Where the Money Comes from
Around 20% of our funding is contributed by generous people like you who believe that law should be freely available to everyone. All of your donations go directly toward supporting the LII itself. Please donate to LII.
By the end of this fiscal year (FY13), 50% of our funding will be provided through online sponsorships, online advertising, and projects with partner organizations (like our Lawyer Directory and eBooks) that help generate funds for the LII. We also obtain grants from government and non-governmental organizations. These funds go directly to support the research goals of the granting organization, and allow us to explore new approaches and technologies, but provide no direct support for the services that we offer to the public.
30% of our funding comes as direct support from Cornell Law School. In addition, we receive valuable administrative support and office space from the Law School and from Cornell.
Why this mixture
Our donors and our parent institution have been very generous throughout our 20-year history, but they cannot carry all the weight by themselves. In 2007, we realized that if we wanted to break new ground while continuing to offer and improve the services that our audience depends on, we were going to have to find ways to expand our funding base. It made sense to us to take an entrepreneurial approach, and that has proven successful. We hope that by diversifying our revenue sources in this way we will be able to continue to operate existing services indefinitely while substantially increasing our ability to innovate. This diversified approach to funding is becoming more and more common among public services that wish to provide the public with free and open access to information that is expensive to gather and disseminate.
People often ask us why we have this dual approach (and, particularly, why we ask them to donate when we carry advertising). A simple answer is that no single approach can -- at least for now -- provide sufficient funds to sustain us indefinitely. Viewed from another perspective, though, such a mixed approach is nothing new. Symphony orchestras have always put ads in their programs, sold recordings on CD, and asked for donations from those who believe that music should be available as widely as possible. Like a wide variety of nonprofits, we use the means we have available to do as much as we can to leverage our most valuable asset: the goodwill and support of those among our audience who support us through contributions.
How we use funds
The main expense in running a website is not technology, even on a site that offers nearly 500,000 pages to 15 million unique visitors every year. Instead, more than 80% of our budget goes to salaries for our small staff, and to stipends for the law and computer science students who work with us. Almost all the remainder is spent on computing facilities, which we tailor to demand using cloud-computing technology. Less than 5% goes to administrative overhead.
We have a very small staff, and a very high level of activity across a number of collections and services that share facilities and resources. That makes it hard to say exactly how money is spent. In the course of a day, Dan Nagy (our systems administrator) might spend a couple of hours doing something that supports one collection or service (right now he's working on something that will gather up guidance documents for us to offer alongside the CFR), and a few more troubleshooting some problem that affects the whole website. Mohammad al-Asswad (our semantic-web guy) will spend an hour leading a team of master's-level computer science students who are working on technology projects that will, simultaneously, make Federal regulations easier to understand, and increase the relevance of the ads that you see when you come to the site. Sara Frug will split her time between organizing and supervising the work of our software engineers and working on a series of specific repairs to our e-book production process. It's hard to say what dollar goes to what activity, but in general you can be sure that nearly all of your donation is spent on talent -- because that's what we need the most.