Print Page | Contact Us
NCBP News 2016 Winter Issue
Share |

Consider Including a Philanthropy Project in Your Presidential Agenda

By John E. Thies

Two goals that every bar president should have are: engaging your members and communicating positive message about the legal profession to the public.  Including a philanthropy project in your presidential agenda can help you achieve both! 

When I was president of the Illinois State Bar Association, I concentrated on a number of special projects of direct interest to the profession, including the law student debt crisis, increasing court funding, and minimizing the role of politics in the courts.  But, I also wanted to have a project that inspired our members in a non-traditional way to become more active in the bar, and at the same time, help to address a significant societal need.  In considering our options, my wife, Terry and I talked about a number of possible philanthropy projects that would build on the numerous civic activities of lawyers and judges.  We settled on the issue of hunger, and the project we created – Lawyers Feeding Illinois -- became one of the most successful of my presidency.

Lawyers Feeding Illinois

Working closely with the state-wide hunger organization allowed Lawyers Feeding Illinois (LFI) to leverage the eight regional foodbanks and their established infrastructure.  Our roughly 30,000 members were spread throughout the state, and so were the foodbanks.  We started with a goal of raising 1 million meals, and never could have imagined the positive reaction the project received.  Law firms, law schools, local bar associations and others competed against each other for a wonderful cause.  Our attorney general got involved, and in the end – with the strong leadership of my wife Terry (the only non-lawyer on the committee!), we greatly exceeded our goal and raised 4.6 million meals!

Positive Public Message

The media loved LFI.  When I visited a community as bar president, my schedule frequently included a visit to the local food bank, drawing significant (positive) media attention.  The value of communicating such a positive message about our profession was priceless.  I quickly lost track of the number of television and radio stations, newspapers and blogs that ran stories on the project!

Other Examples

The ISBA is not the only state or local bar association to see the value of including a philanthropy project during the bar year.  For example, the Columbus Bar Association/Columbus Bar Foundation has raised millions for a children’s hospital, working collaboratively with a number of large corporations.  The Austin Bar Foundation’s Legal Build project builds a home every two years with Habitat for Humanity.  And, the Allegheny Bar Foundation’s Attorneys Against Hunger project raises more than $100,000 per year to fight hunger.  Many other bar associations have had similar success.

The real beauty of including a philanthropy project in your bar year is that it builds on readily available resources (bar staff, existing infrastructure and motivated volunteers) and generates the kind of positive message about the profession that few bars could ever afford to purchase.  At the same time, you can really make a difference at the local level for causes important to members of our profession.  Thus, as you plan your year, consider including a philanthropy project.  You won’t regret it!