Category: Case Story

Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC)


“Bryan Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, said: ‘The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.’ And LAJC believes that in their core. These are some passionate people.”

– Angela Ciolfi, LAJC’s Executive Director


LAJC believes in using every method of advocacy available in tandem with a community layering model to build deep local relationships and work alongside the clients and communities they serve. LAJC has organizers who proactively go out into the community to be close to what’s happening and what the issues are, and attorneys are expected to be out in the community as well. At the same time, LAJC is working on a national level, challenging national policies with their immigrant advocacy and immigrant rights’ programs. And they’re creating models for what advocates can do in other states, such as their challenge to drivers’ license suspension for unpaid court cost fines. They’ve seen multiple lawsuits in other states modeled after theirs, and serve on the steering committee of a national campaign taking on the issue.



Involvement with CNE



About LAJC

In 1967, a group of Charlottesville attorneys and law students founded the Charlottesville-Albemarle Legal Aid Society – which would become LAJC – in response to the need for civil legal assistance to those who could not pay for services. In 2017, LAJC celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing legal services in Central Virginia and battling poverty and injustice by solving critical legal problems for individuals and communities. They then use what they learn from these efforts to identify, investigate, and attack broader systemic injustices. LAJC provides a full range of services to their clients, including services federal and state governments choose not to fund, by utilizing a mix of individual representation, group and class litigation, community organizing, policy advocacy, and media relations. LAJC has over 50 staff members who work from offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, Petersburg, and Falls Church.

For historical background, Congress created the federal Legal Services Corporation in 1974 to provide funding for free legal assistance to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it on matters falling outside the criminal justice system, such as unlawful evictions, foreclosures, domestic or elder abuse, or wrongful denial of government assistance. Unlike the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal proceedings, courts have not recognized a right to a lawyer in the vast majority of civil cases, and legal aid programs across the country help fill that gap. In 1996, Congress drastically reduced federal funding for legal services and imposed restrictions on the use of that funding. For example, if a legal aid program received any federal dollars, they couldn’t use federal or private dollars to file class actions, conduct any organizing or lobbying, represent undocumented immigrants or prisoners, or help register people to vote. All over the country, legal service programs then split into two – either federally funded programs for straightforward civil defense, or programs that used state funds and private dollars to provide broader advocacy as well as the full range of legal services. This explains why there are two legal aid programs serving our area. The Central Virginia Legal Aid Society is the federally funded program primarily serving Richmond, and LAJC is the non-federally funded program without restrictions on what they can do with their private dollars. Together, the two organizations provide the full range of legal services to low-income communities in Central Virginia.

What Makes LAJC Unique?

“What makes LAJC unique is that we really thrive at the center of this tension [between civil defense and advocacy] because we will both defend you in court from being evicted and we will support the Public Housing Association of Residents and campaign for policy changes with the housing authority to reduce evictions, because the best way of defending an eviction is not getting evicted in the first place. And we see this cycle of providing access to courts enforcing existing laws, which informs us about what needs to change. We communicate and work with communities to change those structures, and then we go back around and start enforcing the new laws, because we see the value in doing both of those things.”

– Angela Ciolfi

LAJC believes in using every method of advocacy available in tandem with a community layering model to build deep local relationships and work alongside the clients and communities they serve.  LAJC has organizers who proactively go out into the community to be close to what’s happening and what the issues are, and attorneys are expected to be out in the community as well.  At the same time, LAJC is working on a national level, challenging national policies with their immigrant advocacy and immigrant rights’ programs. And they’re creating models for what advocates can do in other states, such as their challenge to drivers’ license suspension for unpaid court cost fines. They’ve seen multiple lawsuits in other states modeled after theirs, and serve on the steering committee of a national campaign taking on the issue.

CNE Membership is Valuable

LAJC joined CNE as a member in October 2006, making them one of the first nonprofits in the area to sign up. Now members for over 13 years, they have found value in membership. CNE is a membership based organization, with over 300 members representing a wide range of mission and service areas, sizes, and lifecycle stages.

