Legal Aid Infrastructure & Innovation Grants Background




Applicants must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible to apply:

  • Funds are available to 501(c)(3) nonprofits that provide civil legal aid, including (but not limited to) qualified legal services projects and support centers as defined in Sections 6213 to 6215, inclusive, of the Business and Professions Code.
  • Applicants must provide civil legal services to indigent persons living at or below 200% FPT; “Indigent” is as defined in Section 6213(d) of the Business and Professions Code.
  • Special focus shall be given to:
    • projects that provide services to rural or underserved immigrant communities, regardless of citizenship status;
    • projects that involve meaningful partnership with community-based nonprofits



  • Total Funding: $4,950,000
  • Expected Number of Grants: 20-30[1]
  • Grants Size: $25,000 – $250,000 per project[2]
  • Anticipated Median Range: $75,000 – $125,000
  • Grant Period: The grant period is 12 months, beginning March 1



Project funds must be used to support the (1) infrastructure and/or (2) innovation needs of legal services in civil matters for indigent persons as defined by individuals living at or below 200% FPT. Innovation and Infrastructure project examples will be shared on the CalATJ website; please check for updates. Infrastructure and innovation examples are available to provide applicants with ideas, but do not represent an exhaustive list of what is allowable.

Infrastructure: Similar to capacity building, infrastructure refers to foundational elements that help a nonprofit reach new levels of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future. Infrastructure projects may include planning, governance, staffing, evaluation, financial management, legal accountability, communications, administrative functions, and technology.    Infrastructure can also include leveraging relationships to access resources, exchange ideas, address shared issues, and collectively problem-solve in an effort to build capacity, both for a nonprofit and for the broader network, with the common goal of addressing pressing social concerns.[3]

Innovation: Innovation is not necessarily a new project. It could be an expansion project, or improvements to a unique service delivery model. Innovations in legal aid change the affordability, accessibility, or effectiveness of practices or tools used to provide high-quality legal assistance to low-income persons. This can include approaches for using technology or partnerships in legal services delivery; enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing technologies or partnerships so that they may be better used to increase the quality and quantity of services to clients; or replicating, adapting, or providing added value to the work of prior technology projects or partnerships. Innovation efforts can be applied to programs, products or devices, partnerships, communications, or operating processes. Innovation results in improvements to service delivery, quality of legal work, and managerial practices. Innovations often incorporate technology, but can also be reflected in partnerships, service delivery models, or frameworks.[4]


Subgrants to legal aid organizations or community partners are encouraged. Applicants that are applying for a grant and are also a subgrantee of another application must demonstrate that the separate grants will not fund the same activities.


Grantees will be required to complete a preliminary 3-month progress report and annual evaluative report, quarterly fiscal reports, and may be required to participate in site visits. Additional information may be requested based on individual circumstances. These reports will help with advocacy efforts for continued funding.


