Bruce B. Blackwell, CEO/Executive Director

Bruce B. Blackwell CEO/Executive Director

Bruce B. Blackwell
Strategic Reset Webinar
August 9, 2016

Next to me today is our Foundation President Matt Brenner from the Lowndes Drosdick firm here in Orlando, and on the webinar are several of our board members and past presidents who participated in our strategic retreat where we began to rethink how we move forward after a decade of reduced funding and expenditure of almost all of our $88 million in reserves.

Thank you for taking the time to tune in and learn about where the Foundation is headed with its strategic reset. My hope is that this webinar will provide greater understanding of what we mean by a strategic reset, why we are embarking on it, and how it will make the Foundation and its grantees stronger and more effective in the long run.

We will make a video of this webinar available to anyone who wants to see it. As I have reflected often since coming to your Florida Bar Foundation in a staff capacity two years ago, transparency is a lodge pole that guides all our actions. Thanks to each of you for all you do for the folks you so capably serve daily and have continued to serve for so long. We have been partners in promoting real justice for the neediest Floridians.

Now, first, I want to reiterate that our mission has not changed. Not in the least.

Second, I want to repeat that the total funding available for general support grants in 2017 will remain the same as last year and the year before. So what we are really talking about today is related to how we will allocate funds in 2018 and beyond. In addition, we will talk about some new approaches we hope will make your organizations stronger and better able to compete not only for our funds and LSC funds, but also for grants from other foundations or government sources.

As I am talking, I encourage you to submit, via chat, any questions you may have. As time allows, and as I am able, I will do my best to answer some of your questions at the end of the webinar. Those I don’t get to we will answer later.

We will keep a record of all your questions and use them as the basis for an FAQ page on our website, where we will also post all memos, updates and other pertinent information as we undergo the strategic reset process. And it WILL be a process. This will not happen overnight. We might not have all the answers today, tomorrow, or next week, but our commitment to you is that this will be a transparent process and that it will involve dialog. That is why we are scheduling the one-on-one meetings with general support grantees.

However, I will remind you of what I told you during our teleconference in February of 2015, which is that policy decisions are within the sole purview of the Foundation’s board of directors. Our grantmaking policy clearly states that “grant programs of the Foundation shall be established, modified or discontinued by the board of directors” upon recommendation of our grant program committees. And we do anticipate that this strategic reset will involve significant changes to our grant programs, including their strategic approach and their requirements.

As we already told you, our board voted unanimously at its June 16 meeting to approve the following resolution:

RESOLVED, The Florida Bar Foundation should execute a “strategic reset” and establish itself as not only a source of funds and expertise, but as a strategic leader and catalyst in the cause of increased access to justice for all. Its primary goal in the immediate future should be to serve as an agent of rapid, effective and high impact change.

The board also voted unanimously for the creation of a standing committee for strategic planning. This new committee is being chaired by the Foundation’s Immediate Past President Donny MacKenzie.

This committee will be delving into the many significant ways the world in which we operate has changed in the last decade. Nationally, we are seeing seismic shifts in how legal services are delivered and in the way IOLTA programs and other philanthropic organizations are approaching grantmaking. There is a trend among major foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, toward catalytic philanthropy with a goal of achieving systemic change. Pilot projects that offer scalability and sustainability are one approach to achieving systemic change.

We will be looking at these sorts of trends, including how other IOLTA programs, the LSC and other legal services organizations are adapting. Our strategy is in line with the most recent recommendations and reports from the ABA Commission on IOLTA, the National Association of IOLTA Programs, the ABA Commission on The Future of Legal Services, the National Center for State Courts, as well as the LSC. We are not inventing new approaches, but rather making sure we are staying in step.

Our focus will be on impact. How do we know our funding is having an impact? How can we shape our grant programs to produce maximum impact?

So, as we survey the forest of ideas, we are looking at which trees we should be planting and how. And we are examining what is impeding healthy growth, so that we can remove those things that are holding us all back.

One of the first tasks of the strategic planning committee will be to identify all of our existing policies that are obstacles to our grantees’ progress and determine which ones might need to be eliminated or changed. As an example, we may look at whether our grantees should be allowed to charge sliding fees, which you currently cannot do with our grant funds.

