Endowment FAQs

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What is an endowment?
It is an investment fund set up to last in perpetuity, where the principal remains intact and the proceeds generated are used for a specific purpose.

Why are endowments important?
We all need money for our own immediate needs – a roof over our heads, food on the table and other essentials of daily life. But we also know we must plan for our future by putting money into savings, 401ks or other investments — money that eventually will return interest that we can depend upon to meet future needs. Nonprofit organizations establish endowments to provide permanent sources of funds that can be used for decades to come, revenue that is stable and reliable amid the uncertainty of other revenue streams.

What different options do I have for supporting the Endowment?
Your gifts to our five-year fundraising initiative, Reach 20, will provide a stable way to generate $1 million a year or more to make an even bigger difference for people living in poverty — and for all of us who want to live in fair and just communities. We welcome one-time gifts, pledged support over time, and bequests or other remembrances in your estate plans.

Why is an endowment important for civil legal aid?
Ups and downs in the economy and fluctuations in political will always present a barrier to stability for traditional sources of funding for civil legal aid. The Endowment for Equal Justice is the only savings and investment account for civil legal aid in Washington. This legal safety net ensures that people today as well as future generations of Washington residents can address legal crises before they threaten their health, safety and ability to provide for their families.

How are my gifts to the Endowment stewarded?
Your donations are thoughtfully and professionally invested and overseen by a board of directors comprised of seasoned attorneys, financial experts and other committed volunteers. Generous gifts from people like you already have fueled the principal of the Endowment to $15 million.  Since 2014, the Endowment has provided $1.5M to help people resolve civil legal crises that can disrupt their lives. Our bold goal for Reach 20 is to increase the Endowment to $20 million by 2020 so we increase our annual support to at least $1 million a year.

How are the funds generated by the Endowment distributed?
Proceeds are provided each year to the Legal Foundation of Washington, which in turn grants them to 23 civil legal aid organizations statewide. Created as a nonprofit organization by the State Supreme Court, the Foundation is the largest provider of private unrestricted funds for civil legal aid organizations throughout Washington. The Endowment for Equal Justice’s longstanding, close relationship with the Foundation ensures that your gifts are distributed wisely and efficiently.

Who benefits from civil legal aid?
Civil legal aid organizations serve people living in poverty whose basic needs are threatened by civil legal challenges. A family left homeless by an unscrupulous landlord.  A senior whose savings is wiped out by a scam artist. A paralyzed veteran denied his health care benefits. A mother fighting to protect her children from their abusive father. Unfair policies that allow juvenile mistakes to adversely affect good people for a lifetime. The Endowment protects people’s safety and rights by providing a sustainable source of funding for legal services they could never afford on their own.

What kinds of organization receive funding?
Nearly two dozen nonprofit civil legal aid organizations provide caring, expert help to low-income people throughout Washington. Each year, these organizations directly assist 30,000 people — individuals and families who need help the most, typically those whose annual incomes are at or below 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines. That’s less than $28,000 a year for a family of four. Supported organizations also work to change policies that can entrench unfairness or discrimination into the system, advocating for reforms that help lift people out of poverty.

In what ways does support for civil legal aid help people and communities long-term?
Civil legal issues affect basic human needs like housing and health care and can perpetuate poverty. That means your support gives low-income people a path toward financial stability and self-sufficiency, lifting entire generations out of poverty. In addition, justice for all truly benefits all. When families’ civil legal issues are resolved, they can devote their energies to their jobs, their families and their communities. They can participate more fully in our economy and our democracy. Your gifts to the Endowment create a more vital and equitable community for us all.teamchild-story

How do Endowment gifts foster systemic change?
The respected, effective organizations we fund advocate for fair and just policies at the local and state level — for example, defending people’s rights to be treated without discrimination when they apply for housing or jobs, working to protect public benefits from unfair cuts or restrictions, or advancing legislation to safeguard non-violent juvenile offenders from discrimination by sealing their records. Because government funding cannot be used for advocacy work, your support is critical to advancing lasting change that impacts thousands of individuals and families. More than 90 percent of Endowment proceeds go to organizations that are ineligible for government funding. The more money we raise for the Endowment, the more stable and profound an impact we can make on upstream policies that can prevent people from drifting into poverty or civil legal trouble to begin with.

How has funding for civil legal aid evolved through the years?
When the Legal Foundation of Washington was established by the State Supreme Court in 1984, IOLTA funds — Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts* — provided most of the revenue needed to support civil legal aid. The recession, coupled with a decline in interest rates, dramatically reduced IOLTA funds from $9 million to just $2 million a year, making it much more difficult to provide needed funding and to plan for the future. Declines in IOLTA and other sources of revenue to fund civil legal aid make your unrestricted support for the Endowment and Reach 20 incredibly important to secure the future of civil legal aid funding.

*When attorneys handle nominal or short-term client funds that cannot earn net interest for their clients, they place these funds in pooled, interest-bearing accounts. The interest earned on these accounts is then provided to the Foundation to fund civil legal aid.