New Nonprofit Leaders Benefit from North Park University's BootCamp

Axelson Bootcamp 2012
Dana Garner, Trinity United Church of Christ Child Care Centers, Chicago, was among this year's BootCamp attendees.

Axelson Center program provides networking, solutions for key concerns

CHICAGO (August 1, 2012) — Being a chief executive officer or an executive director of almost any organization is demanding. It can be even more demanding for those new to these roles, as they work to figure out what needs attention, and how best to manage people and resources. Seeking solutions to those challenges, 27 new nonprofit executive leaders participated this month in BootCamp 2012, a popular continuing education program of North Park University's Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management.

Participants met with experts and each other for three days, sharing ideas and learning about organizational mission, marketing, boards and governance, management principles, measurement, and funding. They heard from a panel of BootCamp alumni, and developed personal 90-day plans of action. BootCamp is for nonprofit chief executive officers or executive directors who have been in their roles for three years or less.

"This has helped me tremendously to focus and give me a framework," said Dr. Lisa Green executive director, Family Christian Health Center, Harvey, Ill. "A lot of us get in the job, and you just start 'doing.' This program did two things — it helped me focus on the things that I need to work on, and let me know I'm not doing this alone." Green has been in the executive director's role about one year, and said her 90-day action plan helped her set priorities.

Cheryl Lawrence, executive director, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, Chicago, had been in her job just one week when she attended BootCamp 2012. Lawrence is an attorney and was previously the organization's director of development. Comments from BootCamp alumni about working with boards of directors were helpful, she said. "The clear vision that I have coming out of this session is how to work towards rejuvenating our board, how we handle our board meetings, (and) how we look at different ways to engage them," she said. She has struggled to engage busy board members in ways that take advantage of their expertise, Lawrence said. She plans to suggest some meaningful changes to the board president. 

BootCamp also provided Lawrence with three days away from the office to meet other nonprofit leaders, and to do some serious thinking. "It's been really meaningful, and I would highly recommend this to anybody," Lawrence added.

Maria Nanos, executive director, Center for Law and Social Work, Chicago, said she feels more confident in her role today — after a year's experience — but admits there's still much she needs to do. "I had an opportunity to go [to BootCamp] when I first got the job, but it didn't work out because of a lot of things," Manos said. "But I'm glad that it's been a year later for me. You know what you don't know a little better."

The three-day BootCamp experience was everything Ann Carstensen hoped it would be. One of her challenges is staff management. "I think the biggest takeaway is how to better manage my organization, understanding how to better manage my staff, and how to better manage up and down the organization," said Carstensen, executive director, Alpha Phi Foundation, Evanston, Ill. "I'm very pleased we heard some good advice and counsel to get us moving in the right direction," she added.

The vast majority of participants in BootCamp program were referred by others who attended previously, said William Braden, Axelson Center coordinator of leadership development programs. Many BootCamp speakers and Axelson Center advisory committee members are program alumni. A key to BootCamp's continuing success is feedback from program participants and follow up evaluations used to improve the curriculum, Braden said. Braden is a retired CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, and a member of the Axelson Center advisory board.

The University's Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management was established in 1999. The Center provides educational experiences, services, and resources to enhance the performance and effectiveness of individuals and organizations in the nonprofit sector. In addition to BootCamp, its offerings include a host of professional development workshops, an annual career and internship fair, professional certificate academic programs, the annual Axelson Symposium, plus nonprofit newsletters and other resources.

Use @npunews to follow North Park University News on Twitter. For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.