Capstone: In the Field
Case Management and Systems Administration for a Complex Legal Services Program (2011)
Faculty: Sean Harvey
Team: Alexandra Brown, Elizabeth Burger, Shujie Jiang, Patrick Mangan
Main Street Legal Services (MSLS) is the clinical training program at CUNY Law School. MSLS has seven clinics, each of which operates as an independent silo of activity, with its own administrative protocols for case intake, case tracking, record keeping, communications, and conflict checking. The organization approached the Capstone team for advice on how to manage seven divergent practice areas in a coordinated fashion and implement and enforce uniform administrative protocols across the clinics.
Of specific concern was the failure of many clinics to maintain comprehensive case records in the shared electronic case management system. The Capstone team conducted a review of the organization's administrative practices, surveyed key stakeholder groups (faculty, staff, students), and contacted other law firms and clinical programs to identify best practices in the field. The final report consisted of internal research findings, best practices of peer institutions, and recommendations that will streamline administrative processes to strengthen the provision of quality client services and legal instruction.
Alumni in Action
Bonnie Osinski Interview with the Director of Development at CAMBA
For the last five years, Bonnie Osinski (MPA ’81) has been the director of development for CAMBA, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit agency that provides services that connect people with opportunities to enhance their quality of life. As the chief fundraiser, Bonnie works with various constituencies, including senior management, the board and CAMBA program staff, to implement a variety of fundraising activities. She is also responsible for to establishing and maintaining relationships with potential donors. "I really enjoy taking the work we do at CAMBA and making it meaningful to people outside the organization, so that they understand why they should support it."
How did you decide to attend Wagner?
I studied sociology at Mercyhurst College and did social work after I graduated, so I’ve always had civic-minded interests. I had been working in advertising and wanted to make a career change. I was fascinated with New York City and wanted to understand how the city worked, so I looked at various graduate programs and Wagner had the best program for understanding how the city operates. Originally, I thought I wanted to work in government, but as I went through Wagner, I took courses in urban planning, criminal justice and the economics of poverty, all of which contributed to a knowledge base applicable to a broad range of endeavors. Learning the importance of sound overall management to effective public service was really interesting to me.
How did Wagner help you on your career path?
As part of the work I did at Wagner, I studied organizational theory, policy implementation and project management. At the same time I was reviewing grant proposals for Vista Programs. I became convinced that a successful proposal has to be based on a well-developed project so it can appeal to funders and support good management on the part of the applicant organization. While at Wagner, I designed a training curriculum on proposal development (I hate the term “grant writing”!), based on effective project design, utilizing many of the organization theory and policy implementation principles I was learning.. Wagner gave me the opportunity to present this curriculum at the summer Nonprofit Management Institute for about 10 years. As soon as I received my MPA, I was hired by the National Legal Services Corporation to present it to their grantee organizations around the country. That eventually led to my career in full-service fundraising management.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Fundraising is great because you learn so much about the philanthropic sector – both donors and the organizations they support. And when you are working with individuals or institutions who are considering a contribution, you see them at their altruistic best.
What are some of the challenges your organization faces, and how do you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges for any fundraiser is entering an organization and making sure you have the support you need from the board and staff. The most of the people in a service organization are focused on fulfilling their mission – providing health care, fostering life skills, addressing poverty or homelessness etc. - not fundraising. But donors are not giving to the fundraiser, they are supporting the mission. So the board, the leadership, and the staff have to work with the fundraiser, who functions as a catalyst.
Were there any skills you gained at Wagner that have been particularly useful / relevant?
Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, work that I did in organizational theory, resource development theory and project implementation was invaluable. Organizational theory was fascinating because, as a fundraiser, understanding the culture of the organization is key to getting support. The way you raise money (direct mail appeals, government grants, individual donor appeals, etc.) and kind of money you raise (government, major gifts, earned income, restricted, unrestricted, etc.) determines the very nature of an organization and how it functions.
What are your future goals for your career?
I would like to continue to use my skills and experience to the fullest extent. I want to do more teaching and consulting so that I can have a broader impact by sharing the extensive experience I have gained from working with so many different kinds of organizations.
Do you have any thoughts or advice for Wagner students/alumni interested in development?
The development field is a pretty mature field of knowledge that requires continuous work and study to stay on top of a rapidly changing field. You can actually get a graduate degree in fundraising, although I feel that a broader management background is more effective.. It’s a field that has a range of components and requires a variety of skills that are very portable. Development is a great field if you like to learn new things because you find out a lot about an issue when you’re fundraising for it. But you should understand that good fundraising is based on sound management. The money is only a means to an end; good fundraising ultimately makes an organization stronger and more effective at fulfilling its mission. The theoretical and management skills you learn at Wagner can be directly applied to fundraising.