In one word: a challenge! Most people go to work without thinking about where their paycheck is coming from. Maybe you clock in. Maybe you fill out a timesheet. All the money comes from one place – donations (for some nonprofits), income from clients, etc. – so you probably never give it a second thought.
That’s not the case at GLS.
On top of being up to date in their respective legal fields, our staff also has to understand the different grants that we receive, who they can help with those grants, what their grant goals are, and what kind of documentation they need to collect for each grant they are allocated to. Sound confusing? It definitely is!
Let’s start at the beginning. If you’ve never worked at a nonprofit, you may not know what a grant is. A grant is financial assistance from state, federal, or local agency to implement a social service program. It does not have to be paid back, unless you don’t do what you said you’d do with it. Why are we grant funded? Because GLS wants to be able to provide services for clients for free, and if we didn’t have grants, we couldn’t pay our staff’s salaries.
Grants are amazing – they really enable GLS to make justice accessible for all those who need it. On average, a nonprofit earns about 35% of its overall revenue from grant contracts. GLS earns 98% of its revenue from grants. What does this mean? Just that we have to be very careful about how we bill!
GLS does not have “private fees for services” and thus must make up the deficit with additional grant funding.
Here’s what careful billing looks like:
A staff member goes into our online case management system to record time they have spent with a client. In the timekeeping section of the system, they record the amount of time spent and link it to the client. Then they must decide which grant to code the time under. Easy? Not really. There are currently over 35 different choices in the grant section.
For the family law and immigration units, most staff have two or three grants to choose from. But for the housing and financial stability teams, staff may have up to seven or eight grants they can choose from. This means they must know a little bit about all of their options. Some grants are only for seniors. Some are only for clients from a specific city or zip code. Grants can have different end dates, so while they may bill to one grant one day, the next week, it could be gone as the contract has expired. In the same regard, a new funding code might pop up one day and they will have to either research it themselves, ask the admin team, or wait until their next staff meeting to hear about the details.
For example, GLS currently has a grant from Senior Citizens Services to serve senior clients in Pinellas with COVID related housing issues. We have another grant from The Jerome and Mildred Paddock Foundation to serve seniors in Sarasota with general civil legal aid issues. We also have three separate United Way grants through two different United Ways, serving Pinellas and Sarasota Counties. They each serve different clients – one is for seniors and the other two are for clients of any age experiencing consumer and financial stability issues.
In addition, each grant has different requirements regarding how many clients we serve and what kind of documentation we collect from them. Approximately 99% of GLS clients earn under 250% of the federal poverty level. To accurately report this to funders, we must collect income documents. Some clients have no income. Some have never had to navigate recording their income before. Many times, our paralegals have to work with the client to find creative solutions to these issues. They do a great job helping ensure grant compliance for us from the moment the client walks through the door.
It’s a complicated process and our staff navigate it with a lot of grace and patience. To help, the admin team creates an “allocation” chart at the beginning of each fiscal year. This approximates how much time each staff member will want to spend on each grant. With 41 staff members, the chart is quite extensive!
More than fifty columns with lots of formulas … every grant that pays staff and each staff member’s allocation to the grant. It’s 20+ pages across when printed on regular paper!
Not all legal aid offices are like this. The single largest source of funding for legal aid offices is the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which each year receives an appropriation from Congress. GLS does not have LSC funding, which enables us to serve undocumented individuals and returning citizens. It also means we have to make up that deficit with other funding, and we are so thankful for the agencies who enable us to do that. GLS has had the support of several funders long-term and is grateful to have deepened several new relationships since the pandemic began in March.
In addition, we are so thankful to those who have donated to GLS since the stay at home orders were issued in March. Your support helps give GLS flexibility to meet new community needs and keep our staff and clients safe while continuing in our mission to provide equal access to justice.