  • Q: What are the allowable administrative costs for the grant budget?
    • A: Grantees may allocate up to 15% (less than or equal to 15%) of the grant amount for administrative costs of the project. 
  • Q: Should I report our partner as a subcontractor (consultant or vendor) or a subgrantee?
    • A: If the partner is not a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, report the partner as a subcontractor. If the partner is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt organization, it is up to the applicant to identify the partner as either a subcontractor or a subgrantee. In addition to having legal and accounting ramifications for your organization, it will affect how you apply and report. If you structure the relationship as a subgrant, the subgrantee is agreeing to help you meet project deliverables. Therefore, you will need to state the subgrantee’s staff and budget in the application, and report on its progress toward deliverables during the grant year. The subgrantee will be bound by the terms and conditions of the grant agreement. By contrast, a subcontractor will provide goods or services, and generally is bound by contractual requirements. If you name the partner as a subcontractor (or consultant, or vendor), you will need to demonstrate that before you selected the subcontractor, you met all your procurement policy requirements. 
  • Q: Can applicants request more than $250,000?
    • A: The Commission may consider grants in excess of this amount if they incorporate exceptional innovation or partnerships, or infrastructure projects that serve the legal aid network broadly.
  • Q: Will applicants be able to apply for these funds again next year?
    • A: Contingent upon continued funding, organizations will have the opportunity to re-apply for continuation funding in the subsequent year.
  • Q: What happens if a grantee doesn’t spend funds down within the 12-month grant period?
    • A: Carryover of funds may be requested in extenuating circumstances; carryover must be expended before 6/30/2023.
  • Q: Are non-profit organizations that are not legal services organizations eligible to apply?
    • A: If you have a dedicated legal services program that provides civil legal aid to indigent persons, and can demonstrate funds would support that work, yes.
  • Q: Can law school legal clinics apply?
    • A: Provided the law school is a nonprofit, has a dedicated legal services program that provides civil legal aid to indigent persons, and can demonstrate funds would support that work, yes.
  • Q: Will grants for fundraising expenses be funded?  
    • A: The funds cannot be used to cover fundraising expenses, such as to hire a development director or to host a fundraising event. Funds can be used to cover other infrastructure or programmatic needs, such as for website development or for a communication campaign that might also support fundraising efforts. 
  • Q: Can funds be used for an endowment, e.g., an endowment to retain fellows after the fellowship ends, and before another source of funding to maintain the position is identified?  
    • A:  Because these are State Funds, grant funds cannot be used to fund an endowment, which may or may not be spent down during the grant term.  However, a grant proposal to build the workforce by creating a cohort of paid summer fellows (e.g., summer of 2022), including a training curriculum for that cohort that could be used in future years, could potentially be funded as either an innovation or infrastructure project. 
  • Q: Can an organization submit multiple LOI? 
    • A: An organization may only submit one LOI as the lead applicant.  E.g., a Law School will only be able to submit one LOI, not one LOI per clinic. The organization may be an identified partner in additional applications.
  • Q: Can an organization include multiple smaller projects within its LOI? 
    • A: The LOI is designed for applications that describe one cohesive project.  If the organization can state a cogent explanation for how smaller components of a project fit together to create a cohesive whole, the Commission may fund all or part of that project.
  • Q: What data does an organization need in order to demonstrate that its clients are at 200% of the Federal Poverty Threshold, or otherwise meet eligibility requirements? 
    • A: Because the information available will depend on the nature of the project proposed, the Access Commission will rely on organizations to indicate how they are demonstrating that clients meet income eligibility guidelines. 
  • Q: Can grant funding be “passed-through” to non-legal community partners?
    • A: Grant funds can be sub-granted to community-based organizations who are not legal aid providers provided that it furthers the proposed project’s purpose. The sub-granted funds must help the grantee move its proposed innovation or infrastructure project forward. Sub-granted funds that are passed through purely for the benefit of the subrecipient will not be funded.  
  • Q: What are “civil legal services”?
    • A: Civil legal services include professional services normally provided by a lawyer, and similar or complementary services of a law student or paralegal under the supervision of a lawyer.  Civil legal services can be direct services to clients, or policy advocacy.  The definition of “civil” is expanded to follow SB211 to include legal services related to expungements, and record sealing or clearance proceedings not requiring a finding of factual innocence and infractions.  
  • Q: Can grant funds be used for updating a website? 
    • A: Yes, updating a website could be an innovation or a project to enhance infrastructure, depending on the nature of the described activity. 
  • Q: Can grant funds be used to hire a consultant evaluator? 
    • A: Yes, grant funds could be used to hire a consultant for evaluation. For example, funds could be proposed to evaluate ways to improve an organization’s intake process, database management, or program delivery.  
  • Q: Do organizations need to be IOLTA or LSC-eligible to apply? 
    • A: Organizations need to provide civil legal services to persons at or below 200% of the federal poverty threshold, or to seniors or to persons with certain developmental disabilities pursuant to Business & Professions Code §6213(d).  Organizations do not need to be either IOLTA or LSC eligible.    


[1] A portion of dedicated funds will be set aside to ensure smaller programs have access to the funding opportunity.

[2] Grant awards will generally range between $25,000 – $250,000, however the Commission may consider grants in excess of this amount if they incorporate exceptional innovation or partnerships, or infrastructure projects that serve the legal aid network broadly.

[3] Adapted from the National Council of Nonprofits.[4] Adapted from PATH per Boston Consulting Group and Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant Program.