this project will:
- generate more mini-grants for existing grantee states—providing small amounts of funding to get the job done at a deeper level;
- identify new states to bring into this initiative; and
- organize a leadership committee to serve as a “force multiplier,” centered on communicating the value of civil justice and developing creative and integrated solutions.
A Unique Role for IOLTA
Marissa Manlove, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and President of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, described the Forum to the IOLTA audience. She explained how it is a network of private, community, corporate, and family foundations. While some larger states have more than one association, such as California with three, there are some regional associations that represent multiple states, such as the Northwest Alliance with six states included. Ms. Manlove reminded the group that the IOLTA community has special standing to convene civil justice leaders in each state and brings powerful allies to the funder community, such as jurists and attorneys.
Harriet Robinson, Deputy Director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and Bridget Gernander, Executive Director of the Minnesota IOLTA Program, completed the program by offering their perspective from the trenches on the opportunities available in the collaboration between IOLTA and philanthropy.
The overarching goal of this project is to engage and encourage philanthropy and legal aid to work together more powerfully. The desired outcome is an expanded understanding and support for the critical role of civil justice in philanthropy’s larger human and societal goals. Helping IOLTA programs see themselves as part of the larger funding community serves as an “Aha” moment and has created a new platform for reaching out to others. If we are going to leverage our dollars to do more, engagement and personal connection will be critical ingredients in moving civil justice into the public discourse. We hope you’ll join us on this exciting endeavor.
 See Public Welfare Foundation & The Kresge Foundation, Natural Allies: Philanthropy and Civil Legal Aid (2013), at http://www.publicwelfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/NaturalAllies.pdf.