'This is What It's Going to Take'

"I don't want to be your friend. You can't fire me because I don't get paid. I just want to help and I may tell you things you don't want to hear, but in the long run, they'll help," intones Bob Rains at the start of his latest project: devising a marketing plan for the veteran nonprofit Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA).

Mr. Rains says these are always his opening words with a new client. Today, he is holed up in a windowless conference room on the second floor of LAFLA's midtown headquarters, concluding the third and final interview before turning over his proposals to the agency's executive director.

Rains gently grills Rosa Fregoso, a young staff lawyer who he believes has created a groundbreaking assistance program for battered immigrant women. He wants to spotlight the program as a hook for selling LAFLA in the community. "Are there happy clients?" he prods. "Case histories that will tell your success stories?"

Ms. Fregoso laughs and frowns at once, too many images pouring through her mind to choose only one or two. These women are precious cargo to this southern California native and Rains knows they are the key to marketing the program.

"Why did you go into this area of law?" Fregoso answers this question eagerly. "My parents came to this country legally and I didn't grow up in this community." But, she says, she wants to give something back to people who are trying for a better life. The former public relations executive smiles.

"Their personal passion is the key," he says later over lunch. "You have to sell the people so the community will understand who they are and what they can do."

He has completed a draft proposal that he hopes will accomplish several goals: raise the agency's profile in its target community, make donors aware of its existence, and strengthen LAFLA's internal management to function in a new subsidy-free world.

Kathleen Sheldon is executive director of LAFLA, which recently lost $2.3 million of its $6.5 million budget, and faces further deep cuts. She says LAFLA turned to ESC after hearing how much the consultants helped "two of our friendly competitors," other legal services agencies.

"We haven't had the resource to do this sort of public relations, Acknowledging that the work ESC is providing for a $5,000 fee would normally cost tens of thousands of dollars, she says, but once the board realizes how important the work is and sees the ESC report on how to do it, who knows? Maybe they'll find the money."

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