Monday, September 7, 2009

TLC: Who Feeds The Cash Cow?

As of June 2, 2009, the Trial Lawyers College had, for the year 2009, received about $110,000 from the college's top 50 donors. The gifts ranged from $100 to $50,000. Undoubtedly, there were more gifts given by folks who have yet to make the top 50. The 50th person on the list had lifetime gifts totalling $20,744.94, a quirky sum.

The college once had the goal of raising $10 million as a means of becoming self-sufficient. As of March 31, 2009, the college had total net assets of $2,201,696. As we have noted elsewhere, this does not include the value of the real property, which is owned by the Spence Foundation and rented by the college subject to a revocable lease.

Fund-raising is an important part of what goes on at TLC events. I watched some of the auction of Spence memorabilia this past month at the 80/15 event. (Indeed, I did more than watch. I bid a bundle on Spence's old roll top desk, and still wish I hung in there to complete the purchase.) A couple of board members sat watching the bidding with the grim fascination of the warden in Cool Hand Luke. I kept waiting to hear a throaty drawl croak "The problem here is a failure to contribute." Cough up the love, people!

I am told that the summer class of 2009, for example, pledged $400,000 in donations. Collecting all that will be difficult. It is easy to make promises amid the see-sawing emotions wrought by saying good bye to newfound friends. The hat also gets passed at regional events.

There are plenty of folks who have given $50,000 or more since the college was founded. But there is concern that the regulars are tapped out, I am told. That may be true. Only four of the top 10 contributors have anted up thus far this year.

Cynics contend that big contributors can buy their way onto the board. There is no evidence of that. Only two of the top ten donors are on the board. But, surprisingly, of the thirteen lawyers on the current board of directors, only five made the top 50 list. Gerry Spence, who recently relinquished his board seat to become CEO of the tribe, ranks number 11 on the list of 50, and third if included among the list of board members. (The Spence Law Firm, however, contributed a sum sufficient to place it in the fifth place on the top 50. It appears last to have contributed in October 2002.)

I was a little surprised to see board members under-represented on the list of top contributors. Leadership is often best practiced by example, after all. Jude Basile, the new president, shows a meager sum, which, if annualized, comes to something less than $2,000 for his 15 years involvement with the college. According to his board biography, Basile obtains 7 and 8 figure verdicts and settlements for his clients. Did someone say give until it hurts?

Board members making the top 5o are: William Trine, R. Rex Parris, John Zelbst, Carl Bettinger and Jude Basile. (And, Gerry Spence, the new CEO.)

Another fun fact to know and tell: Each donor has an identification number. I am not sure how the numbers are assigned. They range from number 2, for a name I recognize to be that of an old timer, to 2705 for this year's $50,000 donor, a person who is neither former student nor staff.

I suspect each former student has a number. I don't know mine, but I'd like to petition for 666. I mean, after all: I am so pleased to meet you; guess you know my name.