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North Park University's Axelson Symposium Draws 542 Leaders to Learn, Enhance Nonprofits

Axelson Symposium 2012
North Park University's 13th Annual Axelson Symposium attracted more than 500 Chicago-area nonprofit leaders and volunteers.

Keynoters, workshop presenters inspire, present practical ideas

CHICAGO (June 8, 2012) — More than 500 nonprofit leaders and volunteers met in downtown Chicago June 5 to learn new and effective strategies that will help them lead, be innovative, and enhance organizational funding, communication, and growth. They were attendees at North Park University's 13th Annual Axelson Center Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers, with the theme, "Reignite Your Vision."

The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management also organized and presented a pre-conference Innovation Institute June 4, and presented awards to three nonprofits. The Axelson Center works to enhance performance and effectiveness of individuals and organizations in the nonprofit sector through education, service, and resources.

The symposium drew a cross-section of nonprofit leaders from large and small organizations, and people planning careers in the nonprofit sector. They heard keynote speakers who addressed the role of nonprofits in rebuilding the U.S. economy, and harnessing pro bono resources for their organizations. Workshops focused on topics such as communication, strategic planning, board engagement, funding, and giving trends.

"I was really inspired by all of the speakers," said Hollen Reischer, assistant director, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Chicago. "I was most inspired by the vision people had for really taking care of the mission and values of their organizations, and using that as a way to build a bridge to corporate and pro bono relationships. This is a great opportunity for networking and hearing from lots of seasoned professionals. I've been taking notes all day."

John Shustitzky, Lake Forest, Ill., has led nonprofits for some 30 years, has been a consultant and is now on the faculty at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He attended because of the content and the reputation of North Park University, he said. "I have a better idea of the potential role of pro bono work in nonprofits," Shustitzky said, adding that remarks by keynoter Aaron Hurst, president and founder of the Taproot Foundation, New York City, were "particularly helpful."

Also attending was Babette Black, Chicago, a recent divinity school graduate. She was once an accountant for an insurance company, but didn't find corporate work fulfilling. Black said she came to the symposium to learn about nonprofits as she transitions to a career in the sector. "I want my work to have meaning. I've always wanted to have an experience where I feel the human component of what we do matches the benefit of the society. I want to make sure that what I do professionally has meaning," she said.

Keynoter Robert Egger, founder and president, Washington-based DC Central Kitchen, inspired attendees by pointing out the potential influence of U.S. nonprofits in the political process and society. For example, more than 500,000 people work in nonprofits in Illinois, generating $22 billion in payroll taxes in 2010, and yet, nonprofits don't get the economic credit they deserve, he said. "The nonprofit sector is one of the biggest sources of outside investment in cities every single day. We are major drivers of every economy in every city," Egger said. He also challenged nonprofit leaders to be "fearless."

Hurst told the nonprofit leaders how to use pro bono resources to accomplish their organizational missions. "Running a nonprofit today is infinitely more challenging than it's ever been, and the nonprofit sector is being asked to do more than ever before," he said. Hurst presented five principles when using pro bono resources: know and define needs; get the right resource for the right job; be realistic about pro bono deadlines; act like a paying client; and working with pro bono resources is a collaboration where all parties learn.

Winners of annual awards recognizing area nonprofits were announced at a luncheon emceed by Ana Belaval, feature reporter for Chicago's WGN Morning News:

More than 40 Chicago-area nonprofits were nominated, and a committee determined the winners from 12 finalists.

The Innovation Institute June 4 drew 145 registered participants. Speakers were Larry Keeley, president and co-founder, Doblin Inc., who spoke about effective organizations and innovative business practices; Mary F. Morten, president, Morten Group, who presented best practices for boards of directors; Martin Levine, general director, Jewish Community Center of Chicago, and Carol Levine, principal, Levine Partners Consulting, who discussed ways to reignite organizations through mission focus and planning; and Dr. Robert Wright, chief executive officer, Wright, who discussed ways to empower and engage employees in organizational leadership.


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