Dear Oklahoma Bar Foundation Fellows, Community Fellows and Friends:
The holiday season is a time of celebration, reflection and appreciation of our many gifts of family, friends, clients, colleagues and for our legal profession. As I reflect on my year as president of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation, one word comes to mind: gratitude. I am grateful for my year as president of the OBF and have appreciated the opportunity, along with the other OBF executive officers and the Board of Trustees, to fulfill the OBF mission of lawyers transforming lives through the advancement of education, citizenship and justice for all.
During 2013, the OBF celebrated the attainment of many milestones. The OBF had its beginning in 1946, making it the third oldest bar foundation in the United States. 2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the OBF Fellows Program, first introduced at the OBA Annual Meeting in 1978. Since that time, the endowment of the OBF has grown significantly through the implementation of mandatory IOLTA in 2004, annual Fellow contributions, and other donations. In addition, in 2013 the OBF Court Grant Program, which was started in 2009 through a cy pres award, celebrated 5 years of grant-making with total court grants awarded to 31 Oklahoma district courts for purposes such as courtroom computers, sound systems, Wi-Fi, video systems, court-reporting and other technology equipment.
This past year also marked the completion of the OBF’s multi-year project to launch its new website www.okBarFoundation.org. The website allows online contributions to the OBF, online payment of Fellow dues and contains up-to-date information about the OBF and its programs. Please take a moment to review and bookmark the website on your computer.
As lawyers in our state are aware, interest on lawyer trust accounts (IOLTA) revenues flow directly to the OBF and historically have been a major source funding for the OBF. In the height of higher interest rates on lawyer trust accounts, IOLTA revenues in the mid-2000s provided the OBF with the opportunity to make grants to law-related charities across the state totaling more than $1,000,000 annually. With the extended low-interest rate environment predicted by the Federal Reserve to remain at near zero through the end of 2014, the IOLTA revenues for the OBF are down some 80%. The fallout from this reduction in funding has resulted in the OBF being able to make total grants of only some $460,000 this year including court grants and scholarships, down from the high of over $1,200,000 in 2007.
To maintain the charitable support our grantees rely upon and desperately need to meet growing demands for law-related services, the OBF has worked to identify new sources of fundraising. These efforts led to the inception in 2013 of the OBF’s new Community Fellows Program for county bar associations, law firms, sections of the OBA, banks, corporations and other organizations. The Community Fellows Program gives non-individual donors the ability to participate collectively as a group and receive recognition as an annual Community Fellow. The Community Fellows Program has three levels of giving: Patron ($2,500 or more per year); Partner ($1,000 – $2,499 per year) and Supporter ($250 – $999 per year). We believe the Community Fellows Program will grow to become one of the stalwart components of the OBF budget in future years through the generous support of our numerous organizational partners who are signing up to work with the OBF to achieve its mission.
What is true about families in general is also true about the Oklahoma Bar Foundation and the Oklahoma Bar Association… we are better together. The OBF is the charitable arm of the OBA and every year, the OBF and OBA work collaboratively together on many programs. The OBA and OBF share a building, but also so much more, and the OBF is grateful for its long and continuing relationship with the OBA. Many OBF Trustees are current or former officers, members of the Board of Governors or active committee members of the OBA. Further, the staff of both organizations, headed by the OBF’s dedicated, experienced and wonderful executive director, Nancy Norsworthy, and the OBA’s executive director, John Morris Williams, work hard to keep both boards on track to fulfill our missions. In September, the OBF Board of Trustees and the OBA Board of Governors jointly participated in the OBA Day of Service project in support of President Stuart’s “lawyers giving back” initiative, which was followed by a joint meeting and joint dinner for our boards. The OBF is the charitable heart of the OBA, and a “lawyer giving back” is what every Fellow of the OBF does each time he or she writes a donation check. Together, the OBF and the OBA, along with our members, Fellows and friends, can achieve more than either organization ever could alone.
Finally, a significant benchmark achievement for the OBF in 2013 was surpassing the $11 million threshold for total grants made since the OBF came into existence. Take a moment and think about that. Over the course of its history the OBF – through the dollars donated by lawyers like you and me – has given away over $11 million dollars to organizations like Legal Aid, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, Tulsa Lawyers for Children, teen court, domestic violence support and counseling organizations, mock trial competitions, and many others. We estimate that the OBF grants impact the lives of more than 90,000 Oklahomans each year, meaning that over the course of OBF’s history of grant-making, the lives of millions of Oklahomans have been touched and improved. Lawyers and Fellows, acting in partnership through the OBF, make a difference!
I hope that the OBF makes you proud to be a part of the Oklahoma Bar. If you are not currently an OBF Fellow, please join over 1,700 Oklahoma lawyers by becoming a Fellow. If you have completed your initial pledge as a Fellow, please become a Sustaining or Benefactor Fellow and continue your support for the OBF’s charitable causes of promoting justice, providing law-related services and advancing public awareness and a better understanding of the law.
Thank you for a great year and best wishes from the Oklahoma Bar Foundation for a healthy and prosperous 2014.
Susan B. Shields, 2013 OBF President