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November 6, 2012

University of Oregon Nonprofit Clinic Benefits Community While Educating Students

Beginning its second year, the University of Oregon School of Law’s Nonprofit Clinic is currently accepting applications from non-profits interested in participating in this interdisciplinary program. The Nonprofit Clinic is free of charge. According to Clinic Director Carrie Heltzel, the clinic provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for students to learn about nonprofits through real world experience, while at the same time helping nonprofits through conducting governance and management assessments which may provide valuable reality checks, alignment to best practices and set the plans for committed action. 

Twelve nonprofit organizations will be selected to participate in the 2013 clinic. Each nonprofit will be teamed with three students: one enrolled in the law school, one from the university graduate school’s Conflict and Dispute Resolution program and one from the graduate school’s Planning, Public Policy and Management program. From January through April, these students, under the supervision of professional nonprofit consultants, work with the nonprofit organization to assess its governance structure, management practices and key policies and procedures, and offer recommendations and suggested next steps to further strengthen the organization.

Past clients have included Emerald KidSports, Centro Latino Americano, the Siuslaw Watershed Council and the Civil Liberties Defense Center.

Susan Gary, the clinic’s co-founder and faculty advisor, worked with Nonprofit Management Program Director Rene Irvin for ten years to develop the program before the clinic finally came to fruition in January of 2012. The clinic’s interdisciplinary model makes it the only clinic of its kind in the country.

Gary believes the clinic provides a valuable service to Oregon’s non-profit community.

“Nonprofits provide incredible support to the community in a variety of ways,” said Gary. “If we can strengthen their governance structure, they will then be more able to do the good work they are trying to do.”

In the future, Gary sees the clinic providing resources such as live trainings for the non-profit community and developing a stronger state-wide scope. Eventually, Gary envisions the formation of a second clinic; the first clinic would provide assessments to nonprofits, while the second would provide legal services to assist nonprofits in improving their organizations.  

Kyle Smith, an Oregon Law alumnus who graduated in 2012, participated in the program during its inaugural year. His work at the clinic was the stepping stone to his current position as Director of Communications and Development at Calapooia Watershed Council in Brownsville, Ore. He considers the non-profit clinic program to be the highlight of his law school experience, and strongly recommends the program to law school students interested in pursuing a non-legal career.

“The clinic was without a doubt the most valuable experience I had at Oregon Law,” Smith said. “I gained real world skills that helped me understand how nonprofits function, and the resume value of the clinic is what ultimately landed me my first job out of law school.” Smith was so impressed with what the clinic could offer nonprofits that he is encouraging his employer to apply for a spot in this year’s clinic.

Applications from nonprofit organizations interested in benefitting from the program are being accepted now, and are reviewed on a rolling basis. More information can be found here.

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