Hi, I’m Jess Birken.
|I am the owner of Birken Law Office. I'm a lawyer and I help nonprofits solve problems so they can quit worrying and get back to what matters most – their mission. I’m not like most attorneys, I actually have an outgoing personality, and – like you – I like to think outside the box. Most of my clients are passionate and have an entrepreneurial spirit. I’m like that too. My goal is to help you crush it. Getting bogged down in the minutia sucks the joy out of the important work. My clients want to do The Work – not the paperwork.|
- BA, Sociology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (2001)
- JD, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Magna Cum Laude (2007)
- MA, Nonprofit Management, Hamline University (2010)
- Certified Transformative Mediator
- Want more? Check out my LinkedIn profile.
I am the former CEO & Managing Partner at Urban Birken PLLC, a boutique firm that focused on serving the nonprofit community. I have worked with nonprofit organizations for most of my career.
Before becoming a private practice attorney, I spent four years inside a national nonprofit organization, Pheasants Forever. In that role I managed about $50M in state and federal government grants and worked on hundreds of conservation real estate deals. I also gained a deep knowledge of just what it's like to work inside a nonprofit - not just tell people what to do. My strength in that role was working with staff, volunteers and government stakeholders to keep complex projects moving and maintain a zero defect environment for audit time.
Birken Law Video Introduction
Since that time, I have run my own firms. I’m now the owner of Birken Law Office a firm designed to help nonprofits. Ideal Client Engagements are nonprofits looking for a strategic partner who will give pragmatic advice and keep business operations on track so the mission work stays a priority. I love working with organizations that understand that 'nonprofit' is a tax status - not a business model.
My work experience entails largely business and compliance needs of nonprofit issues around:
- Executive Compensation
- Real Estate
- Property Tax
- Board / Staff Conflicts
- Voting Member Issues
- Internal/External Stakeholder Conflict
- Government Grant Compliance
- Crisis Management
My Contact Information
You can contact me via e-mail or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.
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Here’s the thing: I wish my clients understood that a nonprofit's public charity status is NOT everything. It might be necessary and important, sure. It helps communicate to donors that the nonprofit is a public charity....But it’s certainly not the end-all, be-all of a successful nonprofit.
Working with nonprofit organizations, I deal with a LOT of people problems. And it makes sense, right? When you ask a group of people passionate about a cause (aka, the board of directors) to come together to make collective decisions…disagreements and confrontations are inevitable.
Feeding Our Future (FOF) was a Minnesota food assistance nonprofit that was awarded millions in federal grant funds in the past few years. FOF passed those funds through to other small organizations and businesses to provide food to children, primarily BIPOC and immigrant children in the Twin Cities and beyond.
So, what does this have to do with nonprofits, you ask? Well, as a lawyer for nonprofits, I've seen lots of organizations go through the process of selecting new leaders – and not all of them do it right, especially when an insider is involved. This Jeopardy host situation reminded me of those cases.
Dissolution can be a happy occasion (yay, we accomplished our mission!) or it can be very sad and emotional. But no matter what brings a nonprofit to that point, the decision to dissolve is a big one. And, to the surprise of some folks, that decision is just the very beginning of what can be a very long process
As schools are called off for the rest of the year, toilet paper flies off the shelves, and shelter-in-place orders are announced, anxieties are high. Everyone is worried about money, jobs, health, how to stay sane in the coming weeks – or at least I'm pretty sure it's not just me! And then there's another layer of worry – the worry that comes with running a small nonprofit in the midst of an international crisis.
Lately I've been noticing a lot of chatter on the internet about how you know which charities to donate to. There seems to be a general suspicion that nonprofits of all sizes who are seeking donations are swindling people out of their hard-earned money. Or at least that you can't trust these organizations and that it's easy to make the wrong decision.
I work with a lot of nonprofit founders, and all of them have a certain kind of pride in their work. And they should! Lots of people have ideas, but there's not that many people out there who are willing to put their time, effort, knowledge, and money into it. We need entrepreneurial founders in the nonprofit sector.
The reality is, starting and running a nonprofit is more than just the mission-driven work. Taking the time to understand the organizing documents, the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws, will help the organization going forward.
Here's the secret to getting your nonprofit idea off the ground: knowing for sure that it should be a nonprofit in the first place.
Jessica Birken, MNM, Esq.
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