Melissa S. Watkins


When Melissa Watkins helps a client with a complex problem, she is cognizant of the relationship between numbers, data, and a solution. With Melissa at the table, clients can make strategic business decisions with the comfort that she will help them understand the impact on their tax status, regulatory compliance, board governance, and overall financial health. When clients are faced with pending financial instability, Melissa is the trusted adviser who will look at both the financial and legal issues in-depth to prevent further decline and chart a course toward future success.

Building on her nine-year accounting career at a public university, Melissa enjoys helping higher education clients and their related entities with issues such as endowment administration, student financial aid compliance, and mergers and acquisitions.

Beyond higher education, Melissa’s clients include health care organizations, philanthropic foundations, religious organizations, as well as national, regional, and local non-profit agencies.

Representative Experience

  • Issues equivalency determinations for private foundations engaged in foreign grantmaking in India
  • Assisted private higher education institution with purchasing the assets of another private institution and addressed related accreditation issues and student financial aid compliance concerns
  • Analyzed complex endowment agreements (multi jurisdictions) and recommended approaches to maximize the flexibility of using these endowed funds which included possibly borrowing from and against the endowed assets
  • Advised nonprofit hospital on tax exempt status implications with respect to an acquisition of for-profit subsidiaries of a large for-profit health care system
  • Established a separate real estate foundation to protect the endowed assets of another foundation affiliated with a public university and a similar foundation structure to protect the endowment of children’s home and school
  • General counsel for public universities and private universities and university affiliated foundations
  • Advised an organization’s executive staff and Board of Directors members regarding structuring and operational issues
  • Regularly counsel West Virginia organizations that provide job training and opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities and other barriers to employment, serve the homeless population and provide additional recovery programs
  • Advised numerous tax-exempt organizations about programs created by the CARES Act and subsequent legislation, and assisted Boards of Directors and executive staff determine which opportunities align with long-term strategy and short-term needs
  • Drafted policies and procedures and provided Board training for multiple nonprofit organizations
  • Counseling on the proper status of workers as employees or independent contractors and drafting employment and independent contractor agreements
  • Providing due diligence on employment tax issues facing employers undergoing mergers, acquisitions and reorganizations
  • Reviewing and advising employers on the tax implications of various employer-provided benefits, such as transportation, meals and lodging, and gifts for employees
  • Advised many clients in multiple jurisdictions about state and local tax compliance issues associated with having a remote workforce

Licensed In

  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia


  • J.D. West Virginia University College of Law
  • M.P.A West Virginia University
  • B.S. Fairmont State University


  • Former Member, Joint Public Policy Committee for Philanthropy West Virginia/The West Virginia Nonprofit Association
  • Volunteer, Suncrest United Methodist Church
  • Board of Directors, Mon Health Medical Center Foundation
  • Member, West Virginia Society of CPAs


  • Recipient, West Virginia University College of Law, Lawyers & Leaders, WV Executive Magazine, August 2019
  • The Best Lawyers in America®, Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law (2011-Present), Litigation and Controversy – Tax (2011-Present), Nonprofit / Charities Law (2010-Present), Tax Law (2011-Present), Trusts and Estates (2024 – Present)
  • Best Lawyers® 2024 Morgantown, Nonprofit / Charities Law, Lawyer of the Year
  • Best Lawyers® 2013 Morgantown, Lawyer of the Year
  • Young Lawyer of the Year, West Virginia State Bar 2009

Speaking Engagements

  • “Managing the Hurdles: How to Recognize and Avoid Legal Pitfalls in Donor Development,” Independent College Advancement Associates (ICAA), Summer Conference, 2021
  • “Presidential Pandemic Strategies: Legal Cures for Viral Headaches,” Council of Independent Colleges, 2020
  • “Financial Implications for Higher Education,” 3rd Annual Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Pennsylvania Higher Education Seminar, 2018
  • “Meeting Today’s Challenges in Higher Education,” Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (“AICUO”) Ohio Higher Education Seminar, at Capital University, 2018
  • “Corporate Compliance Roles, Responsibilities and Investigations,” WV Healthcare Financial Management Association, 2016
  • “Higher Education: Current Issues and Trends,” Dean Dorton Allen Ford, PLLC, 2016
  • Financial Assistance Disclosures for Hospitals, 2016
  • “Lessons from the (Sweet) Briar Patch,” Higher Education: Current Issues & Trends, 2016
  • Governance Issues of Nonprofits, WV Philanthropic Ethics & Leadership Academy, 2015
  • “Don’t Get Stuck Paying Taxes on Payment to Foreign Persons,” 2014
  • “Highlights & Lowlights of the IRS’s Findings in the Areas of Unrelated Business Income & Executive Compensation,” 2013
  • “Non-profit and Governmental Organization’s Under Fire,” 2013
  • “Form 1099-MISC Reporting Tips,” 2013
  • “Royalties, Gifts & Marcellus Shale: How to Handle a New Generation and Type of Charitable Giving” West Virginia Grantmakers 2011
  • “New Form 990,” Division of Social Work at West Virginia University Workshop, 2008, 2009
  • “Form 990,” Wheeling Chapter of CPAs, 2008
  • “Governance of Non-profit Organizations,” Division of Social Work at West Virginia University Workshop, 2007
  • “Principles of Accounting/Financing Statements 101 for Nonprofits and Audits,” Division of Social Work at West Virginia University, 2006-2008
  • “Taxation of Settlements and Judgments,” West Virginia Bar Association, 2006
  • “Today’s Issues Concerning Nonprofits,” West Virginia Public Accountants Association, 2005

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