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How and Why to Start and Market Your Own Non-Profit Organization

Here’s one of the best-kept secrets in lawyer marketing. Few attorneys take advantage of it. But those who actively pursue it can gain significant competitive advantages most attorneys only dream about. Plus, they provide much-needed help to people in their community.

If you see lawyers making key contacts by working in non-profit organizations—and if competing lawyers have established themselves with existing groups—you can set up your own non-profit organization and gain a big marketing advantage. As founder and spokesperson for your group, you benefit in at least four ways:

Benefit #1: You gain high media visibility because publication editors and broadcast producers write more articles to benefit non-profit causes than to help lawyers attract clients.

Benefit #2: You improve your image in the community. Rather than being perceived as a lawyer in search of new clients, you become known as the lawyer who is working hard to benefit the people you want to help.

Benefit #3: You gain referrals from allied professionals, including those you have invited into your organization and those who know you through the media. Outside referral sources send you clients because you are earnestly working to help people. Inside referral sources—those on your advisory board—send clients to you because they recognize your skill, they respect your desire to help people, and they benefit from the publicity they gain through your mailings and meetings.

Benefit #4: Because you founded the non-profit organization, you are the gate-keeper. This means you invite into your group only those professionals you believe will benefit your group. You can invite competing attorneys to join you, or screen them out, as you wish.

One key to attracting clients is to market the non-profit group, instead of—or in addition to—your law practice. As your group grows, you’ll meet qualified prospects through media publicity, through your group’s website and at monthly meetings. When you find prospects who want to better understand their legal rights, you invite them to your law office, which is a separate entity from the non-profit organization.

In a moment, I’ll walk you through the steps I recommend for starting your own non-profit. But first, let me tell you about a non-profit organization—and introduce you to my friend Don Keenan, a personal injury trial attorney based in Atlanta.

In 1993, Don established the Keenan’s Kids Foundation. You’ll see it featured on his website www.keenanlawfirm. com under the tab “our giving back.”

Don has achieved extraordinary visibility not only through his law practice, but also through his remarkable work with children. Please take a moment to visit Don’s website at This will help you see how you might use a non-profit organization in conjunction with your law practice.

No question, Don is a gifted attorney. Even without this non-profit organization, he would be highly successful. His Keenan’s Kids Foundation gives him another way to actively support causes that are important to him. Plus, his ongoing visibility builds momentum that benefits both his foundation and his law firm.

Now, here are steps you can take to start your own non-profit organization.

Where To Start

  1. Identify the type of prospective clients you want to attract to your law practice. List the problems they face and how your non-profit organization could help them find solutions.
  2. Identify referral sources who can direct people to your group. For example, neurosurgeons could refer clients with spinal injuries, psychologists could refer family law clients, and CPAs could refer cases of securities fraud. If you focus on business clients, you might invite management consultants, chamber of commerce executives, and business-related professionals into your group.
  3. Ask your referring professionals for the names of existing groups, if any, that currently help your target audience. Then call and ask for their information. Don’t be discouraged if groups already exist. This proves that people want these services. Metropolitan areas often have several non-profit groups that relate to the same subject.
  4. Go to other group meetings to see if they are well attended. Identify subjects the group doesn’t cover and services it doesn’t offer. These are opportunities for you. And if a large number of people need help, you could even duplicate the other groups’ efforts and services and reach more people in your community.

Forming Your Own Group

  1. Create a name for your organization that clearly describes your subject. The Sacramento Foundation for Dangerous Products. The Philadelphia Center for Traumatic Brain Injuries. The Denver Alliance Against Insurance Bad Faith. Don’t gloss over this point. The name you choose has more importance and lasting value than any other decision you’ll make.
  2. Create whichever non-profit entity fits your needs. A simple non-profit corporation may be enough. Or, you might pursue non-profit status with the IRS if you want to accept tax-deductible donations. If the non-profit group sponsors your law firm’s seminars or activities, you might benefit from non-profit postage rates and non-profit advertising rates. Also, charitable groups sometimes get reduced rates for meeting and seminar rooms—and are invited to take part in activities where for-profit entities are barred.
  3. Invite key professionals who have an interest in your group’s purpose—or who could be referral sources—to sit on your organization’s advisory board. Then invite these people to speak at your monthly meetings, submit articles for your group’s website, and take part in other group activities.
  4. Compile a comprehensive mailing list of your organization’s referral sources, advisors, members and prospects. If you attract prospects who are comfortable with email, compile a list of email addresses.
  5. Compile a mailing list of local media. These include news directors at radio and TV stations, producers of radio and TV talk shows, and editors at print and online publications.
  6. Create written materials that offer advice to the people you want to reach. Ask your referring professionals and members of your advisory board to contribute information to your written materials. For example, an accident victim might need help with the medical, legal, financial and psychological aspects of his case. Keep your written materials broad-based so you address all the person’s needs. You can narrow in on their legal/medical concerns when you meet them at your next monthly meeting.
  7. Create a list of resources for people who have problems. You might also include names and phone numbers of professionals on your advisory board so they attract new clients as well.

