Posted on March 1, 2009

“How’s work?” my neighbor asked me, in the hesitant way people ask that question these days, afraid to hear the answer.

“Busy — very busy” came my usual reply. My neighbor was visibly relieved, “Oh, that’s good.” And in today’s economy, that generally is good news because it means business is good. But in the nonprofit world, where revenue is not necessarily tied to production, it’s a very different story.

For most nonprofits, including Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, a down economy means demand for services is up at the same time that donations are down. Even for those nonprofits that contract for their services, earned income rarely covers expenses. Donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations are vital to the survival of nonprofit organizations.

At Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, we serve two groups of constituents — nonprofits that need free legal services and lawyers that want transactional pro bono opportunities. Demand for services on both ends is up. On the nonprofit side, financial concerns have led to more legal matters and word of mouth is leading to many more clients. On the attorney side, previously busy transactional attorneys are looking for pro bono matters to stay engaged. More nonprofit clients and more volunteer attorneys is good news – there is plenty of work to do. But it costs money to do that work. While Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta operates on a very lean budget (thanks in large part to office space donated by Sutherland), there is a cost to client outreach, client screening, attending client-attorney meetings, conducting follow-up, and all of the other things we do to ensure the clients get the legal services they need and the attorneys have a meaningful and rewarding pro bono experience.

The expense to Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta for placing a pro bono matter in 2008 was about $500. Of course, that $500 can result in tremendous value to the nonprofit client. A recent pro bono matter involving embezzlement generated $25,000 in free legal services and resulted in the return of about $30,000 to the nonprofit. We give a lot of bang for the buck.

In this down economy, when everyone seems to be facing a decrease in profits, remember the nonprofits. Your financial support is more important and more appreciated than ever.