Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 Vermont Bar Journal, Fall 2017, Vol. 48, No. 3 - Page 33

by John Marchica, Esq. VBF Spotlight on the Grants Process During a recent Vermont Bar Foundation (VBF) meeting, the Board decided to pub- lish an article on the process of applying for and receiving a grant from the Vermont Bar Foundation. Since I have no experience applying for grants, I thought writing the article would be informative and fun. Dur- ing my research, I discovered an amazingly efficient, hard-working group of individuals behind the grants scene: the Grants Com- mittee members of the VBF. This Commit- tee has the task of recommending alloca- tion of grant money to non-profit charita- ble organizations looking to better the lives of the disadvantaged. The leader of this esteemed group is Amy Berger, and her sidekicks are Matthew Anderson, Amber L. Barber, Jesse Bugbee, Lon T. McClintock, Charles Merriman and Kane Smart. In 1982, the Vermont Bar Association created the VBF, a non-profit fund-raising organization to help fulfill the promise of fair access to affordable justice. This orga- nization was funded through the collec- tion of short term interest from attorneys’ IOLTA accounts and other fund-raising ef- forts. Since 1982, the VBF has raised and distributed more than $15,000,000 to or- ganizations providing services that support access to justice in Vermont, specifically to non-profit programs that provide legal ser- vices to disadvantaged Vermonters or that educate the public about the courts and le- gal matters. On average Vermont’s IOLTA accounts now generate $850,000.00 each year. How the money is generated could fill an article of its own –but the funds are essentially the interest earned on attor- neys’ client trust accounts. Grant applicants must determine the type of grant they are applying for and confirm that their organization provides the type of services the VBF funds. The VBF website,, describes the two different grant-types awarded, and that most applicants ap- ply for grants through the Competitive Grants Program. The Competitive Grants Program is comprised of grantees chosen through an annual application process. The VBF also has a Non-Competitive Grant program, where a bulk of the IOLTA money goes, to fund program such as Vermont Le- gal Aid, Have Justice Will Travel and other providers of direct legal services to disad- vantaged Vermonters. Who receives funds? The Vermont Su- preme Court has set guidelines on who may receive the IOLTA funds and how the all IOLTA funds are to be used. The pre- ponderance of the funds (90%) must be used to support programs or organizations that provide legal services to disadvan- taged Vermonters. The organization pro- viding legal services must do so under the supervision of an attorney or by a licensed attorney. Any remaining funds (10%) may be used for public education related to the courts and legal matters. The VBF IOLTA Grant Application Guide- lines require all applicants to file a Letter of Intent by January of each year. Once the applicant submits its Letter of Intent, all new applicants are required to attend an Applicant Conference Call which will be scheduled by the Grants Committee. The conference call is optional for repeat ap- plicants. According to Grant Committee member Lon McClintock: The purpose of this call is to orient each applicant to the grant process, including the strict deadlines the VBF adheres to.  It advises the applicants to expect a designated VBF person to contact the applicant with questions members of the Grant Committee have about their application.  It also gives the applicants an opportunity to ask questions about the process and about the information needed to sup- port their application. Meeting the Application requirements, the filing deadline is set for a date in March. All the guideline information can be found at The Grant Ap- plication Guidelines first asks applicants to provide a Cover Sheet with their appli- cation and the website provides detailed list of what must be included in the Cov- er Sheet. Along with the Cover Sheet you must include a Grant Narrative. The Grant Narrative contains the requesting organiza- tion’s program history, financial need, pres- ent resources, and tax status. This is where the grant applicant can explain how the or- ganization will serve low-income Vermont- ers, address underserved populations. The applicant will be required to pro- vide a copy of their upcoming budget. The Committee is looking to establish how the grant money is being used. They are look- ing for detailed information on sources of income and all costs associated with run- ning your organization. The Application Evaluation is where the rubber meets the road. Thinking it would be nice to have an insider’s view of how the Committee Members reach their deci- sions, I asked Grants Committee Member Jesse Bugbee what he looks for in a can- THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL • FALL 2017 didate. Said Bugbee: “[I] look for the can- didates that will benefit the largest num- ber of people. In other words, a grantee whose scope and reach will give us the big- gest bang for our buck.” I asked attorney Amber Barber what the Committee is look- ing for, and she said: The Grants Committee evaluates the ex- tent to which PROGRAMS: a. provide direct legal services to low- income Vermonters; b. address underserved needs or pop- ulations; c. avoid duplication of services in the service area; d achieve broad geographic or demo- graphic benefits, or, if local, have the potential for state-wide applicabil- ity; e. demonstrate innovative approaches or new ideas; f. have potential for independent con- tinuity, or use challenge grants or other fund-matching arrangements to augment Foundation funds; g. demonstrate community support The Grants Committee evaluates the extent to which APPLICANTS: a. have a history of service reflecting clear ability to deliver quality servic- es; b. demonstrate cooperative efforts between service providers in their area; c. request funds for program rather than capital expenses; d. have sources of income in addition to Foundation funds. Attorney Barber explained that each ap- plicant’s need and wants are all different and that it takes a combination of differ- ent factors to decide which organization re- ceives a grant. Attor ney Barber further ex- plained, “The Grants Committee uses the criteria as consideration in deciding among the various applicants….  Among many other areas, I look for a grantee who can deliver direct legal services for the disad- vantaged, who can do so in a creative and productive way, and I also try to ascertain where the services will be provided in the State of Vermont, with an eye toward en- suring grant funds assist areas of our State where people have the most need. I also asked her what were the most com- mon mistakes made by applicants. Amber stated: 33