The Philanthropic Career Path of Paul Winters
Like many people who work with nonprofit organizations, Paul Winters has a passion for helping people. After graduating with an English degree from Virginia Tech, and a short stint working as a systems analyst and programmer, Winters decided to enter Trinity Seminary. Afterward, he served as a senior pastor at a Presbyterian Church just outside Chicago for sixteen years, a position in which he became strong community leader and served as Moderator of the Chicago Metro Presbytery and Chairman of its Missions and Credentialing Committees.
Over time, Winters’ same desire to help others called him to attend law school at DePaul University so that he could benefit his community in a specific “hands-on” way.
Now, he is one of three partners at Wagenmaker & Oberly, a law firm that serves hundreds of nonprofits ranging from educational institutions, religious organizations, and public and private charities.
“From the time I was a child I was always drawn to the law, so it felt like a natural transition to turn my sense of higher calling and my beliefs into a palpable way of helping people,” Winters said. “I have the pleasure of going to work every single day and feel like what I’ve done by the time I go home has helped people help people. It’s a really great feeling.”
On top of his practice, Winters also teaches a course in the law school at DePaul, as well as a Legal Issues in Philanthropy course at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (SPS). Winters’ SPS class focuses on providing legal knowledge for those operating and managing nonprofit organizations.
“The class seeks to cover some of the major themes that people who get involved in philanthropy need to keep in mind as they begin to operate in the context of a nonprofit organization,” Winters explained. “It gives students an introductory set of legal tools to help them navigate regulatory compliance issues, so they can get back to the things that drew them into serving in the nonprofit community in the first place.”
He continued, “People in nonprofits have a passion to affect positive change in the world, and so they dive in, but then what happens is they begin to bump into some of the regulatory compliance legal issues they didn’t anticipate. No one enters the nonprofit sector thinking ‘I really want to get embroiled in a legal dispute.’”
Winters has found the experience of working with students personally enriching. In his five-week course, he tries to offer a fluid structure, which is anchored by a core syllabus but also leaves room to address issues students are dealing with in their careers. Winters added:
“Northwestern SPS has been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve found the students are very inquisitive and have many creative, insightful questions. They have feet on the ground and are doing charitable nonprofit work. The questions we wrestle with in class are questions they’re wrestling with at work on a day-to-day basis. It’s an intersection of the real world and the classroom.”