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Albany Law, UAlbany Students Launch Online Guide to Nonprofit Advocacy

By Lauren Mineau
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Thanks to a team effort between Albany Law School and University at Albany students, nonprofit organizations now have access to a new online resource that will guide their advocacy and lobbying efforts while preserving their nonprofit status.

Students in Professor Ray Brescia’s course, The Law of Social Entrepreneurship and Exempt Organizations, came up with the Nonprofit Guide (nonprofitguide.net) after receiving numerous requests from community-based organizations looking to engage in law reform and advocacy within their limitations as 501(c)(3) organizations.

“The rules are somewhat complicated,” Professor Brescia said. “The website provides resources to not only nonprofit groups but to lawyers to understand the limits on legislative and lobbying activity.”

Brescia’s students thought a website to house easy-to-understand explanations and tools, outlining the regulations in one central place, would offer clarity. But they needed some technical expertise to build the website. Dr. Norman Gervais, a professor of practice at the University at Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity, and a group of four students signed on to the project.

While creating the site, Albany Law’s students had to break down the complex laws into material that would be understandable to the non-legal world. UAlbany’s students brought form to that material.

“We really saw it come to life. It is bounds from what we started with. Seeing the [UAlbany] students really understand the material enough to be able to build a cohesive website, even though they aren’t law students, too, was a really rewarding experience,” said Candace White ’20.

The website includes asked-and-answered FAQs, presentations, a calculator to determine a lobbying budget, and podcasts produced at the New York State Bar Association headquarters with the assistance of NYSBA staff. 

“From the very beginning, I had no idea about lobbying. I slowly started to get an idea from looking over the site,” said recent UAlbany graduate Gabriel Olufade. “I feel like I learned some things [about it]. Overall, it was a great opportunity to use my skills from the classroom in a real-life application.”

For the two student teams, the project presented an opportunity to learn skills outside of their expected coursework and get a glimpse inside an educational program entirely different from their area of study.

“That’s one of the goals of the course—to see how a computer programmer thinks about these issues and for the computer programmers to see how lawyers think about and see these issues. It creates a great dialogue to understand how these things are developed,” Professor Brescia said.

For the UAlbany students, much of their Informatics coursework is technical. This project helped sharpen their soft skills, which is important for any career path. 

“The tech is the tech. They get that [part easily]. But seeing how effectively and efficiently they communicated, how they delegated tasks between each other, and how well they work together and how respectful they are of each other’s ideas—that was really awesome and important,” Professor Gervais said.

 “I learned key communication skills that will help me in my future endeavors,” Olufade said. “This certainly will help with communicating with potential clients and learning how they want their products to be built, and by getting their key input on the product and their vision.”

After spending a semester sifting through materials—and staying on through independent study—White  is proud of the impact the group’s work will make in providing the right information to the right recipients.

“We wanted to make the law have approachability and for people to understand that not everything you do in terms of law reform to lobbying will violate the law. There are certain things you can engage in,” White said. “The real focus of this project is to make sure people who run nonprofits have access to information.”

For more information, visit the online Nonprofit Guide at nonprofitguide.net.