Free events lead to a revenue boost for the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York.
In 2017, the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York found that fewer and fewer members were coming to its events. That’s when Executive Director Eric Lesh decided to stop charging for events, hoping to create more engagement. He got it, along with something unexpected.
As attendance rose, so did the association’s ability to get sponsorships. “The engagement we’ve seen since we started making it free has been amazing,” Lesh says. Some of the area’s larger law firms that wanted to engage with the group’s members and supporters took notice.
“We get sponsors for [continuing legal education (CLE)] and sponsors for events,” he says. “We’ve found law firms that will sponsor events at bars, where they will get together and talk without programming.”
Lesh has made it a priority to tout the work the group does in providing volunteer legal services and fighting against legislation that impinges on the rights of LGBTQ citizens. The organization also focuses on bringing together younger members with more established lawyers for networking.
We get support from people who care and see the value of our work.
“What younger people are realizing is you can’t really build a network online,” Lesh says. “To the extent that this bar association can serve as a place where judges and law students and young lawyers can come together with a big firm picking up a drink tab, without the need to wear a suit and tie, it frees up folks to feel they can make a more long-term connection.”
Getting people from large law firms to participate in events has been key to increasing sponsorship dollars. “We get support from people who care and see the value of our work,” Lesh says. “We’ve been able to do really meaningful, impactful work, and at the same time, we are hip and fun.”
One example of mixing meaningful work with a fun vibe is the bar’s law-firm-sponsored, end-of-year CLE class covering key LGBTQ court decisions. “No one pays, everyone gets free drinks and food,” Lesh says. “It’s as much a networking piece as it is a CLE piece. Everyone feels a sense of community.”
Since the association stopped charging and showed law firms the value of the organization, sponsorship has soared. “We really center the work that we do: the weekly legal clinics, the help line, the legislative activism, the communication with our members,” Lesh says. “We raise more money now that we don’t charge for events. Our revenue has doubled.”