The vast majority of U.S. charities are small organizations with annual gross revenues of less than $25,000. The people involved with these nonprofits usually volunteer their time or work for a pittance. Leaders of the remaining organizations, however, need to examine their compensation-setting processes carefully to ensure that they are following best practices.
Fundraising for nonprofit organizations has been likened to driving across the country with the caveat that gas must be purchased a single gallon at a time1. The danger is that the destination will fade in importance while the driver searches for the next gas station. A secondary danger is that a few unscrupulous souls will find dishonest ways to fuel their vehicles. Fortunately, most drivers (and nonprofit organizations) remain honest and follow the rules. This article spells out some of these rules for donors who hope to avoid being duped by fundraising scams and for nonprofits that plan to follow both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association's "Model Rules of Professional Conduct" addresses pro bono services and states in part:
"A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should provide a substantial majority of the 50 hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to (1) persons of limited means or (2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means."
The term pro bono is derived from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, meaning "for the public good." Lawyers have a long-standing tradition of supporting the public good, donating their time and expertise to low-income individuals and nonprofit organizations. The Internet serves as an excellent medium for nonprofits to seek out this type of assistance, connecting with free or low-cost legal information and services.