Name: Paul Friedman, chair
Company: Morrison & Foerster Foundation
Charitable giving highlights: In its 26 years, the law firm’s foundation has given $34 million in charitable donations.
Describe the firm’s philanthropy.
We have a foundation that is 26 years old where we focus on disadvantaged children, at-risk youth, legal services for the poor and access to justice. We focus on charitable giving in the communities where we have offices. Most giving is decided on a local level. We also give to disaster relief. We gave more than $800,000 to the earthquake relief in Japan because a significant part of our firm is based in Tokyo. We also gave $100,000 for Hurricane Sandy relief.
How do you give in the Washington region?
This year in the Washington region, we’ve given $600,000 to nonprofits. We’re one of the few biggest sponsors in the country supporting Equal Justice Works. We recently announced a $1.5 million set of grants that we’ve given in honor of our 25th anniversary last year. The Washington region was a beneficiary of some significant grants including the Children’s Law Center, Build and the Levine School of Music.
You’ve been at the foundation for 11 of the 26 years. How has it evolved over the years?
As the firm has grown, the budget has grown. We have a lot more money to work with. Also we’ve become more focused on having a mission. And now, because it’s a fair amount of work, we have a professional, full-time manager of our foundation, which the firm funds. It doesn’t come out of the foundation.
How is the foundation funded?
Roughly 1 percent of the profits of the partners goes to the foundation. People from all of our 15 offices donate to the foundation, and that adds to our funds. As the firm grows and becomes more profitable, there’s a larger allocation of dollars to the foundation. We’re one of the first law firm foundations in the country and one of the best funded.
What is the grant process?
We’re most interested in groups that are nominated by people at the firm that are personally engaged with the group. If we get a cold call or request for a grant by mail or e-mail and there’s no connection to anyone in the firm, it’s less likely to get funded. To increase the likelihood, nonprofits should get someone in our firm involved as a volunteer or board member. That will get our attention more than someone that doesn’t. Each market gets a budget. The people in each office make the funding decisions.
Any recurring challenges with the current giving model?
It really is balancing the resources we have.
How are you navigating through that?
We do fairly significant due diligence on our big grants and require reporting on how it goes. We have board members that are involved with our grant recipients. We try to keep our eye on it to make sure we’re getting what we envisioned and hoped for. With the large impact grants, we require at least annual reporting that the money was spent as anticipated and promised. What’s the impact and how is it going?
— Interview with Vanessa Small