Here’s what you need to know about applying to get your nonprofit or community group pro bono (free) legal services.
- STEP 1: Determine if your organization’s legal needs align with the services we offer.
- STEP 2: Determine if your organization is eligible for services based on our eligibility criteria.
- STEP 3: Before You Apply – Required Documents
- STEP 4: Submit an application and pay the nonrefundable fee.
STEP 1: Determine if your organization’s legal needs align with the services we offer.
Please note our services are intended for organizations registered in Washington state. While we do everything possible to match organizations with volunteer attorneys as quickly as possible, we want to be transparent about timelines. It can take a couple weeks to a couple of months, sometimes longer, to find an attorney if your organization is eligible for our services.
Types of Legal Issues Communities Rise helps with:
- Incorporation and application for tax exemption status under IRS Code sec. 501(c)(3).
- Nonprofit Governance – Preparing and revising bylaws; creating articles of incorporation; creating conflict of interest policies; creating whistleblower policies, and creating other corporate documents and policies; and advising on good corporate governance.
- Maintenance and Compliance – Advice on maintaining 501(c)(3) status, including unrelated business income and compliance with lobbying restrictions.
- Taxes – Advice regarding federal, state, and local taxes.
- Contracts – Drafting and advising on business contracts.
- Employment – Preparing, reviewing and revising personnel policies, employment contracts, and confidentiality agreements.
- Real Estate – Help with property leases and purchase and sale agreements.
- Intellectual Property – Assistance with registering trademarks, and advising on copyright protection, license agreements, or website-related agreements. However, we do not provide assistance on patent matters.
- Risk and Liability Assessment – Assistance with risk and liability assessment including waiver and release forms, and general advice on insurance coverage.
- Federal Tax-Exempt Status – Assistance applying for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
What Communities Rise does not do:
- Litigation Matters – CR does not provide assistance on litigation matters.
- Individual Claims against Nonprofits – CR does not provide assistance to individuals with their pursuit of claims against nonprofit and community organizations.
- Legal Matters for Individuals – CR does not provide assistance to individuals in their personal legal matters in areas such as family law, immigration, foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc.
- Legal Advice Over the Phone – CR is not a “hotline” service. We only provide legal assistance upon receiving a written application. However, we are available to answer questions about the application process over the phone or by email.
STEP 2: Determine if your organization is eligible for services based on our eligibility criteria.
Start-Up Organizations (those looking for assistance with creating a new nonprofit or getting 501(c)(3) status):
To be eligible for free legal services, a start-up organization must demonstrate that it:
- Wishes to be registered in Washington state
- Satisfies the above requirements for an “Existing Organization” and
- Has potential viability by providing:
- A mission statement,
- A list of the board of directors,
- 3-year budget,
- Business plan that clearly describes the program services and/or activities that the new organization will provide.
Existing Organizations (Nonprofits or CBOs that already have 501(c)(3) status):
To be eligible for free legal services, an existing organization must demonstrate that it:
- Is registered in Washington state
- Has a primarily charitable or community-based purpose, and
- Is a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, and
- Is unable to pay for legal fees without significant impairment of program resources, and
- Seeks legal assistance on a business or organizational matter, but not on any legal issue related to current or expected litigation.
STEP 3: Before You Apply – Required Documents
Your startup organization must provide materials necessary for applying for 501(c)3 status. Please gather the following in DOC or PDF format before starting the online application process.
Without these items your application will be considered incomplete. Filing for 501(c)3 status with the IRS is costly and time intensive, and we want your organization to be prepared to be placed with a volunteer attorney and be set up for success.
- A list of board of directors. The board should include at least three committed volunteers who are willing to donate time, money, community connections and/or other resources to the startup efforts. These volunteers should be unrelated by blood or marriage and should not anticipate becoming paid staff of the organization in the first year.
- A three-year budget. A budget is important to know how much money it will cost to start-up and run your nonprofit. Prepare a three-year budget that clearly shows how the nonprofit will fund startup costs and sustain ongoing expenses for the first three years. Note that the IRS requires a three year budget to apply for 501(c)3 tax-exemption. Please see a budget template here.
- A business plan. The business plan does not have to be prepared in any specific way, but needs to include the following information:
- Your nonprofit’s mission statement.
- Identifies the population to be served.
- Describes the need or problem to be addressed, and how that need was determined.
- Identifies what other organizations are doing the same or similar work in the community, and how the proposed organization differs from those other organizations.
- Articulates clearly the program or services that the nonprofit will provide and how it will provide those services (answer “who, what, where, when, why, how”).
- Identifies specific fundraising sources to sustain the organization through its
startup phase. Please see resources for business plans.
Organizations already incorporated in Washington State must provide all the above materials and also additional documentation of:
- Articles of Incorporation & Certificate of Incorporation from the Secretary of State
- Copies of legal documents related to your particular request for legal assistance (e.g., leases, contracts, correspondence, tax notices, employment handbooks, etc)
- All from the list above for Starting Orgs
STEP 4: Submit an application and pay the nonrefundable fee.
Eligible Existing and Start-Up organizations, may submit applications two ways:
- Mailing a completed application and the $100 non-refundable fee to the address below.
- Emailing a completed application to firstname.lastname@example.org and mailing the non-refundable $100 fee or requesting an invoice via email to pay online (a 3% service fee will be added).
Once a completed application and the application fee are received, our screening committee will review the materials and verify eligibility for legal assistance. If your application is approved, you will receive a notice by email.
If your application is approved, Communities Rise will use its best efforts to place the matter as soon as possible. Communities Rise cannot guarantee it will find a volunteer or how long it may take for an attorney to volunteer.
For Start Up Orgs: Please keep in mind that the process to complete the IRS application for 501(c)(3) status can take anywhere from 2-4 months to complete the IRS application with your attorney, and then several more months to receive your IRS notification letter. The IRS fee for filing for 501(c)(3) status is $275.00 for Form 1023-EZ and $500 for Form 1023. The nonprofit organization is responsible for paying for all filing fees. See IRS FAQ About Applying for Tax-Exemption.