“For the price of membership we get a lot of help, so for us it was a bargain. I think for me, CNE has always been: “They’re there.” CNE is like a bank – you don’t need them every day, but you’ll go through spells where you’ll really need them and they’re there.  It’s, who do you go to when you are trying to figure out how to do this? When organizations ask where to go when they’re starting out and when they need assistance, I say you need to go to CNE.”

– Cynthia Neff, former LAJC interim Executive Director and current LAJC Board President

CNE is There Through Change

Since the 1990s, LAJC and the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS) have shared one board due to Congressional restrictions put in place at that time, which controlled board composition by requiring outside organizations and Bar Associations to appoint board members. In 2018, LAJC started thinking about splitting the shared board of 30 members (26 of whom were shared) into a board for CVLAS and a board for LAJC, so that LAJC could appoint its own board members and have its board better represent the community it serves. One of the first things LAJC did was contact CNE for assistance through the process. CNE provides customized consulting and technical assistance to help nonprofits strengthen their organizations and manage change.

“CNE played a big role, from providing feedback on governance documents and bylaws, to helping us figure out a process for even having the conversation, and once it looked like we were going to split the boards, how to figure that out. We asked questions like: ‘How many board members should we have? How do you sort 26 people between the two organizations? Who decides? What is the right number of board meetings? Is it every month? Is it every other month? And how do you figure out how to have a fair and transparent process that is respectful of all of those interested?’ There’s a lot of emotion and loyalty and politics bound up in it, so we went to CNE to work together on what we were trying to accomplish. We asked CNE, ‘Can you look at this? Can you tell us if we’re on the right track? Does it make sense? What are we missing?’ CNE has provided one-on-one technical assistance and consultation in person, by phone, and email and it’s been amazing, because we really needed it.”

– Angela Ciolfi

“You think you know board work and you think you know organizational work, until it’s a big change like this. It’s, how do we, the new Executive Director and the old interim Executive Director, how do we orchestrate it? It was a great opportunity to be able to start from scratch, but then we had to not only figure out what we wanted to do, but how to do it. And we could not have done this without CNE.”

– Cynthia Neff

After working with CNE on recommendations for the board and a plan forward, LAJC invited Cristine Nardi, CNE’s Executive Director, to talk to its strategic planning committee, a team of 45 people, and the full board about leading practices, good governance, board roles and responsibilities, and some of the big questions around the board restructuring.

“We thought the presentation was a hit and people really responded. People keep asking for the presentation and were fascinated by the conversation.”

– Cynthia Neff

In September 2019, LAJC’s board approved the splitting of the board, as well as a new strategic plan.

CNE is a Center for Learning

During a recent leadership transition, one of the first things LAJC did was send its leadership team to a CNE workshop on finance as part of Finance Academy. Finance Academy is a partnership between CNE and the CFA Institute to strengthen the financial health and management of nonprofits in the region.  It offers a suite of programs and resources – from a Financial Health Review, to webinars, financial assessment tools, and in-depth training series.

“A number of the members of the leadership team attended a “Finance for Non-Finance Professionals” workshop on how to read budgets and financial statements to build skills that we might not have otherwise. It’s amazing that you can find CNE resources to do something like that.”

– Cynthia Neff

CNE is a Center for Leading

Angela Ciolfi has been with LAJC since 2004 and served as Director of the JustChildren program and Director of Litigation and Advocacy. In late 2018, LAJC selected Angela as its new Executive Director, and she stepped into the role during the middle of a strategic planning process and the beginning of the conversation surrounding board restructuring. Shortly thereafter, Angela joined a CNE Executive Leadership Circle, a program designed to support nonprofit leaders and help prevent burnout. Leadership Circles are facilitated small member groups of Executive Directors who meet on a monthly basis.

“Suddenly I went from being a full-time advocate to an Executive Director. I had only been to a board meeting to present on a campaign and so the board was an alien creature. I realized that I had a huge learning curve ahead of me. I go to the Executive Leadership Circle once a month and that has been incredibly valuable. I’ve made good friends and learned about other organizations that are represented at different stages in their development. I can see what transitions we might have to go through and how another organization has managed it. And there’s the psychological benefit of knowing that you are not alone.”

