Nonprofit executives gather for the kickoff of the bootcamp. (Photo from Justine Cowan.)

Pro Bono Partnership Atlanta kicked off a bootcamp for Black-led nonprofits last week at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, who provided the space free of charge. 

Justine Cowan, senior corporate counsel for Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta heading the program, said Black-led nonprofits often face issues of funding and being short-staffed — particularly during the early stages of development. This was the motivation, in part, for providing the free legal bootcamp.

“Our bootcamp is designed to address the gaps in resources by providing mentorship and legal training to Black nonprofit executive directors,” Cowan said.

A study from the NonProfit Times supports this; their study found that “86.5 percent [of Black-led nonprofits] report always or often have trouble accessing a large, diverse number of funding sources, and 72.7 percent always or often face the challenge of identifying or cultivating new funders”. 

That same study found that “more than half (52.9%) always or often face the challenge that their organization would shut down if they lost one or two key funders,” among other findings.

Particularly, Cowan says, the program aims to help emerging leaders and smaller nonprofits  — either new executive directors or new nonprofits, or both. 

“We cover just about every issue you can think of regarding running a nonprofit organization. A nonprofit organization is really, in a sense, a small business. So, we’re teaching the leaders the skills to be able to effectively, efficiently and legally operate a nonprofit,” Cowan said. “IRS rules, fundraising laws, government filings, risk management, financial management, volunteer employment management, contracts — just about everything you can think of, we’re covering.” 

Cowan, a former executive director herself for 13 years, said she hopes to pass along everything she wishes she had known when she began in the nonprofit sector.

She also hopes to clear up common misconceptions that many nonprofit organizations have when starting — like the idea that nonprofits must scrimp and save all funds and pour them solely into their programs.

“The nonprofits that we see grow and thrive create an infrastructure and invest in their leadership and policies & procedures, and that allows them to run smoothly, which in turn allows them to effectively focus on their programs,” Cowan said.

A photo from the kickoff of the bootcamp. (Photo from Justine Cowan.)

Cowan said the idea that funders want them to allocate all their funding into their programs is false, too, and that they’d rather see these organizations invest their resources wisely — not the same thing as solely program funding with organizational infrastructure.

The bootcamp is in its third iteration, with Pro Bono Partnership Atlanta launching the pilot version of this bootcamp with just a handful of organizations last year.

This time, the bootcamp is back and refined, hoping to serve more people. For this session, they received about 40 applicants and accepted about 15, Cowan said. Though the application process is competitive, it is completely free, as is fitting of the name Pro Bono.

The organizations that were accepted are organizations that typically serve low-income communities in Georgia and address mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, mentor youth, aid incarcerated or previously incarcerated individuals, environmental justice, women’s issues, and more.

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