Pro Bono Innovation Fund
The Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) provides grants to LSC grantees for civil legal aid projects that support new, robust pro bono partnerships through collaboration, innovation, and replication of effective practices.
The Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) offers grants to collaboratively engage more lawyers and non-legal professionals in pro bono service and address gaps in legal services and persistent challenges in the pro bono delivery system. Since its creation in 2014, the Pro Bono Innovation Fund has invested more than $30 million to 106 projects in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The PBIF program offers three categories of grants: Project, Sustainability, and Transformation.
In March 2011, LSC’s 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. The fund has received increased funding almost every year since its creation and now receives $4.75 million.
PBIF Grant Types
Project Grant Description
Sustainability Grant Description
Transformation Grant Description
Planning Grant Description
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 providing either direct or non-direct client services. 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.
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.
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.
Planning Grants are an opportunity to receive six months of funding to assess an organization’s pro bono program. Pro bono program assessments provide organizations the opportunity to identify challenges and develop a long-term vision for pro bono. The Planning Grant allows organizations to complete an assessment of their pro bono program, without the requirement of engaging in a long-term transformation effort through a PBIF Transformation grant.
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.
Check out the links below to learn more about the Pro Bono Innovation Fund’s current grant cycle, past awards, and model practices.
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.
Should you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to the PBIF team.