– Angela Ciolfi

“Angela is brilliant, but you know what, she wasn’t born being an Executive Director. Even though she’s been a lawyer, advocate, and legal director for a long time, she hasn’t been a manager for an organization like this. Now she belongs to an Executive Leadership Circle. She loves it, and she’s not the first Executive Director I’ve known to participate. They’re building relationships that last a really long time.”

– Cynthia Neff

CNE is There for Next Steps

In late 2019, LAJC hired its first Director of Communications and consulted CNE’s 2017 Regional Nonprofit Compensation & Benefits Report for salary benchmarking for the new position. In 2018, CNE partnered with the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond to create the first nonprofit compensation and benefits report for our region, incorporating responses from nearly 240 organizations. The report asked about staff demographics, such as race and gender, to gain insight into any disparities in compensation.

LAJC is also looking at its compensation structure more broadly—moving from a seniority-based pay scale to a model that includes respect for seniority but also incorporates skills and accomplishments, with a focus on transparency and equity in leadership opportunities, professional development, and competitive pay so that one doesn’t have to be a person of privilege to afford to work at LAJC. As part of this process, LAJC contacted CNE for HR consultant recommendations, one of whom is now working on LAJC’s internal salary survey. Through CNE’s ConsultCorps service, CNE helps evaluate the scope of the project, identify how best to work with a consultant, and connect organizations to consulting support.

 “As we are rethinking our compensation structure, once we start getting some meat on the bones, we are going to go back to CNE and say: ‘What are we not thinking about? What are some other models?’”

–Angela Ciolfi

LAJC’s newly approved strategic plan is oriented around four pillars – supporting staff, leadership, governance, and defining who LAJC is – with racial justice and equity as the through line. While LAJC has done racial justice work throughout its history, this is the first time that its board has explicitly embraced racial justice and equity as an animating feature of LAJC’s work. Going forward, LAJC plans to contact CNE for racial equity assessment models and consultant recommendations. In the fall of 2017, CNE began to develop a Justice & Equity Initiative to partner with members and nonprofits in this important work.

And for the governance pillar of the plan, LAJC is looking forward to having its board – its new, restructured board – more engaged. They’re going to reinvigorate board meetings through action-oriented agendas and meeting now every other month to give the board time to do its work, creating committees, and involving the board in philanthropy and donor stewardship—something the board has not had much direct responsibility for up to this point. As LAJC engages current board members and recruits new ones, they plan to take advantage of CNE’s Board Orientation workshop and Board Academy, especially to support those who have never served on a board before. As part of CNE’s Governance Matters, CNE provides a wide-range of training topics, formats, and schedules to boards and board members to meet them where they are – from early morning short governance trainings, to half-day board orientation workshops, to Board Academy, a deep dive into the most critical aspects of good governance.

Through years of CNE membership, lifecycle stages, inevitable change, and growth, LAJC has seen CNE as being there for them, and for the community.

CNE is a Center for Advocacy and an Important Community Resource

“Why do we have so many nonprofits and yet the community of nonprofits is tighter than in many other places? People work together, know each other, and I think that is because of CNE. There’s a natural kind of cohesion because people meet and hear what’s going on. I think CNE has had a huge impact in the community in terms of really being the voice of nonprofits. It’s amazing, when you think about how many nonprofits we have and all of the people who benefit from them, to have somebody like CNE as a resource.”

–Cynthia Neff

Blue Ridge Medical Center (BRMC)

Collaboration and outreach are two areas that make BRMC unique. They have partnered with Region 10 and with Horizon Behavioral Health to better integrate care for those with serious mental illness. Over the years, BRMC has played a key role in creating an inter-agency collaboration among local schools, other health care providers, human service agencies, JABA, MACAA, the Health Department, and the Department of Social Services to identify and prioritize community health needs. As a result, BRMC has gradually moved to a model of integrated care, adding dental, behavioral health, and pharmaceutical care to their suite of services. Overall, BRMC has become better at identifying the specific needs of patients, shaping their services around those needs, and working to equalize disparities in their patients’ access to quality healthcare.


