When Mary Jean Barnes began her position this summer as the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s (NJSBF) director of administration and grant programs, she said it felt like coming home.
The job was the perfect combination of the two worlds where she had focused her professional life: the law and mission-driven nonprofits.
A native New Jerseyan and a graduate of Elizabethtown College and the Northeastern University School of Law, Barnes practiced law for 20 years—the last 10 focusing on corporate and business law, where she closed multi-million-dollar deals for clients at Coughlin Duffy in Morristown.
In 2015, Barnes left law to work as executive director of Dress for Success Northern New Jersey, which helps women network and develop skills to find a job. She reinvigorated and expanded the nonprofit, where she oversaw its most profitable fundraising events to date that enabled the organization to serve a record number of clients.
Barnes found her next challenge as development director at Creature Comfort Pet Therapy in Morris Plains, where she helped guide the small, volunteer-driven organization’s expansion.
At the NJSBF, the charitable and educational arm of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Barnes manages day-to-day operations, finances, board relations, grant programs, and fundraising.
“We are delighted that Mary Jean agreed to join our team at the foundation,” Executive Director Angela C. Scheck said.
“She brings a deep knowledge of the New Jersey legal community, as well as an understanding of the nonprofit world, in addition to having run significant fundraising initiatives. Her skill set is a perfect fit for us, and we look forward to her helping our bar foundation grow and reach even more New Jersey residents in fulfilling its public education mission.”
Barnes said she is focusing on fundraising. The largest source of the NJSBF’s roughly $1 million to $2 million budget comes from IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts), but as that organization’s funding rises and falls, so does the NJSBF’s. Although the budget had a slight increase last year, it once was as high as $4 million, before the recession hit, she said.
“There had not been a real focus on fundraising in the past because the IOLTA funding has been so robust. Now the foundation really wants to grow its fundraising efforts,” Barnes said.
She said the NJSBF will look for other funding sources in addition to IOLTA.
“The foundation is unique in that it is both a funding organization (it gives out money) but is also a direct provider of services to the public, which is a big part of what we do. We need to fund those services,” Barnes said.
In 2018–2019, for example, the foundation awarded more than $300,000 to Rutgers Camden Law School and Seton Hall Law School to support their clinics. It also gave more than $132,000 to nonprofit organizations such as The Arc of New Jersey for its Equal Justice Conference, Bergen County YWCA for Title IX trainings, and Covenant House Youth Advocacy Center.
Increased funding would help pay for the foundation’s robust programs and publications, including its mock trial competitions that thousands of students in elementary through high school have participated in for nearly 40 years; training thousands of educators on topics such as bullying, bias, and the Holocaust; and producing publications on law-related topics and diversity that reach thousands of students in elementary, middle, and high school.
Barnes said the NJSBF job is the perfect fit because it leverages her experience with the mahogany-and-marble legal world and roll-up-your-sleeves world of charitable nonprofits.
“I was in the legal profession for 20 years. I am comfortable working with attorneys. They are some of the smartest and most dedicated people around. And that’s what’s special about the foundation—getting to work with so many great people who volunteer to support our mission. I am excited about the organization’s future,” she said.