By Afam Onyema
Afam Onyema is chief operating officer of The GEANCO Foundation and can be contacted at
I graduated from Stanford Law School in 2007 and declined my corporate law firm offers to work full-time to help my father realize his dream of building a world-class hospital in his homeland of Nigeria. It has been difficult but amazingly fulfilling work. As I began my fundraising campaign for the hospital in earnest, I naturally turned to my law school classmates and other young lawyers throughout the country for support. Initially, they responded quite generously to my appeal. Indeed, young lawyers made up the majority of our base of early donors.
However, as the current recession continues, donations in general, and those from young lawyers in particular, are harder to secure. During these tough economic times, worry about the state of the economy and job security can generate fewer contributions to a hospital project in Africa. Indeed, mine is not the only charity that suffers from a drop in donations. Community development organizations and Legal Aid societies, which are especially dependent on the philanthropy of lawyers and law firms, are experiencing the financial impact of this economic crisis just as the need for their services is exploding.
So what can nonprofits do to raise needed funds during times of economic uncertainty? All I can do is remind everyone that the AIDS virus has not stopped invading and destroying children’s bodies in Africa because we are in a global recession. Mosquitoes have not taken a break from passing on malaria death sentences to pregnant mothers in Nigeria and elsewhere. What does the malaria parasite know of home foreclosures and declining corporate profits? Can the bailout of our financial institutions be explained to a sick, young Nigerian girl who suffers from tuberculosis?
As you read this, I am working feverishly to impress upon young lawyers that, despite the economic challenges before us, we all still need to do the hard and often uncomfortable work that is necessary to save lives. I need donations to give health and hope to those in Nigeria who believe they will experience neither in their lifetime. Legal Aid societies require increased assistance to represent those who are even more vulnerable in this slumping economy. Community development organizations need more funding to help those who have been laid off or who have lost their homes due to foreclosure.
The sun will shine upon us all again soon. When that joyful time of relief and recovery arrives, we young lawyers will be remembered most for what we did and did not do. We must have vision enough to see beyond our present difficulties. We must have the strength of heart to think of those who are truly suffering, whether from the scourge of disease in Africa or from the lack of quality legal representation in the United States. The risks of giving our time and money to such charitable efforts are both serious and significant. However, the rewards of such generosity are unquestionably powerful and fulfilling. We can lead the way. We must lead the way, and in so doing, provide light and leadership to a world in need of both.
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