Involvement with CNE


Founded in 1983, the Blue Ridge Medical Center (BRMC) opened its doors in 1985. Its mission is to provide patient-centered quality health care to all people in Nelson County and neighboring areas and to improve their community’s health and well-being through prevention, education, and treatment.

Founding CNE Member

When then CEO Peggy Whitehead first heard about the CNE in 2008, she signed her organization up right away, making BRMC a founding member. Since she first discovered the CNE, Peggy has valued our eNewsletter, appreciating that a useful listing of grants, news about the nonprofit community, and other nonprofit resources are just a click away.

“I read those newsletter every week so I know what CNE is doing. I never delete them because they’re chock full of what I need to know. I read everything in them.”

Peggy Whitehead

Leadership Transition Services

It was through the weekly eNewsletter that Peggy Whitehead found out about the CNE’s Leadership Transition Services. When she became the CEO in 2004, BRMC did not have a succession plan in place, so she was encouraged to find resources at the CNE to begin this important process, especially since she would be transitioning from the CEO position.

“Succession planning has been very impactful for us. Cristine Nardi did an excellent session with our board in 2016 that really drove everything that has happened since. We ended up right on time with the schedule that we laid out on that day. Cristine helped us plan how to do the recruitment process, how to involve the staff, how to transition the board to its new responsibilities, and how to handle the fact that there were both internal and external candidates. All of those questions were addressed. We hired the new CEO, and everything was settled. Then we worked with CNE on the on-boarding process to make that successful. I’m very grateful for the information we received.”

Peggy Whitehead

“The recruitment and on-boarding processes were outstanding in every respect. The way things were handled allowed me to come up-to-speed quickly.”

Randy Pirtle, BRMC CEO

The Value of CNE’s Resources

One of BRMC’s staff members, Brittani Gowen, got a lot from a CNE marketing workshop. As a result, BRMC made changes to their marketing message, conveying more effectively than ever that they are “wide open for new patients.” Advertisements look better and branding is consistent. They even made a TV commercial for the first time.

Peggy attended a Donor Roundtable, an event co-hosted by the CNE and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to explore how nonprofits can best work with philanthropists. Peggy found the experience so helpful that she sent one of her board members to a similar event. The result?

“That was an awesome opportunity because I learned a tremendous amount about what donors expect. Not all donors want and expect the same thing, and that came out during the meeting.”

Peggy Whitehead

“It changed our realization of what we should be doing. We’ve made changes and we need to make more. After transitioning to a grant writing position, I’m working more closely with the donor development piece of what BRMC does, so I’m communicating more with the donors who have so generously supported BRMC over the years. I learned a lot about how donors like to be communicated with, and I learned that donors are different. We need to find their preferred means of communication and keep them up-to-date.”

Peggy Whitehead

Another resource that has proved invaluable to Peggy and her team is CNE’s Foundation Center, a database of over 11,000,000 grants made available on-site at CNE. In 2008, BRMC was located in an 8,000 square foot building. Leadership realized that they needed to launch a capital campaign to enlarge their space and increase their capacity. BRMC’s Board Chair spent a lot of time using CNE’s Foundation Center for research into possible grants during that campaign in 2009 and 2010. As a result of diligently using the Foundation Center database, BRMC funded a successful campaign to expand to a 26,800 square foot space. This accomplishment was a key milestone in the organization’s evolution.

Leadership Development

BRMC has always provided its services from its building in Nelson County. Now they are moving in a new direction, hoping to expand their geographic footprint. They are reaching out into Amherst County through the Amherst Wellness Center, and are looking for more co-location opportunities. Overall, they are aiming for a larger regional presence.

