Justice Center aims to broaden support

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — As their needs have escalated, the biggest statewide advocacy group serving North Carolina’s working poor has expanded to try to keep pace with the rising demand for services.

In the past two years, the annual budget of the Raleigh-based North Carolina Justice Center has grown to over $4 million from $2.7 million, and its staff has grown to 42 employees from 28, with five more positions ready to be filled.

Now, in the face of its growth, the Justice Center is creating a new model to secure the resources it needs to sustain itself for the long-term.

This year, for example, foundation support is expected to account for 91 percent of the organization’s operating budget, with the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem contributing $800,000 and the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, D.C., contributing $300,000.

Traditional fundraising generates 5 percent of the Justice Center’s budget, and other income, mainly attorney’s fees, accounts for the remaining 4 percent.

But that income mix has been changing in the two years since the Justice Center hired its first development director.

Individual contributions, for example doubled last year to $100,000 from 2006, and the Justice Center this year aims to raise $220,000 from individuals, says Jill Diaz, director of development.

Still, only 300 individual donors contribute to the organization each year.

And while only five to 10 of those donors make gifts that range from $5,000 to $20,000, most donors to the center make an average gift totaling roughly $100.

“In the past, all fundraising resources focused on foundations,” Diaz says. “But diversification of our funding sources is imperative for any nonprofit.”

To diversify the Justice Center’s funding base, she is working with long-time donors, asking them to identify prospective supporters who may be interested in progressive social-justice advocacy work but may not know about the center.

Spun off from Legal Aid of North Carolina in 1992 because of a federal law that bars organizations that receive federal funding from representing undocumented immigrants, lobbying or suing the government, the Justice Center provides its advocacy work through five programs.

Those include the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, which provides research and analysis on fiscal issues; the N.C. Health Access Coalition, which provides health-care information for consumers and works on policy issues; the N.C. Education and Law Project, which provides information for parents, and works as an advocate in local communities and with state policymakers; the Consumer Action Network, which advocates on issues like the current foreclosure crisis; and the Immigrants Legal Assistance Project.

The Immigrants Legal Assistance Program, for example, teamed up with other groups last year to successfully persuade state lawmakers to require that employers hiring documented or migrant labor provide mattresses in addition to the beds that lawmakers roughly 10 years ago required the employers to provide.

And with a $250,000 grant from the Public Welfare Foundation, the Health Access Coalition will work to increase access to health care for children and low-income people, and to develop a plan for universal health care in the state.

The Justice Center also has expanded through two recent mergers.

One, known as Blueprint, works with advocacy groups throughout the state to promote and market a progressive policy agenda, while the other, known as NC Policy Watch, works as a progressive watchdog on government and public policy.

To tell its story and expand its pool of donors and allies, Diaz says, the Justice Center has sponsored breakfasts in Raleigh and Charlotte, and is planning a series of lunches, as well as its 10th annual “Defenders of Justice” award ceremony Sept. 25 at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.

“The more people who know what we’re doing,” Diaz says, “the more we can get the message out and advocate for the families and people we want to serve.”

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