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Axelson Center to Honor Nonprofits for Exemplary Managerial Practices

Axelson Center Award Winners
Porchlight Counseling Services was awarded the 2013 Excellent Emerging Organization Award. Accepting the award for the organization at the Annual Symposium were Anne Bent, founder and board chair; Dr. Maria Nanos, therapist and LCSW; and Diana Newton, executive director; pictured above with Dr. Pier Rogers, director of the Axelson Center; Maree Bullock; and Dr. Wesley Lindahl, dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University.

Applications due December 3 and January 10 for awards


CHICAGO (October 11, 2013) — The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management is now accepting applications for the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence and Excellent Emerging Organization Award—two prestigious awards that honor nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area that have built a strong management and leadership capacity.

Applications for the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence are due Tuesday, December 3, 2013. Two winners will receive up to a $7,500 cash award, including a large nonprofit with a budget over $3 million and a small nonprofit with a budget under $3 million. The deadline for the Excellent Emerging Organization Award is Friday, January 10, 2014. One winner will receive a $2,500 cash award and a package of services designed to build organizational capacity that is valued at up to $50,000.

Managerial excellence is a critical, yet often unrecognized, element of nonprofit organizational success, said Axelson Center Director Dr. Pier Rogers, when describing the awards, which honor the legacies of nonprofit leaders Nils G. Axelson and Jimmie R. Alford.

“There is often a great deal of attention paid to nonprofit organizations for excellence in programs, however such programs require excellence in management and leadership in order to be sustained for the longer term,” Dr. Rogers said. “The awards are intended to elevate organizations that are models of excellence in how they are being managed.”

Alford-Axelson Award honors established nonprofits, large and small

“Proud” was how Brenda Swartz, president/CEO of Concordia Place, described the feeling of winning the 2013 Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence. “We are very proud to have been this year’s recipient and want to share the excitement with our donors, partners, friends, and those we serve,” she said.

The community organization began more than 30 years ago as a childcare center to support children and families and now provides an array of programs for at-risk individuals of all ages and economic levels. The agency’s growth and adherence to guiding principles helped them expand their reach into more neighborhoods and develop programming that inspires confidence, compassion, and independence.

The award has enhanced Concordia Place’s fundraising efforts and increased the agency’s visibility. They used the cash prize to develop a newsletter and create a summary for board members to share with donor prospects. “We have had a number of people congratulate us on the award that might not have otherwise known us,” Swartz said.

The rigorous two-part application process was valuable for emphasizing the significance of strategic planning. “That’s a reminder to an organization of the importance of a longer-term vision than just the day-to-day,” she said. “An organization can too easily become obsolete when it is so absorbed in the here and now that it can’t maintain a focus on the future and incorporate these into its regular activities.”

Between Friends, winner of the 2013 Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence in the small category, provides resources and educational programming for domestic violence survivors, youth, health care professionals, and community members. With 20 full-time staff and two part-time staff, the organization also works to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place. Between Friends served 10,000 people last year and more than 156,000 individuals since its inception in 1986.

Cited for strong leadership, effective strategic planning, and positive board relationships, winning the award sent a strong message to clients and board members about the importance of paying attention to governance issues and provided a boost for a dedicated, compassionate, and mission-driven staff, said Kathleen Doherty, executive director. “People were ecstatic,” she said. “It’s one thing to say you are doing great work, but it’s another for nonprofit experts in the community to validate the work you are doing.”

The award application was a learning process for Between Friends, which had applied once before and used the feedback to reevaluate its policies and practices. “Even if you don’t win, you will get another perspective on how [well] you’re doing things,” Doherty said. “There’s not a whole lot out there like this award that validates the great work that agencies are doing.”

Excellent Emerging Organization Award supports young, promising nonprofits

The Excellent Emerging Organization award honors and supports a nonprofit that shows promise in managerial excellence. “What we want to encourage is the attention to building a strong foundation for the organization so it is sustainable in the long term,” Dr. Rogers said. “Giving an honor to a small or young organization helps to encourage these organizations to build both on the program side and the internal infrastructure to support those programs.”

The 2013 winner, Porchlight Counseling Services, is a 10-year-old organization that provides counseling services for college survivors of sexual assault. The agency has one full-time staff member and contracts with seven therapists who provide at least six months of counseling to 30-50 students per year. Recognized for its use of resources, staying true to its mission, and data-driven decision-making, Porchlight Counseling Services has become a significant resource for a number of college campuses, based on its knowledge and expertise in the area of support for survivors of sexual assault.

Porchlight Counseling Services used the cash award to provide two clients with six months of free therapy and has begun to utilize the capacity-building services offered by the Axelson Center, including an organizational assessment, legal assistance, and software development.

For the young organization, winning this award provided a renewed sense of excitement and determination to take Porchlight Counseling Services to the next level. “It made us feel more confident that we are going in the right direction,” said Diana Newton, executive director. “Now we will be able to enhance our organization and services even more.”

The process of applying for the award provided Newton with a “great snapshot” of the organization. “You are able to see your strengths and weaknesses in multiple areas,” she said. “We felt proud of how far we have come in 10 years and are excited about where we can be in another few years with the opportunities that this award offers.”

Applicants must have 501(c)3 status and benefit the Chicago area. The winners of all three awards will be announced at the annual Axelson Symposium on June 3, 2014.

North Park University, founded in 1891, prepares students for lives of significance and service, expressed through three core values: distinctively Christian, intentionally urban, and purposefully multicultural. North Park offers more than 40 undergraduate majors and programs in the liberal arts, sciences, and pre-professional preparation; adult degree-completion options that include nonprofit and nursing programs; and graduate degrees and certificates in business, education, ministry, music, nonprofit, nursing, and theology. Courses are offered at North Park’s four campuses throughout northeastern Illinois, including the main Chicago campus, plus satellite campuses in Arlington Heights, Grayslake, and Waukegan.


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