Bar Foundations: Partners in Philanthropy

Three years ago, the Georgia Bar Foundation (GBF) applied for and received a grant, funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, to expand our involvement in the local philanthropic community. The plan included partnering with SECF to raise awareness of bar foundations and their grantees, to promote greater understanding of the importance of civil indigent legal services, and to nurture relationships with other foundations. In essence, the grant supported a coming out party for the Georgia Bar Foundation among the many foundations that comprise Georgia’s philanthropic community.

SECF helped introduce us to its members so they would know who we are, who our grantees are and what we are trying to accomplish. SECF helped us create a webinar, “Funding Civil Legal Aid to Advance Your Grantmaking Goals” and an online tool kit, “Funding Civil Legal Aid,” that provides a way for state bar foundation members to spotlight their states statistically in great detail.

One of the outcomes of this initial grant was other foundations’ being more aware of the importance of access to justice in their states and the nation. Another important outcome was the realization of how sophisticated and knowledgeable our SECF membership is and how much I have learned, and still need to learn, from them. Perhaps the most important outcome, however, was the opportunity for bar foundations to discuss becoming partners with other foundations in attacking our mutual problems.

My experience of the past three years makes me confident that the philanthropic community understands more fully the breadth of our work, increasing the likelihood that all bar foundations are at least candidates to be future partners of other foundations in attacking societal problems. At the least, sharing ideas and mutual concerns in person or in blog posts like this one may identify new approaches to attacking problems that have been with us too long.

In an earlier post on this blog, Lesley Grady, senior vice president at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, discussed one of those problems that has been with us too long: “I consider private philanthropy to hold the greatest potential to create and ensure a just society.”

Creating a just society is what bar foundations are all about. It is exciting to realize that we are one with so many other foundations trying to create a just society. Thank you, Lesley.

The Georgia Bar Foundation views SECF as our doorway into learning to think as philanthropists rather than as mere funders. As we interact more with the philanthropic community, we hope to convey that justice should be a concern of everyone. Based on the feedback we are getting, other foundations are receiving the message.

Last month, research funded by the Public Welfare Foundation sought to understand the view of philanthropic leaders about how access to justice fits within philanthropy. Using a qualitative research approach, interviews were conducted to help develop insight and direction into the future role of philanthropy in expanding civil indigent legal services. The report identified several valuable lessons to be learned that I plan to discuss in future posts.

To expand the dialogue on the lessons learned, SECF has set up an E-List, or listserv, just for SECF bar foundation members to share the actions they are taking in response to the report and to continue to discuss ways we can collaborate.

Any staff member of a state bar foundation that has an account on has access to the Bar Foundations E-List today. Just log in to and hover over “My SECF” and select “My Profile.” On the page that comes up, hover over the tab labeled “My Features,” and select E-Lists – you’ll see the Bar Foundations E-List there, and you’ll be able to contribute right away!

Bar foundations throughout SECF’s 11 states increasingly realize the importance of being connected not only with other bar foundations but also with the entire philanthropic community. Problems for one of us are now being recognized as problems for all of us. Recently, for example, Tracy Daniel, executive director of the Alabama Law Foundation, announced that Alabama State Bar President Augusta Dowd was calling on all Alabama lawyers to lend a helping hand as Alabama’s neighbors clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Irma. The Alabama Law Foundation will send funds collected directly to bar foundations in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia for use at the local level. Thank you, Augusta and Tracy.

Using all the communication capabilities built in to SECF, I look forward to sharing ideas and more with all SECF members as well as my bar foundation colleagues. I would love to hear your ideas about how bar foundations and the pursuit of justice for the disadvantaged can become more involved in southern philanthropy.

Len Horton is executive director of the Georgia Bar Foundation.


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