We also will look to align our grant program descriptions with our priorities. We are moving toward programs that:






Picture a pyramid with information and education at the bottom, self-help above that, followed by advice and brief service and then limited scope clinics, and then with complex litigation and policy advocacy at the top. We want to see more legal aid staff attorneys operating near the pinnacle of that pyramid. Devoting most of their time to complex cases and to advocacy that will bring about systemic change. In other words, operating at the top of their licenses. And we want to help reduce time spent on fielding calls, doing intake, and providing brief advice and service by developing more streamlined and user-friendly systems.

In order to realign our grants with these goals, we intend to introduce grant contract requirements such as:

  • Performance Metrics, meaning Key Performance Indicators & Outcomes
  • Networks, Partnerships & Collaborations
  • Business Process Improvement
  • Technology Standards
  • and Best/evidence-based practice


We also intend to introduce other approaches to Funding, such as:

  • Competition
  • Challenge or Matching Grants
  • and Innovation or Pilot Grants


As I mentioned, we are going to be focused on impact:

Impact criteria could include:

  • The NUMBER OF PEOPLE AFFECTED – in other words, solving a problem or changing lives for the better for many individuals or communities
  • PROBLEM-SOLVING – for one or more communities or vulnerable populations
  • EMPOWERMENT – of clients or end-users
  • COLLABORATION and PARTNERSHIP – And this could include other legal aid/pro bono programs, social services, nonprofits, courts, local or state government, private bar, faith-based, education, healthcare, community leaders etc.
  • OUTREACH and
  • BRIDGING THE JUSTICE GAP.- identifying and filling gaps in services and/or populations served

These are some of the criteria we will plan our grant program descriptions and grant contract requirements around. And again, we will be encouraging pilot projects that are scalable and replicable.

Now, that may sound like a lot of new demands. And you can choose to look at it that way, or you can choose to look at it as a framework for achieving maximum impact, both as individual grantees and as a legal services delivery system.

But it’s certainly reasonable for you to ask, what’s in this for us?

So, I’d like to address that for a moment. We do want to make sure we are providing you with new tools and resources as we move forward. I already mentioned that we will work to remove barriers to your progress by revising our policies.

We also have two programs planned this fiscal year to help you build capacity and adapt to change, not just the change we are introducing but the change that is occurring all around us, including the new post-recession interest rate paradigm. The first will be a grant-writing immersion course. Clearly, financial resources are important, and we are not the only funding organization suffering from low interest rates. Non-IOTA funders are as well. So it’s critical that you be competitive when applying for what grant-funding IS available, whether from the Foundation or other sources.

In the spring, we will be offering a Business Process Analysis Train-the-Trainer  program from Seyfarth Lean (part of the Seyfarth Shaw Law firm) which has provided similar assistance and training for legal aids in Illinois and Minnesota. Applying Business Process Analysis, or BPA, will help you increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your organizations. Streamlining operations and adopting continuous improvement techniques will help you get the most from your limited resources. We expect to be able to announce results soon from a BPA project involving a major corporate partner and one of our grantees, and we hope it will be the first of many BPA success stories.

Through such programs we intend to offer you tools and technical assistance that will enable you to be more competitive when you seek funding, more effective and efficient at meeting the civil legal needs of the communities and populations you serve, and better at communicating your successes.

If you study the history of legal services, you will note that the basic service delivery model has changed little in the last century. While we may be short on funding right now, we have major advantages today in technological capabilities and forms of communication – online forms, self-help resources, evolving triage systems and live chat – to name a few. We also have the opportunity to partner on shared goals with other social service organizations in ways that will be truly transformative.

Florida, frankly, has not been leading these innovations. But we will be. We have got to start pushing ourselves to think more outside of our traditional paradigms. And the Foundation is committed to being a driver of positive change.

I hope this overview has given you greater insight into our plans for a strategic reset and what it might mean for you. Again, this will be an ongoing process for some time. We can’t give you all the answers now because we don’t have them yet ourselves. But we will make every effort to communicate openly with you throughout the process and to explain not just what we are doing differently but why.

At this point I’d like to see if there are any questions that have come in.

Click play below to listen to the audio