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Staff Profile: Peter Kopp, Fundraising Director

Peter Kopp

When Peter Martin and Tom Bruce decided to publish legal information for the handful of people on “the Net” back in 1992, neither could have predicted the magnanimity of that decision. Their small research group at Cornell Law School would eventually give millions of people access to the federal law, which their government still fails to provide today.

Over the years, as our programs and impact have grown enormously, our staff remains small. Only a handful of full-time employees conduct research and run a five hundred thousand page-website. Last year, after a decade of dabbling in fundraising, the LII brought on Peter Kopp to explore more sustainable, diverse funding sources. We thought we’d ask him a few questions.

What did you do before coming to the LII?

A lot of things. Most recently, I raised operational support via direct response methods for public broadcasting in Arlington, VA. Before that, I worked in development in the arts and higher education, book-ending the few years I spent teaching kids how to sail small and large boats.

One of those careers is not like the other. What made you decide to return to the harbor?

A few reasons. Although a sailor’s life sounds awfully romantic–and it was, for the most part–I grew tired of feeling disconnected from the world. Also, my child supervision skills had reached their ultimate height after playing parent for three week stretches to a dozen boys and girls living aboard a 50’ sloop, so I had nothing left to prove–or give–in that realm. Plus, the girl I married probably wouldn’t have said yes to getting me 8 months out of the year.

Were you already familiar with the LII before you applied for your position?

No, but it took only minimal research to recognize the important role it plays in society, via its staggering usage statistics. I was very familiar with Cornell, having grown up just 20 minutes outside of Ithaca, and my experience in both online fundraising and higher education development prepared me well for the position. Those things combined — a mission that I could get behind, a familiarity with the parent organization and the chops to make a difference — have made up for my lack of program content-specific knowledge or training. Our success this year demonstrates that.

So you’re returning home. Had that always been the plan, and was this position the deciding factor?

Getting out of DC was the plan. My wife and I decided to move to Ithaca when she accepted an unrefusable offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. When the LII posted its fundraising position just days after she accepted hers, it felt like fate. There wasn’t another job in upstate New York — and probably the country — I would have found more appealing. The LII has formed its solid reputation and substantial impact by efficiently pursuing its mission. I was — and still am — excited to contribute to that effort by building and maintaining relationships with those who value the organization.

Do you have a legal or technical education?

Nope. All three of my siblings went to law school, so getting a legal education was the last thing I wanted after college. At Hamilton College I received a liberal arts education, where I spent most of my time either on or behind a stage. When I wasn’t performing, I was usually writing a history paper. Since graduation, my varied experiences have prepared me to listen and engage with the LII’s constituents to advance its mission, something a law degree or technical training may not have done as well.

What have you been up to in your first year?

I spent the first few months learning about legal information and the role the LII plays. Since then, with the help of several LII staff members and minor strategy and operational tweaks, we raised more net revenue this year from individual and corporate support than ever before. I’ve spent the balance of my time wading through constituent relationship management (CRM) systems and processes — both the LII’s and Cornell’s — to document, update and optimize them for more efficient operation. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there.

What will be your biggest focus in the coming year?

This year the LII will celebrate twenty-five years of helping people access and understand law via the Internet. Broadly, my goal will be to celebrate this milestone in a way that enables our audience to better understand and appreciate the organization behind the mission. As part of that celebration, we hope to establish connections–in the form of sponsorships–with organizations that value our work. For years, we have benefited from advertising revenue to help fund our research and publishing efforts. If we could replace it all with direct, tax-deductible support from corporations looking to make a difference, we would. So, if anyone reading this knows an organization who might sponsor us, they can share that information by emailing

Why does the LII need donor support? Isn’t Cornell well-funded already?

The financial model in higher education has received a lot of press in recent years, for a good reason: college has become prohibitively expensive for many students and their families. Cornell and most other institutions have turned their focus to tuition and scholarship to improve access. Subsequently, ancillary research programs like the LII get bumped down the priority list. Plus, our operational costs only increase as our user audience grows.

So, the LII is more dependent now than ever before on individual donations. We’re fortunate to have so many people out there who care about our work. They’re making a difference. With their help, we’re decreasing our reliance on the law school more every year.

When someone asked a 5 year-old you what you wanted to be when you grew up, was “fundraiser” your answer?

Believe it or not, I had my heart set on being either a politician or a comedian. Unfortunately, I didn’t turn out to be sleazy or funny enough. As I learned how difficult performing could be, I discovered some of the harsh funding realities nonprofit organizations face. I benefited directly from a college scholarship, and I’ve been fascinated with the philanthropic support model and connecting people to causes they care about ever since.

