Pressure Mounts on Fundraising for Legal Aid

By Lipman, Harvy | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), June 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Pressure Mounts on Fundraising for Legal Aid


Lipman, Harvy, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


Usually when a non-profit organization sees its government funding cut substantially, it tries to make up at least some of the loss by intensifying its efforts to raise more money from the public.

Legal Services of New Jersey, which provides lawyers to impoverished litigants in civil cases, has faced dwindling support from the state for the past four years.

Over that time, its annual revenue has dropped by well more than half as its two principal sources of funds -- the state budget and a program tapping the interest from lawyer escrow accounts -- have fallen victim to the economy.

But turning to private donations hasn't turned out to be a practical alternative.

"We have pursued very intensely a private fundraising campaign, but what we get is generally in the $300,000 to $400,000 range," said Melville D. Miller Jr., president of Legal Services.

The primary targets of that campaign are major law firms, Miller said, because they're the ones most likely to care about making sure everyone has legal representation.

"But the larger firms will tell you all about the problems they've been through with the economy," he added. "Also, they're firms that give to a number of charities, a great deal of the time charities that are linked to their big clients. So there is not an unlimited supply of money there."

Fundraising for legal services is also hampered in New Jersey by the lack of a major metropolitan center within the state where wealthy law firms are clustered.

"When you look across the country at the variations in donations, you find that legal-services organizations in the very large metropolitan areas -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston -- receive a much higher level of giving, usually in the $500,000 to $1 million range," Miller noted. …

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