Laura Chisolm and the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations

By Hammack, David C. | Case Western Reserve Law Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Laura Chisolm and the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations


Hammack, David C., Case Western Reserve Law Review


I share the general admiration of Laura Chisolm's intelligence, hard work, focus, sense of perspective, and sparkling good humor. What I especially want to celebrate is the remarkable contribution she made to the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations over what is likely to be the entire quarter century of the Center's history. I worked closely with Laura for more than fifteen years at the Mandel Center. We were both proud of our work for the Center, though we felt at every stage that there was much, much more to be done, and that our best efforts had not brought about the essential changes and commitments that we sought. Laura's illness and premature death ended our efforts far too soon.

Laura first became involved with the center when we were developing its innovative Master's of Nonprofit Organizations degree ("MNO"). That a member of the law school faculty played an important role in this degree was eminently appropriate. Mort Mandel had decided to create the Mandel Center after talking with several people including John Simon of the Yale Law School. According to one story, at least, Mr. Mandel first approached the Case Western Reserve ("CWRU") Law School about the possibility of creating a nonprofit leadership program. When CWRU's schools of social work and management agreed to take the lead and sponsor the center, the law school was quickly added, and under the initial arrangements the Center's director reported to a "troika" of three deans--one each from the three schools.

From the beginning it was agreed that a course on the law of tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations would form a key part of the Masters of Nonprofit Organizations degree. The idea was not to turn nonprofit leaders into lawyers, or to pretend to enable them to make legal judgments. The goal was, rather, to equip nonprofit leaders with enough knowledge about the law to enable them to recognize most legal issues when they met them. It was also to help nonprofit leaders think clearly about policy alternatives. Laura often pointed out that a law degree could also prepare people for nonprofit leadership, and I know she was proud of the law school's record in educating nonprofit lawyers. But she also agreed strongly that education in legal thinking should clearly be included in the ideal curriculum for the nonprofit field. The nonprofit law course has been one of the MNO's distinguishing features. (1)

Laura Chisolm was exceptionally well suited to develop the nonprofit law course--and to playing an important leadership role in the Mandel Center in general. As others have noted (and as my daughter--who earned her law degree at the law school and studied with Professor Chisolm--has told me), she was an excellent teacher of the law. The range of her law courses, from legislation and social policy to property and to wills and trusts, as well as the law of nonprofit organizations--was particularly relevant to the nonprofit field. Over the course of her career, she built extensive experience with nonprofit leaders in many fields: as a member of a Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital Advisory Committee on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, an Ohio Committee on Child Welfare Services, a Support Centers of America Committee on Quality Education for Trustees, and as pro bono legal advisor to several small nonprofit organizations. I'm sure she had more experience with university legal matters than she might have wished as a member of Case Western Reserve University's Faculty Grievance Panel, its Promotion and Tenure Committee, and several committees concerned with matters especially relevant to women faculty. Laura also served as a trustee of Covenant Early Childhood Programs, WomanSpace, and the Ohio Ballet.

Laura Chisolm brought more than intelligence, good sense, humor, and experience to the Mandel Center. She also brought recognized professional expertise. For two decades she played a prominent part in NYU's National Center on Philanthropy and the Law. …

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