Michael J. Cooney

Counsel to a wide range of charitable and other nonprofit entities, and those who support them, Mike Cooney provides the nonprofit corporate and tax-exempt context in which these organizations can drive mission and margin. He directs the firm’s focus in higher education and exempt organizations.

What do you focus on?

Focus on opportunities

My work optimizes the ability of nonprofits to accomplish their mission by identifying opportunities for enhanced fundraising and grant access, project management, governance and legal compliance. The approach benefits from the widest array of institutions and geographies, with a fundamental understanding of what makes nonprofit institutions successful in today’s competitive environment. The focus is largely structural, with an emphasis on sustainable and organic growth through systems that align the client’s resources and goals.

Tax benefits

That work takes many forms. Charitable institutions and their donors have an array of tax benefits available to help advance their mission. We understand those incentives and advise on how to increase their impact in today’s economy. That spans program-related investments by private foundations in technology and startup companies to the proper structuring of an integrated fundraising campaign and the development of communities around university campuses.


Good governance is vital to operations and fashion approaches that make the most of precious volunteer time and resources. That includes the use of multicorporate environments and joint ventures to accomplish exempt purposes.

Risk management

At the same time, we appreciate that success involves a degree of risk, so that when challenges arise our work involves the identification of a plan and resources necessary to continue the focus on success. In the highly regulated environment in which our clients exist, it is essential to be able to marshal such resources quickly and efficiently.

Life Sciences

I work with colleges and universities doing life science research as well as help donors and entrepreneurs wanting to take advantage of PRIs to advance life science research.

What do you see on the horizon?

The capacity of our nonprofit institutions to provide needed services and perspectives is being fundamentally challenged by economic forces and an increasingly hostile regulatory environment. Success will be rooted in new collaborations and new partners, drawing on the best practices of the business and governmental sectors, but making them our own.

IRS issues long-awaited guidance on donor-advised funds

Nonprofit & Government Times | June 30, 2018

Washington DC corporate partner Michael Cooney wrote this contributed article on donor-advised funds, a type of low-paperwork charitable trust, and how their use will change in light of new guidance and proposed regulations.

How nation’s new tax law might affect charitable organizations

Rochester Business Journal | December 15, 2017

Rochester private equity and investment funds partner Jeremy Wolk, M&A and corporate transactions counsel Anita Pelletier and Washington DC M&A and corporate transactions partner Mike Cooney authored this column about the impact of U.S. tax reform on nonprofits.

Artists’ commissions, tech gifts and guns: the legal issues facing US museums

The Art Newspaper | May 11, 2017

This article discusses the most pressing legal questions facing museums. Washington DC M&A and corporate transaction partner Mike Cooney is quoted on the possible legislation by Congress to limit income tax deductions for charitable donations.

New state measure amends Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013

Rochester Business Journal | February 10, 2017

Rochester private equity and investment funds partner Jeremy Wolk, Washington DC nonprofit organizations partner Michael Cooney and Rochester nonprofit organizations counsel Anita Pelletier co-authored this column about updates to the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013 and what New York nonprofits will need to do in order to comply.

Consider nonprofit’s impact when donating

Rochester Business Journal | January 20, 2017

This article about charitable giving features Washington DC nonprofit/higher education partner Mike Cooney discussing the personal drivers behind choosing a charity.

Limited privacy of donor information in New York

Rochester Business Journal | October 17, 2016

Rochester Private Equity & Investment Funds partner Jeremy Wolk and Washington DC M&A and Corporate Transactions partner Mike Cooney authored this column about privacy issues surrounding charitable donors in New York.

Philanthropic Capital In Search Of Clarity

Law360 | June 10, 2016

Partner and leader of our nonprofit organizations and higher education teams Mike Cooney authored this column about how program-related investments have an overweighted emphasis on international philanthropy.

The Duty of Obedience in a Time of Change

Association of Governing Boards (AGB) Blog | June 07, 2016

Washington, DC, partner and leader of the firm’s Higher Education and Nonprofit Organizations teams Mike Cooney authored this column discussing the duty of obedience—a fiduciary duty of board members to ensure that the institution is operating according to its stated purposes in its governing documents.

The dealmaker behind the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Fisher Family partnership

Art Daily | May 16, 2016

This article features Nixon Peabody’s role as deal counsel and advisor to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Fisher Family to create a first-of-its-kind collaboration between a museum and a collection. Los Angeles partner and Arts & Cultural Institutions leader Thad Stauber led the NP team in this unprecedented agreement with support from Washington, DC, partner Mike Cooney and Los Angeles partner Matt Grazier. SFMOMA opened to the public on May 14, featuring an expansive new addition displaying hundreds of pieces of postwar and contemporary art work from the Fisher Family.

Do anonymous social media apps create Title IX violations on college campuses?

ABA Journal | April 01, 2016

Washington, DC, partner Michael Cooney is featured in this piece that looks at legal headaches for colleges caused by anonymous social media apps.

Mission investing comes to the fore with recent announcements

Rochester Business Journal | November 13, 2015

Partners Jeff LaBarge and Mike Cooney co-authored this column on “mission” or “impact investing”—terms used to describe the deployment of philanthropic investment capital to advance charitable ends.


Michael J. Cooney


Washington, DC

Phone: 202-585-8188


Phone: 585-263-1534

New York

Phone: 212-224-7343

Fax: 866-743-0233

University of Virginia, J.D., Managing Editor, Virginia Journal of International Law

Hamilton College, B.A., magna cum laude (Senior Fellow)

New York

District of Columbia


Mike was selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2019 in the fields of Non-Profit/Charities Law and Tax Law. Mike has been listed in Best Lawyers since 2007, and was named 2017 and 2019 Non-Profit/Charities Law “Lawyer of the Year” in Washington, DC. He has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 2007.

Mike has also been recognized in Super Lawyers New York—Metro in Nonprofit, Schools & Education, and Health Care (2012). A Thomson Reuters publication, Super Lawyers evaluates lawyers based on a peer-review surveys and independent research.

Mike is a member of the American, New York State, District of Columbia, and Florida bar associations and the National Association of College and University Attorneys. He is currently a board member of Charity Navigator, the Eastern Association of College and University Business Officers and the George Eastman Museum. Mike is honored to have served on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Leadership Committee to Revitalize Nonprofits.

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