Internally, BRMC is working to improve their communication with and among staff. They are engaged in a learning module on that topic, and employee satisfaction surveys. They have developed enough as an organization that they can now focus on operational refinements, such as internal communication tools. Peggy is confident that BRMC will get just what they require from CNE for continued success: “CNE has met and exceeded our expectations. I can’t remember a time that our needs have not been met in the way we expected when we called CNE for help.”

“The CNE has made me a better leader through the years. Everything I’ve ever attended has been extremely valuable, well put together, well organized.  You use the information and you become a little bit more mature every time you attend. You take the notes, you participate in the discussions, and you meet new people. And all of it makes a difference.”

Peggy Whitehead


Charlottesville Ballet


Charlottesville Ballet includes Charlottesville’s only full-time professional dance company, a center for dance education, and an after-school dance education outreach program. The Ballet was founded in 2007, gained nonprofit status in 2010 and ran completely on a volunteer basis until 2012, when the board hired their first paid staff positions.



Involvement with CNE



CNE’s Board Academy also provided the necessary training when we first implemented our board of directors, and has had a significant impact on the efficacy of our board governance.

Sara Jansen Clayborne, Co-Founder
CNE’s Board Academy has also helped strengthen our board governance and encourage board members to be active and engaged with their roles both within the organization, and in regards to the organization’s involvement within the broader community.

Emily Mott Hartka, Co-Founder

CNE has provided our organization with training, resources, and tools that have fostered incredible growth over the last eight years. Programs and classes have helped staff develop strategies to achieve long-term development goals and implement processes to ensure organization sustainability. We look forward to our continued growth as an organization and as active and engaged community members through CNE’s training and classes.

Sara Jansen Clayborne, Co-Founder


CNE supports strategic planning

Charlottesville Ballet grew rapidly between 2011 and 2013, increasing their Academy students by 500%! This experience prompted the organization’s leaders to seek a healthy plan for future growth. They turned to CNE for guidance in this process. Participating in CNE workshops encouraged Charlottesville Ballet to initiate a strategic planning process. Through their planning sessions the Ballet’s leadership identified fundraising and board development as priorities.

Various lectures and seminars have provided the necessary education for our leadership, staff, and board to implement new strategies and systems to ensure the progress and continued development of our organization. One such lecture by Sam Davis on organization sustainability spurred us into our first strategic planning meeting that enabled us to focus on long-term growth and goals.

Emily Mott Hartka, Co-Founder


CNE increases fundraising capacity

Through their strategic planning process, the Charlottesville Ballet identified the need to acquire additional space—more studios to serve more dancers and dance students. But buildings cost money. So with the help of CNE, the Ballet’s leadership organized their first capital campaign—and their first direct mailing campaign. CNE’s Annual Fund Series, led by Laurie Rogers, had a huge impact on the Ballet’s plans. Laurie helped them think creatively about how to collect data and structure a fundraising campaign. In the end, the Ballet raised a total of $50,000, which allowed them to add 2,500 square feet of studio space.

CNE’s Annual Fund Series, fundraising workshops, and donor search tools in particular provided the knowledge and education to help us produce our first annual direct-mailing campaign. Shortly after, we were able to implement a successful capital campaign which culminated in a total of $50K raised in 6 short months.

Emily Mott Hartka, Co-Founder

Charlottesville Ballet also recently won a $10,000 grant from the Charlottesville Albemarle Community Fund. They credit their win, in part, to the support they received from CNE in developing and honing their pitch. Despite their successes, they also recognize the need to gather more data, take a more structured approach, and to hire a Director of Development to spearhead future fundraising efforts.

CNE builds community connections

CNE programs also offer a great opportunity for networking and peer learning. It’s always helpful to be in a room of practitioners who share your concerns and can offer a unique perspective to your challenges. Emily mentioned that she learned a lot from listening to participants from other nonprofits. CNE also helps nonprofits reach out to the broader community.

We consider CNE to be an invaluable resource to connecting nonprofits with the greater community and providing education to help further leadership within organizations.

