The first legal assistance applications from nonprofit organizations began arriving at the newly formed Charity Corps attorney group Friday.
Charity Corps, a joint initiative of the New York State Bar Association and the New York Attorney General’s Office, will provide much needed legal guidance and assistance for nonprofit groups in managing their affairs.
“The idea of the partnership is to provide broader coverage,” explained Lesley Rosenthal, vice-president and general counsel for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. “Some 60,000 nonprofit groups are either not having their legal needs met or are dramatically underserved.”
Most charities are small and unable to hire counsel to advise them, thereby placing themselves in potentially untenable legal situations.
Rosenthal will chair the program administered by the NYSBA. The committee consists of attorneys statewide with nonprofit law experience and expertise.
The program will start off by serving 50 nonprofit organizations in 2012 before expanding to more fully meet the needs of nonprofits. The Charity Corps leadership committee said it hopes to assist thousands of nonprofit groups throughout the state in the future.
“Once the word gets out to charities that are underserved we’ll have a screening committee to make sure entities meet our criteria,” Rosenthal explained. “We’ll also conduct training sessions for attorneys and nonprofits so we have a common set of expectation and understanding.”
The first training session is set for Jan. 26 in New York City.
Organizations applying for assistance must be 501(c)(3) tax-exempt and demonstrate that they are unable to afford legal counsel.
Nonprofit organizations need legal guidance in myriad areas to guide them through difficult economic times such as keeping their tax exempt status in good standing, meeting disclosure requirements, fulfilling fiduciary duties, adhering to fundraising laws, overseeing mission execution and adhering to the state’s not-for-profit corporation laws.
“Clearly there are times when they are not in compliance with the charity regulations that govern them,” said Lisa Frisch of the Legal Project in Albany.
Frisch said the effort is unique in establishing a long-term relationship between counsel and nonprofit organization, although various projects have met portions of the need in the past.
Attorneys selected to the Charity Corps Leadership Committee generally have a background in pro bono services or transactional law such as Kenneth Perri, executive director of Legal Assistance of Western New York in Geneva and Rosenthal, whose book “Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits” is scheduled for release by John Wiley & Sons in January.
Perri is the only regional attorney on the Charity Corps Leadership Committee.
“It’s an energetic, knowledgeable and well-intentioned group,” Rosenthal said.
“I’m glad it’s happening because organizations that serve the indigent will benefit,” Perri said Friday.
Organizations that serve the needs of the indigent will receive program priority.
“It matches an unmet need with an untapped pool of resources,” Perri said.
In addition to groups assisting the indigent, Charity Corps is intended to assist diverse nonprofit groups serving the disabled, veterans, seniors, victims of domestic violence, mental health, youth, crisis intervention and more.
“Nonprofits are vital to our local communities and state and we are committed to ensuring that they continue their important work — especially at a time when their services are most in need,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
The Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office will provide training and guidance to participating attorneys and nonprofit groups.
Initial applications from nonprofit groups for legal assistance must be submitted by Dec. 31. Applications and attorney volunteer forms are available on the NYSBA website at www.nysba.org.