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The Full Value of Our Donors

moreOK, I’ll come right out and say it:  I’m an amateurish and awkward spokesman for the LII, and I often look around to see how other organizations talk about themselves and their donors.   

Yesterday, I ran a Google search with that in mind. The first page of 10 search results contained 8 mentions of money and two of blood (before you worry about what that means, exactly, recall that the Red Cross is a big presence on the Web).  It was a little frightening, in the age of Wikipedia, crowdsourcing, and contributed content,  to see how many organizations see the communities that share their mission and beliefs exclusively as a source of financial support.

It’s true: your support often comes to us as money. We’re very grateful for that. But it means much, much more.  In ways both large and small, you help us to bring law to millions of people for free.  And you remind us that there are people out there, like you,  who care about the same things we do.  That’s a very, very good thing for us — we meet so few of the people we serve, and there are things that analytics and usage data just don’t give us.

Thank you for every bit of that.

The LII is, more than anything else, a creative space — somewhere where it’s possible to try new things.  24 years ago, we started out as a couple of guys who were thinking differently about how legal information could be communicated, and even more differently about who needs legal information and why.   You help us protect and maintain that space, in more ways than one.

You’re one of the few ways we have of finding out what our impact really is.  We can look at logfiles and statistics all day, and while we do learn something from that, it mostly takes the form of dry if impressive statistics — 30 million people used the site last year, but why?  To find out more, we ask you to complete surveys, or answer questions, and a surprising number of you do.   A good few of you have sent us stories over the years that describe in detail what you use the LII for and what sort of impact it has on your life, or on the lives of those that you help in turn.  We’ve talked to a few others (too few) in person, and every time we do we learn something interesting about the effect that open access to law has on real people with real problems. We’d like to hear more about that.

(of course, those stories are also a reminder that your donations are changing things for hundreds or thousands of people)

Others help us out with expertise — and that expertise comes in every size and shape that you can possibly imagine.  Some of our users pay very careful attention to changes in the statutes and regulations — and tip us off when we need to correct something. Others have suggested features; three of our users more or less simultaneously suggested that we link the IRS written determinations to the sections of the tax code that they interpret (one of them was the tax expert for our parent University). Margaret Felts, a long-time LII donor, donated her expertise in environmental law to a fracking-law visualization project we did a couple of years ago.  Frank Wagner, a long-time LII supporter who just happens to have been the longest-serving Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court, mentors the students who write the LII Supreme Court Bulletin.  And many of you have written materials for WEX. As Craig writes elsewhere in this newsletter, we just received 10,000 hours of audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments (and the website that publishes them) as a charitable gift — that’s really big.  But every single one of you who sends us even the smallest correction or question or suggestion improves the site for everyone.

2017 will mark our 25th year of operation — that’s at least a sesquicentennial in Internet time. We’re thinking about what it means to have been around for so long, and where we want to go next.  You have been a big part of shaping that history and you’ll be a big part of shaping our future.  We’d like to know more about what you value about us, what you can imagine us doing, where you would like us to go.  Let us know by writing me.  I promise you it’s going to be interesting.

And once again, thank you for all you’ve done for the cause of open access to law, and for the 30 million people who benefit from the LII’s services every year.