Lawyers and Charities

A great opportunity for a new direction

Lawyers and Charities

The charitable sector may not be top of mind when someone mentions alternative careers in law. And yet, charities are regularly involved in complex legal and financial matters. They provide an interesting and growing opportunity for those looking outside the traditional legal profession. Better still, there are a broad variety of roles within that sector that are well suited to individuals with a background in law.

Registered charities are subject to strict compliance rules. This is particularly evident in day-to-day activity regarding gift acceptance and receipting. Charities engage with donors who are making large gifts within complex tax planning structures. These gifts can be both inter vivos and testamentary in nature. Staff work closely with donors and their advisors at every stage of a donation. Employing experts with an in-depth knowledge in this area provides a professional advantage to the charity. They can confidently enter into conversations with donors about any sort of gifting scenario. For lawyers with finance and/or tax experience, this can be an ideal opportunity.

In addition, as beneficiaries of testamentary gifts, charities are also engaged at all levels of estate administration. From name confusion in the charitable sector to disinherited family members to will validity issues, charitable gifts can be subject to all sorts of complicating scenarios. In fact, donors can be particularly private about their charitable giving intentions. This can, in turn, lead to more opportunity for confusion when a gift is realized. With an aging population and a corresponding increased transfer of wealth, charitable estate gifts are likely to be on the rise. More and more organizations are looking to employ individuals with a background in this field.

In Canada, registered charities include private and public foundations as well as charitable organizations. These groups increasingly work together to ensure donor intentions are fulfilled. As such, charities are generally involved with the giving or receiving of grants. Foundations look for expertise in developing and maintaining their grant programs. Staff manage portfolios that involve consulting with prospective applicants, assessing submitted proposals, making recommendations and overseeing reporting. Conversely, other charities are regularly involved on the applicant end of the spectrum. They look for staff to maximize their impact through increased grant funding. The research and analytical skills possessed by lawyers are an excellent fit for these roles.

Finally, lawyers with management backgrounds also have a range of skills well suited to leadership roles in charitable organizations. Executives within charities need to maintain a close relationship with their Board. They develop organizational plans and policies based on compliance rules and current philanthropic trends that help achieve charitable goals. So there is often room for upward career movement within a charity as well.

One thing is abundantly clear: charities need professionals. Larger organizations may retain in-house counsel to address these various issues. And smaller charities often rely on members of their Board for assistance and advice. But many charities develop an alternative internal staffing structure. Experienced and knowledgeable staff members are regularly sought for roles involving complex gift procurement, estate administration, grant program oversight, board liaison activity, compliance conduct and more. A background in law provides individuals with the knowledge and experience necessary to excel in these sorts of positions.

Charities offer an interesting alternative for lawyers looking to make a change. They provide an opportunity for a continued connection to some traditional areas of practice but with a completely new perspective. And, it must be said, that a career in philanthropy is never short of inspiration.