Blog/Podcast: How to Support Nonprofits and Boost Your Business Development

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When lawyers pair up with charitable causes, everyone wins: nonprofits get much-needed support and lawyers get both personal and professional benefits.

As a former lawyer and current president of the nonprofit consulting firm Benevolent Vision, Ranlyn Hill has a firsthand understanding of the role that nonprofits can play in a law firm’s business development. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to talk about how law firms can best serve and learn from charitable organizations.

How Nonprofits Engage Attorneys

According to Ranlyn, an attorney is an absolutely critical part of any nonprofit. For organizations with large enough budgets, having an attorney who specializes in tax-exempt organizations on the team is a huge plus. At the very least, every nonprofit should have one or several attorneys on the board of directors. Having a go-to legal expert can help nonprofits navigate the labyrinth of day-to-day issues they must confront.

Of course, nonprofits need to have a close relationship with a tax-exempt expert, but they also frequently need the assistance of lawyers who are well-versed in labor law, real estate and corporate transactions. When clients need legal assistance beyond the expertise of their general counsel, Ranlyn prefers to direct them to one firm that can handle all of their needs, whether that’s a large firm with many practice areas, a small firm with multiple capabilities or a collaborative relationship with other firms.

If you’re courting nonprofit clients, consider how you can best meet their needs. Does your firm offer a variety of services that would be useful to a tax-exempt organization? Or do you want to serve in a long-term, pro bono capacity on a board? Either way, think about how nonprofits are most likely to engage you, and meet them where they are.

Why Every Attorney Should Be Involved with a Nonprofit

Whether it’s through pro bono board work or volunteering, every attorney should have a relationship with a nonprofit that has meaning for them. Charitable organizations rely on the support of volunteers, and the guidance that legal professionals can provide is invaluable.  That’s not to say attorneys don’t benefit from the relationship, too. Working with a nonprofit is an excellent way for lawyers to expand their footprint.

First, being active with a nonprofit can help build your profile in the community. Certainly, volunteering gives you the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference, but you can also promote your work and the larger cause through your social media and in your bio. This is especially useful for young attorneys who are trying to find a foothold in their profession and the larger community.

Secondly, volunteering alongside other professionals is a rich way to develop relationships. Virtually everyone has a personal reason for getting involved in a nonprofit and when you’re serving meals or stuffing envelopes next to someone, you get to know them on a deeper level. It builds trust, understanding and goodwill with colleagues, and that can make a world of difference when you’re trying to grow your network and practice.

What Law Firms Can Learn from the Nonprofit Consulting Business

Through Benevolent Vision, Ranlyn offers “executive packages”: flat-rate services that are designed around tangible deliverables. For example, her board retreat executive package includes agenda development and facilitation services, but following the retreat, the client also receives a customized written report they can keep and refer back to long after the services are completed.

This model works because it’s very clear to clients what they’re getting and how much they’re paying for it. It can be difficult to see the long-term value of a service after the consultants have gone home, but having a physical product ensures that clients feel like they got their money’s worth. Flat-rate packages, especially packages that include deliverables, make things clearer and easier for everyone.

Although the services and products may look different, the same principles apply at law firms. Many firms are rethinking their billing structures and implementing fixed-price packages, especially for matters that tend to be more predictable in terms of time commitment. Big Law is also finding ways to offer more legal products with the aid of technology, which can reduce labor time and cost and, therefore, increase revenue. If your firm hasn’t explored these ideas yet, it might be time to take a note from Ranlyn’s book.

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