We hear you’re raising chickens. Are you setting a deurbanization trend for your Millennial generation, and should we be worried about hipsters taking to the fields?


No, and no.

LII’s Social Summer

6-ways-to-increase-your-page-views-per-visitorMuch was happening across the country this summer and the Legal Information Institute has the stats to prove it. Thanks in large part to our presidential candidates and professional athletes, 25,672 websites linked the Legal Information Institute as a cited source.

This summer alone we have had over 7 million new users brought to our site. Although a majority of those users come from organic search (thank you, Google), almost 1 million of them have been led to us by referral (thank you, bloggers, journalists and most importantly Social Media). When it comes to referral traffic, social media brings 42% of it to the LII and just shy of 50% of overall new users. On average, we receive 1,500 social referrals a day; however, certain days this summer, we received spikes as high as 50,000 social referrals in 24 hours. The top social network that contributes to this data is Facebook. Below is a list of our mentions on the World Wide Web based on what was happening in the news.

We saw our first major spike of the summer in early July when FBI Director, James Comey recommended no criminal charges be filed against Hillary Clinton over using a private email server. In so many words, Comey’s statement suggested that Clinton did not violate the Espionage Act, which was then viewed over 57,000 times on our website. This decision led to 54,000 Americans quoting, sharing, and writing their opinion on the matter while linking to LII’s reference of 18 U.S. Code § 793. Ultimately this section of the U.S. Code resulted as the third most visited page on our website this summer.

In the second week of August we pick up another spike of 120,000 social sessions, mainly due to Donald Trump suggesting that “Second Amendment people” could prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing new federal judges. When word broke, our entry on the Second Amendment from our Wex online resource, reached second place for the most visited page on our website. Trump’s statement became a major headliner in the news as his suggestion was viewed threatening. Threats against a former President or an immediate family member of a former President falls under 18 U.S. Code § 879, which was linked in news articles and social media outlets generating over 100,000 pageviews between August 9th and 10th.

A third spike occurred from 68,000 social sessions to 36 U.S. Code § 301 – National Anthem. This statute also happens to be the top landing page of the summer. Athletes such as Gabby Douglas and Colin Kaepernick certainly accounted for its sudden popularity. Overall this page has collected 153,000 pageviews and counting as more athletes begin to join in what started as Kaepernick’s solitary protest.

As is evident from above, traffic from social media increases greatly when it comes to trending controversial topics in the news. Links in social media are a classic example of something we have always ardently believed–that the public discourse is enriched and improved by the availability of primary source materials such as the US Code and the Constitution. We are thrilled to be a go-to source for reliable and valid reference material, and your involvement with us helps ensure that will continue to be the case.

The LII & Education

education-clipart-education-clipart-1When law students need to learn what the law says on any given topic, they commonly come to our website for collections such as the US Code, the CFR, the Federal Rules, and Wex. Over the years, however, we’ve come to realize that the education community values our site for a variety of reasons and uses it in a number ways.

For example, we hear from teachers of topics like civics and government and even debate who say our Supreme Court Bulletins are excellent teaching tools to illustrate both sides of the argument when important cases impacting issues like the First Amendment, health care reform, or the death penalty make their way to the Supreme Court.  And speaking of civics and the Supreme Court, we always see a sharp spike in topics related to the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights this time of year as National Constitution Day rolls around.  We know that the audio found at is also popular among educators, and we are looking forward to integrating it with our collections as we move forward in taking over operation of Oyez.

But we’re also a resource in ways that might seem less obvious.  Our tax code is quite popular among institutions teaching in that specialized field, so much so that we’ve begun talking with one graduate school that wants to capture our materials in an environment that will allow secure access during examinations.  We’ve had similar inquiries in the past about our version of the Uniform Commercial Code, which is an important tool not just in law school contracts classes but also in classes for students in fields like banking, accounting, and business.

And it’s not just the words on the page that find value in the classroom.  Educators and academic researchers are interested in you, our audience, as they seek data to help them understand how citizens interact with and understand the law.   Computer science and information science students from such far-flung places as Lapland, Serbia, Spain and South Africa have in recent years taken up residence in our offices to learn from our technical team, and that’s in addition to the graduate students right here in Ithaca whom we regular mentor to help them fulfill project-based requirements in the Cornell curriculum.  

Of course we are thrilled to contribute to the formal and informal education of so many students all around the world.  And, of course, it would not be possible without the involvement and support of people like you.  If you use the LII in the classroom, we’d love to hear from you.  Please feel free to email our Director at