How To Market Your Non-Profit Organization

  1. Offer to mail or email written information about your subject to anyone who contacts your office. This helps you identify potential members and build your mailing list. You can offer these materials through public service announcements, advertising, newspapers and online publications, interviews on the TV news and radio talk shows, direct mail to interested parties and referral sources, and your website.
  2. Offer seminars presented by respected authorities and include fliers about your seminars in the packets you mail. Start by inviting your advisory board members and referring professionals to speak. If the geographical area you serve is large, then offer webinars for people who cannot attend your meetings in person.
  3. Make sure you, as the group’s legal advisor and founder, take the opportunity to speak on legal issues affecting your group. Also, announce that you’re always available to discuss legal matters, even if you are not the featured speaker at that meeting.
  4. Start a telephone answer-line staffed by volunteers to offer advice and resources to people who need help. The answer-line could be available only a few hours each week or 24-hours a day. Then promote the answer-line so you receive calls from your target audience. If the person calls another group, you may lose a prospective client. So you have a lot to gain by attracting the call before anybody else.
  5. Send a free monthly newsletter by hard-copy or email to everyone on your mailing list. Your newsletter could include a president’s message, articles by referring professionals, a question/answer column, and notices of meetings and events. Also, you can offer your free educational materials and ask for volunteers to help with your mailings and answer-line.
  6. Register your group with information and referral agencies, chambers of commerce, libraries, and other places where people go for information. Tell them the resources you have available, including your written materials, monthly speakers, support groups and newsletter.
  7. Set up information booths at malls and trade shows. A booth for a non-profit group that helps people solve problems creates a much better appearance than a booth for an attorney in search of new clients.
  8. Send a memo of expertise to the media. Invite inquiries about your organization. Offer your group and its professionals as resources when editors have questions. Ask editors to refer people who need information and services.
  9. Mail and email news releases to the media at least monthly. Enlist the media’s help to educate the public, invite people to meetings, quote upcoming speakers, introduce your answer-line, offer your free newsletter and announce future events. Invite reporters to attend your monthly meetings so they can write articles about the speaker’s subject. The more exposure you get, the more prospective clients you attract, and the more value you provide to people in the community.
  10. Set up a website, where you post information and resources available to your target audience, announce monthly meetings, and introduce members of your advisory board with their biographies and photos.
    Also, post articles written by advisory board members, news releases that you’ve sent to the media, and back issues of your newsletter. In most cases, the more information you have on your website, the higher search engine rankings you’ll get. Also, make search engines aware of your website through their submission procedures.
  11. Contact organizations and professionals who have an interest in your subject and ask them to include a link on their website that takes people to your group’s website. The more links you have coming back to your site from other respected websites, the higher your search engine ranking. The list of marketing ideas is nearly endless. The point is to offer as much as you can in helpful, charitable ways so the media supports your efforts and gives you publicity. And the more people you help, the more pleasure you get from assisting persons with problems.

In practice, here’s one example of how this might work:

You want to attract clients with brain and spinal injuries. You form the Kansas City Foundation for Brain and Spinal Injuries, with you as the founder and chairperson. Next, you form an advisory board, so you invite as members prominent physicians, psychologists, and anyone else you believe has contact with the patients you want to reach.

Then you send news releases to all local media (print and broadcast) announcing the formation of your group and offering information to people you can help. As a result, you gain publicity throughout the geographical area you serve.

Next, schedule monthly meetings, asking one member of your advisory board to speak at each meeting. Two weeks before each meeting, send news releases to the media announcing the meeting, inviting interested persons to attend, and going into detail about the speaker and what he or she will present.

It’s likely your news release or an announcement will wind up in print, perhaps in a few publications. Naturally, your speaker is thrilled to be the subject of an article in the newspaper and, perhaps, interviews on radio and TV.

When the meeting begins, you’re the host. You open with remarks, introduce new members and visitors, conduct business and introduce this month’s speaker. Even when you aren’t the guest speaker, you play a prominent role at each monthly meeting because you are the chairperson.

Each month, as a result of your news releases, your advisory board gets publicity because of their knowledge, skill, judgment and experience. And, occasionally, you are the monthly speaker, addressing legal topics of interest to the families and friends of victims with head, brain or spinal injuries.

Bottom line: You are the person with the highest profile because you are the group’s founder and spokesperson. You surround yourself with professionals who can help the people you want to reach. You invite onto your advisory board professionals who can refer clients to you. And, if you wish, you can include on your advisory board other attorneys who practice in your area of law.

From then on, it’s all marketing. The higher your group’s profile, the more people you can help and the more new members you’ll attract. At least some of those new members will be qualified prospects for your legal services.

I’m not suggesting that you use the non-profit organization as a “front” for your law practice. Instead, I’m suggesting that you form and operate an honest-to-goodness non-profit organization that benefits a specific group of people. The fact that you are a key player in the non-profit group— since you are founder and president—means you benefit from building relationships with everyone you meet. This includes the professionals you invite onto your advisory board and the relationships you build with the people you help, which can lead to lawyer/client relationships.

I can count on one hand the number of lawyers I know who have started their own non-profit organizations. This certainly doesn’t mean they don’t work. Instead, it emphasizes the number of opportunities available for you.

A legitimate non-profit organization can easily gain ongoing media publicity. All you do is maintain an education-based marketing program that attracts members and recognized professionals to your organization. And send out news releases and newsletters so your group maintains a high local, statewide or nationwide profile.

So... if you want to attract a specific type of prospects— and if you want to help those people solve their problems— start your own non-profit group. With good marketing, your group could attract new clients from the many prospects you meet and the referral relationships you build. Plus, you’ll make a substantial difference in people’s lives, a feeling that you’ll enjoy for a lifetime.

Trey Ryder

Trey Ryder specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers. He offers three free articles by e-mail: 11 Brochure Mistakes Lawyers Make, Marketing Moves Most Lawyers Miss, and 13 Marketing Misconceptions That Cost Lawyers a Fortune. To receive these articles, send your name and e-mail address to and ask for his free packet of marketing articles.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPractice Management

About the Author: Trey Ryder specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers. He offers three free articles by e-mail: 11 Brochure Mistakes Lawyers Make, Marketing Moves Most Lawyers Miss, and 13 Marketing Misconceptions That Cost Lawyers a Fortune. To receive these articles, send your name and e-mail address to and ask for his free packet of marketing articles.

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