Pro Bono Innovation Fund

Pro Bono cannot replace the enormous contributions of full-time legal aid programs, either in terms of volume or expertise. But it is an essential mechanism for narrowing the justice gap, especially where efforts to engage pro bono lawyers are adequately resourced and supported.

The Report of the Pro Bono Task Force

Overview

The Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) offers grants for new pro bono initiatives, collaborations, and partnerships to

  • engage more lawyers and other professions in pro bono service,
  • address gaps in legal services, and
  • address persistent challenges in pro bono delivery systems.

In March 2011, our Board of Directors formed the Pro Bono Task Force to address the current crisis in legal services, where at least 50 percent of eligible low-income individuals seeking help from our grantees are turned away due to insufficient resources and 80 percent of civil legal needs are unmet.

After a year of research, the Task Force released the Report of the Pro Bono Task Force. This report included recommendations to increase the number of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers who are available to provide legal aid for low-income people. One key recommendation from the report was a request for LSC to create a Pro Bono Innovation Fund in order to encourage new ideas for engaging pro bono assistance and to narrow the justice gap.

On January 17, 2014, the President of the United States signed P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which included $2.5 million for LSC to establish the Pro Bono Innovation Fund. In December of that same year, P.L. 113-235, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 increased funding for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund to $4 million. P.L. 115-141, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 provided $4.5 million for the fund for 2018.

Eligibility

PBIF only accepts grant applications from legal aid programs and organizations already receiving an LSC Basic Field Grant.

If your program or legal aid organization is interested in applying, we encourage you to consider developing project models that offer impactful and replicable solutions to persistent challenges in your current pro bono delivery system.

Categories of Funding

PBIF offers grantees three categories of funding: Project, Transformation, and Sustainability. 

Project Grants: The goal of project grants is to leverage volunteers to meet a critical, unmet, and well-defined client need. Applicants are encouraged to focus on engaging volunteers to increase free civil legal aid for low-income Americans by proposing new, replicable ideas. Applicants are strongly encouraged to research prior successful Pro Bono Innovation Fund Project and Sustainability Grants to replicate, adapt, or create enhancements to prior effective pro bono projects.

Transformation Grants: Transformation Grants are targeted towards LSC grantees whose leadership is committed to restructuring an entire pro bono program and incorporating pro bono best practices into core, high-priority client services with an urgency to create a high-impact pro bono program.  Each Transformation Grant will support a rigorous and extensive assessment of an LSC grantee’s pro bono program, the identification of best practices in pro bono delivery that are best suited to that grantee’s needs and circumstances, and the development and implementation of short- and long-term improvements to organizational policies, management, and operations.This funding opportunity is open to all LSC grantees, but is primarily intended for LSC grantees that have been unsuccessful in applying for Project Grants or that have never applied for a Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant in the past.

Sustainability Grants: Sustainability Grants are only available to current Pro Bono Innovation Fund grantees.  Sustainability Grants aim to support further development of the most promising and replicable Pro Bono Innovation Fund projects with an additional 24 months of funding so grantees can leverage new sources of revenue for the project, collect meaningful data to demonstrate the project’s results and outcomes for clients and volunteers, and quantify the return on LSC’s investment of Pro Bono Innovation Fund dollars. Applicants for Sustainability Grants will be required to propose an ambitious match requirement, tied to realistic goals that reduce the PBIF contribution to the project over the grant term.

How to Apply

Prior to submitting an application, organizations must submit a Letter of Intent to Apply for Funding in the online LSC Grants system. Letters of Intent allow PBIF staff to quickly assess projects that are most viable for funding and a strong match for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund. An organization may submit more than one Letter of Intent.

Proposals for funding will not be accepted if you have not submitted a letter of intent. All Letters of Intent must be submitted online in January by the designated deadline at 11:59 p.m. EST. In February, PBIF will invite select applicants to submit a full proposal for funding.

Reviewers will assess applications according to the selection criteria below. Detailed requirements for each category are outlined in the Application Instructions.

Reporting, Compliance Requirements & Applicable Law

All grants and grant recipients are subject to all the requirements of the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974, as amended, and any applicable appropriations acts, laws, rules, regulations, policies, guidelines, instructions, and other directives. These provisions contain restrictions on the activities of those who receive our funds and may affect the eligibility of potential applicants. If you are awarded the Pro Bono Innovation Fund, you will be required to comply with all requirements contained therein.

The Pro Bono Innovation Fund supports activities and use of non-lawyer volunteers who would otherwise not fulfill a grantee's 12.5 percent Private Attorney Involvement requirement under 45 C.F.R. §1614 as long as the proposed project activities are LSC-eligible. The Private Attorney Involvement requirement should not affect, nor should limit, activities proposed for Pro Bono Innovation Fund projects that are otherwise allowable programmatic activities. LSC has recently revised the Private Attorney Involvement requirement.

Subgrants of LSC funds result in LSC restrictions applying to both the LSC and non-LSC funds of the organization receiving the subgrant under 45 C.F.R. §1627.5(d). LSC regulations provide an exception to this general rule when the subgrant is exclusively for activities that meet the substantive requirements of Part 1614 and when the subgrant is for those activities only. In such instances, the LSC restrictions will apply only to the subgrant funds and not the other funds of the subgrantee under 45 C.F.R. §1627.5(d).

If the scope and nature of the proposed Pro Bono Fund subgrant activities with the partner organization meet the current requirements under Part 1614 and the 12.5 percent private attorney involvement requirement, the LSC restrictions will apply only to the subgrant funds. If the proposed subgrant activities do not fit within the current requirements of Part 1614, an LSC subgrant to the partner organization will result in the partner organization's LSC and non-LSC funds being subject to LSC restrictions.

Visit Grantee Guidance for more detailed information about reporting and compliance requirements as well as applicable law.

Awards

Since 2014, Pro Bono Innovation Fund has awarded $18,179,749 to 67 projects in 28 states and the District of Columbia. 

Click here to view award details. 

Submission Deadlines

December: Applicants can participate in an informational webinar for the Letter of Intent process.

January: Deadline to submit Letters of Intent.

February: Applicants are invited to apply, and the online application is available.

May: Applications are due.

June: Grant awards are announced.

October: Grant term begins.