Governance Expert Teresa Santalucia Helps Local Nonprofits Succeed

When attorney Teresa Santalucia, a partner at Klein Hornig and a member of the Clearinghouse Board of Directors, presents at one of the Clearinghouse’s nonprofit seminars, she’s not only drawing upon years of legal knowledge, but upon her own firsthand experience as the former executive director of the D.C. Emergency Assistance Fund, where she worked while she was in law school.

Teresa accepted a position at Klein Hornig’s D.C. office a few years after she graduated from law school. She says she was drawn to the firm’s commitment to community development and affordable housing, and to the fact that she would be able to effectively use her unique expertise to help nonprofit organizations succeed. Today, Teresa works in Klein Hornig’s Boston office, where she focuses her practice on nonprofit governance, community development, and affordable housing.

In 2011, Teresa joined the Clearinghouse Board of Directors. She was already familiar with the Clearinghouse, having previously volunteered to help several local nonprofits through the Legal Referral Program, and she liked the work the organization was doing to support the nonprofit community in Massachusetts.

It was one of those early pro bono cases that inspired Teresa to create her own nonprofit governance and compliance seminar, now one of the Clearinghouse’s most popular educational programs.

She had spent a year working with a small nonprofit, helping them with all of their governance documents and the other complex filing procedures required to receive federal tax-exemption. Less than a year later, she received a call: the people running the organization were completely overwhelmed. They told her they felt they were in over their heads and they wanted to start the corporate dissolution process.

“It was a good experience for me to do an entire lifecycle of a nonprofit from creation to dissolution,” Teresa says. “But I questioned how effective I was being and thought it might be more helpful to provide a larger audience with things to know before you launch into becoming a nonprofit, and the ways in which you need to be compliant in order to stay a nonprofit.”

As she started to put together her presentation and lead Clearinghouse seminars, Teresa realized she greatly enjoyed teaching. She says it allows her to keep up-to-date with the issues nonprofits face and to meet the many fascinating people who lead local organizations or hope to start their own.

Over the years, Teresa has refined her presentation and has worked with Machiko Sano Hewitt, the Clearinghouse’s Legal Referral Director, to develop new seminars. She gets a lot of her new ideas simply from speaking with attendees at her workshops and learning about their interests and needs. A few years ago, she noticed more people asking questions about nonprofit involvement in political activities, which motivated her to put together the now-popular seminar Lobbying, Advocacy, & Political Activities for 501(c)(3) Entities.

Teresa says the Clearinghouse’s educational programs are beneficial for organizations at every step in their development. For budding organizations, these programs serve as an early alert system to help them spot any issues quickly, whereas for more developed organizations the seminars serve as a kicking-off point to seek a professional, in-depth review of their governance structure and operations.

Teresa encourages all attorneys to find pro bono opportunities that interest them. She says the best way to get involved is to find an organization like the Clearinghouse that already has a structure in place to help attorneys find the right pro bono client for their skill set.

“Sometimes people want to do pro bono, but they don’t necessarily have a great vehicle to help them engage,” she says. “For me, working with the Clearinghouse has been a wonderful personal and professional experience. Whether through my involvement on the board, providing direct client services through the Legal Referral Program, or leading educational seminars, Lawyers Clearinghouse allows me to better engage in the community while providing needed legal services.”

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