This chapter is about what drives not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) to become involved in pro bono partnerships and how to effectively partner with them. More information for not-for-profit organisations that are interested in partnering with pro bono providers to obtain pro bono assistance can be found in Chapter 28 Assistance to non-legal not-for-profit organisations and charities and at 2.3 ‘I am a community legal centre or not-for-profit organisation’.
13.1 Non-legal not-for-profit organisations: at a glance
|What will help to connect pro bono providers to NFPs they can help?
A not-for-profit organisation is one that does not operate for the profit, personal gain or other benefit of particular people.1 Australian charities and other NFPs have a strong history of helping vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Australia, having provided the majority of social services in Australia up until the Second World War. These were mainly religious institutions that worked towards relieving poverty and suffering. The NFP sector in Australia is now large and diverse, covering activities and services including health, social services, education, sport and recreation, arts and culture, the environment, animal welfare, and human rights, in addition to religious practices.2
NFPs seek pro bono partners that support their work, enabling them to use their financial resources to assist those in need rather than for legal services. Law firms, especially large corporate firms, do the majority of their pro bono work for NFPs rather than for individuals.3 NFPs seek advice from pro bono providers on areas such as governance, deductible gift recipient applications, commercial agreements and incorporations. They may receive pro bono assistance in the form of training on the legal issues affecting their organisation’s work.
However, the number and diversity of NFPs makes it challenging for pro bono providers to choose the most appropriate ones to assist. In 2010, the Productivity Commission estimated there were roughly 600,000 NFPs in Australia, with around 56,000 endorsed by the ATO to receive charity tax concessions. Of those endorsed by the ATO, nearly half (43%) have social and community welfare as their main purpose, with religious charities making up about 22% of these. Around 1,700 new charities apply for registration each year.4
Choosing an NFP partner can be more difficult when non-legal NFPs are also unfamiliar with the law. They may not recognise that a problem is a legal issue, and therefore may not seek assistance or articulate the problem as a legal one.
… a significant barrier to accessing pro bono legal assistance for non-legal not-for-profit organisations is lack of awareness about what is a legal issue. (NFP organisation manager)
Some relationships between pro bono providers and NFPs develop from the professional/personal connections of the pro bono provider and the staff or board of the NFP. Pro bono providers and brokers can help NFPs by providing information about what is a legal issue and material that will help them to fully assess and understand the situation of the NFP.
A NFP may be ambitious in its overall goals and strategies and therefore trying to do things quickly, which exposes them to risk. Non-legal NFPs do not necessarily identify legal issues eg, they do not understand risks and do not protect themselves with contracts. It is helpful to provide case scenarios to explain what can go wrong. (NFP organisation manager)
It is also be helpful for a firm to include criteria in its pro bono policy to guide its decision-making about which organisations to assist, having regard to the mission, management and financial resources of a NFP.5 This will in turn assist NFPs to understand where they are more likely to obtain assistance.
NFPs can be further broken down into those which deliver services directly to those in need (eg, Salvos) and those which empower others to provide services to those in need (eg, Engineers Beyond Borders) or public interest causes. We are more likely to support those in the public benevolent institution space, less so for something like the arts. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, What is a not-for-profit, at http://www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/Register_my_charity/Who_can_register/What_is_NFP/ACNC/Reg/What_is_NFP.aspx http://www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/Register_my_charity/Who_can_register/What_is_NFP/ACNC/Reg/NFP.aspx?hkey=0c89fa5a-38dc-49af-b7aa-e8a6515fe8b1.
Australian Pro Bono Centre, Australian Pro Bono Manual (3rd edition), LexisNexis, Sydney, 2016, 2.1.1 Intake Criteria.
1 Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, What is a not-for-profit, http://www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/Register_my_charity/Who_can_register/
2 Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Background to the not-for-profit sector, https://www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/About_ACNC/
3 The results of the Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey: Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers show that on average 65% of pro bono work is being undertaken for organisations rather than individuals. See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey (Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014), p 38, https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
4 Contribution of the not-for-profit sector, Productivity Commission, 11 February 2010, http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/not-for-profit.
5 Australian Pro Bono Centre, Majority of Law Firm Pro Bono Done for Organisations, Media Release, 25 January 2013, https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Final-Survey-Report-Media-Release-220113.pdf.