Albany Law, UAlbany Students Collaborate to Aid Nonprofits

By Lauren Mineau
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a room filled with furniture and a large window

A collaborative project between students in Professor Ray Brescia’s course The Law of Social Entrepreneurship and Exempt Organizations and computer science students led by University at Albany's Dr. Norman Gervais will help nonprofits with similar visions consider whether there might be avenues available to them to explore merging,  consolidating, or partnering in creative ways to improve their service to the community.

The Albany Law School students Keenan Loder '23, Timothy Goetzman '22, and Brittney Campbell '22 were able to dive into research on how non-profit can combine forces, and analyzed the laws, processes and procedures nonprofits need to follow when doing so.

They not only had to research this information, but also find an effective and clear way to present it in for anyone to understand.  In order to accomplish this, they created the content for a website with such information that would be easy-to-navigate for all.

“In working on the project, I realized there are numerous considerations, legal and otherwise, to finalize a merger and quickly realized how overwhelming it could be for not-for-profits to merge.  Our intent was to give directors a sense of what they can expect, but obviously each merger is unique and different challenges are bound to crop up,” Loder said.

Students compiled different types of media for this website that provides a range of resources for groups, including audio interviews and a glossary of terms used often in this process. Each tool breaks down legal jargon into understandable and consumable information for leaders of nonprofits in any sector.

“I was excited to be able to work on a project related to not-for-profits.  COVID-19 has presented challenges for many, and not-for-profits were not invulnerable to these challenges.  For this reason, we set out to provide a guide for not-for-profit directors and others to use to decide if merging or consolidating with another not-for-profit is in their best interest,” Loder said. “Choosing to merge with another not-for-profit is a tough decision to make because many involved in not-for-profits are passionate about their work and don’t take these big decisions lightly.  We anticipated that any guidance in this area would be helpful to not-for-profits.”

In order to make this content available in an attractive and intuitive way, the Albany Law students and Professor Brescia collaborated with UAlbany computer science students, A'chynee Edmundson, James Corona, and Sam Schaeffler who designed the website, all under guidance from Dr. Gervais.
“Everyone should be proud of their hard work on this. It was great to work with the Albany Law team on this site and I appreciate all the research that was done on the topic and the suggestions [they] all had along the way. Likewise, the team that we had here at UAlbany was incredibly determined to see the technical side of the project succeed and was very considerate of designing a website that would be functional for everyone,” Gervais said. “It is the combination of these contributions from Albany Law and UAlbany that I think makes this website truly unique.”

On a grander scale, the project gave the Albany Law students a valuable look at all the pieces that make nonprofits succeed.  It also afforded them the opportunity to think about how to get information out into the community in an effective way, all the while working to see a project through from ideation to execution, and to do so in an interdisciplinary fashion, within a legal team but also in collaboration with computer programmers. The substantive knowledge and team-based skills will all help them moving forward as they enter the profession.    

“Law students who graduate in the coming years will need to work in interdisciplinary teams, understand how to talk and collaborate with technology professionals, and to do this while managing projects effectively,” Professor Brescia explained. “Our team was exposed to all of these features of their future careers, while also acquiring important substantive knowledge and learning how to explain that information to nonprofit leaders who can actually put it to effective use.”

“Through this experience I was able to hone my interviewing skills as we interviewed people with various relationships with not-for-profits, from lawyers to regulators to directors.  I also gained experience distilling statutes and restating them in a more comprehendible way, but our goal was not to provide tailored legal advice, and instead to provide an outline,” Loder said.

In addition to Loder, Geotzman, and Campbell, law students Ann Phillips and John Winters also contributed to the legal content that would make it into the website.

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