Sara Jansen Clayborne, Co-Founder


CNE strengthens organizations and leader

Great leadership requires a broad perspective. CNE programs offer the chance to take a step back from the day-to-day and gain some perspective. Thinking about long-term goal—and how to achieve them—in a professional, supportive environment can be very valuable.

CNE is the broad mentor you can call, to ask how to do something. The broadening moment, for when you’re so in your thing all day long, and then we’ll go to an Annual Fund workshop and totally revamp and see the big picture. It’s a mentor you can call for a practical tip and ask, “Am I doing this right?” “How do other people do this?” which is so helpful. Looking into the future, thinking about how things will affect our organization. The big picture of the scope of our organization, and how we can guide it to be the best. I don’t think you get that from reading a book. CNE is guiding.

Emily Mott Hartka, Co-Founder

Sexual Assault Resource Agency

SARA’s mission is to eliminate sexual violence and its impact by providing education, advocacy and support to men, women and children.



Involvement with CNE



Board Reforms

Prior to participating in CNE’s Board Academy, The Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) had important strategic decisions to make that would impact the organization’s sustainability in many different ways. Through the Academy, SARA’s Board Chair took part in relevant, timely, and in-depth case study exercises that enabled her to lead the board in making these critical decisions. Largely due to their involvement with this signature CNE program, SARA 1. navigated a property sale and move to accommodate future growth, 2. began to diversify–and grow–their funding, and 3. started building healthy operating reserves to ensure financial sustainability.

“There have been some exciting things happening at SARA, which make a really good follow-up to the case stories we used in the Board Academy…

“The board voted recently to approve the sale of the SARA property and pay off the mortgage.  This will enable SARA to move to a slightly larger location which can accommodate the current planned growth for the agency as well as leaving some room for future growth.

“This past fiscal year, we increased private donations and grants from private donors/foundations to over 35% of our annual revenue.  In the prior fiscal year that number was closer to 25% and the year prior to that 18%.  We are still working to get the number closer to 40 or 50% but it was a really welcome change this year to be a little less dependent on state and local funding.

“We are also building a cash reserve for the agency.  Between the proceeds of the sale and net income this past fiscal year we will have a substantial amount in reserves to hold aside for the future stability of the organization.  Our reserve plan challenges us to continue to increase that amount each year with a long-term goal of holding about 9 months of expenses in reserve which is a pretty aggressive goal but we’re giving ourselves some time to get there.

“Our board, while struggling through some situations throughout this year, is really energized and we are so excited to be making some positive changes for the long-term strength of the agency.  There is still a lot of work to be done but I wanted to pass along that we took the case study, and our board responsibilities, to heart.”

Jennifer King, Board President



Leadership Development

Without strong networks, executive directors can often feel overwhelmed and lacking support, with pressures coming from both the board level, and from staff. Through participating in the Executive Circle, SARA’s director built strong, trusting relationships with new peers, and received access to valuable resources that she didn’t have beforehand. With these influential networks, participants are better able to ward off burn-out, invest in their personal growth and experience greater satisfaction in their roles.

The CNE Executive Circle has helped me to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. I have made friends and developed colleagues. The executive director role is one that can be very isolating as the ED struggles to maintain that balance between board and staff. Having other colleagues to talk to can be very beneficial. It does take a while to build trust, but once it’s there, the support and shared knowledge are tremendous.

Becky Weybright, Executive Director


Legal Health Clinic

Often through taking advantage of educational opportunities, participants realize that they were in need of resources that they weren’t aware of previously. Without fully realizing their need for a Legal Health Check-Up, SARA enrolled in the program. What they learned along the way was that the expert services they received were timely, relevant, and incredibly valuable. They left the experience with strengthened core policies and organizational documents for their board and leadership.

When we were first contacted about this clinic, I did not think we really needed it, but I was willing to participate. What I found out is that we really did need to do this significant review of some of our documents. Our Articles of Incorporation and By-laws are better now as a result of this review. The law student we were working with had insightful input that was very useful. He also was able to answer other questions that my board had. Participation in this Law Clinic should be useful for any nonprofit organization.

Becky Weybright, Executive Director