Message From The HBF Chair
Strengthening the Foundation
The Houston Bar Foundation (the “HBF”), the charitable arm of the Houston Bar Association (“HBA”), and the source of funding for the Houston Volunteer Lawyers (“HVL”), has had a tremendous year. The fund overseen by our Board Members continues to provide a solid foundation that enables us to provide valuable pro bono services in our community.
A few facts about the HBF. The HBF has funded over $12 million toward pro bono and charitable causes. It currently has an endowment of $10.9 million.
The HBF has four primary funding sources: 1) The Harvest Celebration ($723,000 raised, $571,000 net) 2) Money from the HBA ($20 from each dues paying member, plus $70,000 for a total of $280,000) 3) The Fellows Program, which has been providing about $70,000 per year; and 4) income from the $10.9 million endowment (historically, 100% has been reinvested).
The needs of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program have been steadily increasing. The HBF Board recently voted to grant $890,000 to the HVL for the next fiscal year. This significant increase of over $200,000 requires the HBF to raise additional money. We plan on raising the contributions to the Harvest Celebration and the Fellows Program, but we are also considering using income from the endowment fund.
The endowment fund was started in 1990 with an initial contribution of $550,000. Over the last 25 years, the HBF has contributed to the fund in all but five years. The current debate by the HBF Board is how much, if any, should be withdrawn from the fund to cover current pro bono needs. The Board wants to see the fund continue to grow, so the debate centers around how much of the income and growth of the fund should be spent, and how much should be reinvested.
New sources for funds are being discussed, and we welcome your ideas. We also welcome your ideas about how to increase our current funding sources.
It’s obvious to me that there is a gap between the needs for legal services in our community and the ability of the existing system to meet those needs. Also, our society is becoming increasingly complex, in technology and structure. Even attorneys find it difficult to keep pace with the forms, regulations and legal restrictions that affect an expanding portion of our lives. But for those without such a background – those that may be poorly educated, those who have English as a second language, or the elderly – often find these legal requirements overwhelming. For such individuals, a knowledgeable helping hand can be life changing.
The Harvest Celebration was a big success this year and helped to highlight our pro bono services. We also raised a record amount from this event of $723,000. We highlighted our generous Harvest Celebration underwriters with an ad we placed in the Houston Chronicle and Houston Business Journal. It was a thrill to be able to Chair the Celebration with Carter Crow, and we’ve undertaken efforts to get more underwriters for the 2015 Harvest Celebration, and to ask current underwriters to provide larger donations. (Unfortunately, we still lag behind Dallas in this area).
The annual HBF Luncheon is all set for February 26, 2014 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Our format this year will be new – we will have an interview with Joe Jamail. I promise it will be interesting.
The important work of the HBF is only possible through the generosity of our members. I encourage everyone that is not a HBF Fellow to become one. The annual support of our Fellows, together with the generosity of the individuals, law firms, corporations and other organizations that regularly contribute to the Foundation help us make a difference in the community. This is the compassionate side of the practice of law, something that makes us proud.
The pro bono work of the HBF serves a real need in the Houston area, and I was honored to be the Chair this year. The cause endures, and I look forward to supporting the HBF in a variety of ways going forward.
John Eddie Williams
Houston Bar Foundation