The Powerful Communities Project, a joint venture of the WSBF and the WSBA, is an initiative that provides grants for projects that help ensure access to legal representation and services throughout Washington state, especially for client communities experiencing poverty or other forms of marginalization. Eligible applicants include nonprofit legal organizations, pro bono and legal aid programs, Minority Bar Associations, and community-based organizations. Grants can be used to help jumpstart new community-based projects or expand existing programs that benefit people who are denied justice due to systemic oppression.
The program’s goals are to enable grantee organizations to develop or expand meaningful partnerships with communities that have been denied justice
The program’s goals are to enable grantee organizations to develop or expand meaningful partnerships with communities that have been denied justice, encourage public service by WSBA members, and implement the Washington State Plan for the Coordinated Delivery of Legal Aid to Low-Income People.
The program creates pro bono opportunities for attorneys by awarding grants to legal nonprofits, or nonprofits working with Qualified Legal Service Providers in Washington state. Many of the projects include free legal clinics or opportunities for consultations with attorneys.
This program strongly aligns with the NCBF mission, in that it is funded largely by WSBA members, engages legal professionals as volunteers, and funds legal aid organizations who are carrying out legal aid projects throughout the state of Washington. We currently award ten $5,000 grants per year, but hope to expand the reach of this program. The majority of the funding for these grants comes from personal contributions made by WSBA members.
Many of the administrative and programmatic functions are implemented by WSBA staff, and project grants are funded and paid directly by the WSBF
The Powerful Communities program has been a great partnership between our two entities – many of the administrative and programmatic functions are implemented by WSBA staff, and project grants are funded and paid directly by the WSBF. This arrangement allows for overhead expenses to be covered by WSBA, so that all fundraising done for this project by WSBF is available to be used for grants. Grantees are chosen by a panel that includes WSBF Trustees, WSBA staff, and community members with lived experience.
Examples of recently funded projects include workshops for people facing onerous Legal Financial Obligations, legal clinics for undocumented immigrants, advocacy for transgender people, and estate and legal rights assistance for Native communities. Grants are awarded to projects that work to ensure legal assistance is available to everyone, especially our state’s most vulnerable communities, regardless of financial circumstances, geography, immigration status or other systemic roadblocks. Here is a link to the webpage for this program; an article from the WSBA Bar News is attached.
The program is very replicable, and can easily serve as a model for other organizations.
By allowing grantee organizations to tell us what the needs are in the communities they serve, we are putting the focus back on the communities and supporting the incredible work done by nonprofits and legal aid organizations throughout our state.
To date, 59 grants totaling almost $184,000 have been awarded to projects serving clients throughout Washington state. As this program is poised to enter its sixth year, the NCBF Partnership for Success Award will enable WSBF to continue expanding the reach and impact of this program.