Some people can do it on their own. Others find a lawyer very useful. There are legal referral services which sometimes can help locate low-cost or even free assistance.

Generally, anyone who can write clearly and follow directions can, with input from volunteer leadership, draft all the documents necessary. Then, you only need a lawyer to review things twice: Before you send the packet to the state and again (with the additional documents required) to the federal government. Many people will feel a need for legal review of the documents at those times.

Best deal

Ask a lawyer friendly to your cause to do it pro bono (free). This assumes you have tightly drawn documents to give him/her so not many changes would be expected.

Next best

Call your local Bar Association pro bono or similar committee, United Way, Community Foundation or friends at other established nonprofits for names of civic or philanthropy-minded lawyers who might do it for free.

Failing that

Negotiate a reasonable fee – say, $1000 or less.

How else can we find a lawyer or accountant who’s not part of our organization to do some work for free?

Depends on the work and the community. For lawyers, call your local Bar Association for referrals. Some of them have lawyers who donate a limited amount of time to certain local nonprofits, depending on the activities of the nonprofit. Your local United Way may also be able to refer you.


Try the local CPA society. For example, Chicago has a group call CPAs for the Public Interest. You might see if your community has something similar.

The National Office of Accountants for the Public Interest is at:

1012 14th Street NW, Suite 906, Washington, DC 20005

Phone: 202-347-1668

They can tell you whether there is a nearby chapter of the group.

Most state bar associations and CPA associations have committees that focus on the nonprofit side of the professions’ work. Another avenue to identify potential sources of local assistance – paid or pro bono – would be to contact the chair or one of the members of such a committee.

Legal help

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See also…

Nonprofit Law and Fundraising