Lead & Manage the Organization

A well-run legal aid organization is governed by a committed and involved board of directors that exercises independent judgment in carrying out its fiduciary responsibility in the organization. Key leadership, starting with the executive director, sets the tone for excellence and establishes a shared vision and mission. The organization should provide opportunities for development of new leaders and have a succession plan to ensure continuity.

The organization should be managed efficiently and effectively so resources are preserved and allocated to achieve the greatest impact in the community. This includes systems to ensure compliance with funder requirements, effective use of technology, effective administrative procedures, and allocation of sufficient resources to management and administrative functions and personnel.

The examples, models, and resources provided here are aimed to help your legal aid organization:

  • Achieve effective board governance
  • Lead effectively
  • Manage and administer the organization
  • Use technology
  • Establish responsible financial management
  • Communicate effectively internally and externally
  • Continue to grow resources

Effective Board Governance

Each legal aid organization functions under the leadership of a nonprofit board of directors, the governing body of the organization. Each organization's board of directors is established based on its bylaws. Those elected jointly govern the organization. Board members generally see themselves as ambassadors of their organizations and work together to accomplish the organization's mission.

The requirements for the composition and membership of boards for legal aid organizations that we fund are defined by the Legal Services Corporation Act and the LSC Regulations, 45 CFR Part 1607.

Resource Development

Legal aid organizations should seek to maintain and expand their bases of funding consistent with their mission with the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of services to their clients. Successful resource development starts with sufficient, capable, and trained staff—or consultants—dedicated to the development of new resources, and maintenance of existing ones. In order to achieve successful resource development, an organization:

  • Stays abreast of and pursues new opportunities
  • Develops relationships with potential funders and key supportive organizations
  • Establishes staff leadership in the fundraising process
  • Implements a carefully designed resource development strategy

Succession Planning

Effective nonprofit management requires a thoughtful plan for the transition of key leadership positions, whether planned or due to emergency. Succession planning anticipates such transitions and encompasses an intentional and systematic effort to ensure leadership continuity, as well as preserve institutional knowledge and minimize interruptions in service.

The need for an organization to have a clear, reasonable, and written succession plan can’t be overstated, especially in today’s legal aid landscape. According to data from 2015, 94 out of the 138 executive directors of LSC grantees had 30 or more years of experience in the profession, while 3 executive directors had 14 or fewer years of experience in the profession. This means that there’s significant leadership experience among LSC grantees, but also a number of likely transitions in which advance planning can play an important role.