If you see lawyers making key contacts through their work in non-profit organizations -- and if competing lawyers have already established themselves with existing groups -- you can set up your own non-profit group and gain a big marketing advantage. As founder and spokesperson for your group, you benefit in four ways:
- You gain high media visibility because newspaper editors write more articles to benefit non-profit causes than to help lawyers attract clients.
- You improve your image in the community. Rather than being perceived as a greedy attorney, now you are known as the lawyer who is working hard to benefit whatever group you want to help.
- You gain referrals from the professionals you have invited into your organization. Referral sources send you clients because you are earnestly working to help people and because you help your referral sources get publicity through your monthly meetings.
- Because you founded the non-profit organization, you are the gatekeeper. This means you invite into your group only those professionals you want and, if you choose, you can screen out lawyers who compete with you.
The key to attracting clients through your non-profit is to market the non-profit group, not your law practice. As your group grows, you'll meet qualified prospects through media publicity 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.
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 organization could help them find solutions.
2. Identify referral sources who can direct people to your group. For example, psychologists might refer family law clients. CPAs and financial advisors could refer cases of securities fraud. Neurosurgeons could refer clients with spinal injuries. If your focus is business clients, you invite management consultants, insurance agents 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 groups relating 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
5. Create a name for your organization that clearly describes your subject. The Scottsdale Foundation for Head Injuries. The Philadelphia Center for Business Development. The Denver Alliance Against Consumer Fraud. Don't gloss over this point. The name you choose has more importance and lasting value than any other decision you'll make.
6. 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. Also, your choice may help you qualify for lower postage and advertising rates, as well as reduced rates for renting meeting rooms.
7. Create a computerized mailing list of your organization's referral sources, advisors, members and prospects. If you attract hi-tech prospects, compile a list of e-mail addresses.
8. Create a computerized mailing list of local media. These include news directors at radio and TV stations, producers of radio and TV talk shows, and editors at newspapers and magazines.
9. Create written materials that offer advice to the people you want to reach. Ask your referring professionals to contribute information to this brochure. 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 concerns when you meet them at your next monthly meeting.
10. 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 too benefit from new business.
HOW TO MARKET YOUR NON-PROFIT
11. Offer to mail written information about the subject to anyone who calls. This helps you identify potential members and builds your mailing list. You can offer these materials through public service announcements, advertising, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews on the news and radio talk shows, and direct mail to interested parties and referral sources.
12. Offer seminars presented by respected authorities and include fliers about your seminars in the packets you mail. Start by inviting your referring professionals to speak. (This, of course, includes you.) Also, announce that you're always available to discuss legal matters, even if you are not the speaker at that particular meeting. Often, you can use meeting rooms at libraries, hospitals and community centers for little or no cost because your group is non-profit.
13. Start a telephone answer-line staffed by volunteers to offer helpful advice and resources to people who need help. The answer-line may be available only a few hours each week or 24-hours per day. Then promote the answer-line so you receive calls from your target audience. If the person calls another group, you may lose the referral. So you have a lot to gain by attracting the call before anybody else.
14. Send a free quarterly newsletter to everyone on your mailing list. Your newsletter should 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.
15. 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.
16. Set up information booths at malls and trade shows. A booth for a non-profit group attracts people who have problems and creates a much better appearance than a booth for an attorney offering advice in search of new clients.
17. 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 in need of information and services.
18. Mail news releases to the media at least monthly. Use the media to educate the public, invite interested parties to meetings, quote upcoming speakers, introduce your answer-line, offer your free newsletter and announce 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 you and your group remain in the public eye.
19. 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.
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 all the publicity you want.
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 decide to form an Advisory Board, so you invite as members prominent physicians, psychologists, and anyone else you believe has contact with patients who could need legal services.
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 substantial publicity throughout the geographical area you serve.
Next, you schedule monthly meetings, asking one member of your advisory board to speak at each meeting. Prior to each meeting, you send news releases to the media announcing the meeting, inviting interested persons to attend, and going into detail about the speaker and what he/she will present. It's likely your news release 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 make opening remarks, conduct any business you wish, and introduce this month's speaker. Even when you aren't the guest speaker, you are still a prominent player at each monthly meeting because you're the chairperson of the organization.
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 founder and spokesperson for the group. You are the only attorney on the advisory board because you're on the board of directors. So, naturally, you invite only those people whom you think will refer clients to you to be on your advisory board, and you can choose to invite -- or not invite -- competing lawyers into your group.
From then on, it's all marketing. The higher your group's profile, the more new members you'll attract. And new members to the group equate to prospects for you.
I'm not suggesting you use the non-profit only as a pretense to gain clients. Instead, I'm suggesting you form and operate an honest-to-goodness non-profit organization that benefits a certain group of people. If you want this group to provide a marketing benefit for you, then you want the group to attract people who are your prospective clients.
A legitimate non-profit organization can easily gain ongoing media publicity. All you have to do is maintain a marketing program that attracts members to your organization and send out news releases so your group maintains a high local, statewide or nationwide profile.
So... if you see that other lawyers have already gained key positions in existing non-profit groups, start your own. With good marketing, your group could make a substantial difference in the lives people with problems, and, at the same time, you'll attract new clients and increase referrals to your practice.