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University Breakfast Series Focuses on Nonprofit Success in Challenging Economy

Jimmie Alford Breakfast Series
Jimmie Alford discussed topics affecting the nonprofit sector at the University's October 30 Breakfast Series event in Chicago.

Axelson Center provides strategic solutions to improve nonprofits

CHICAGO (November 5, 2012) – Nonprofit organizations must adapt their business models to the current economic climate, and act strategically in response to a variety of challenges, particularly declines in program funding from government sources and philanthropy. That was the message from Chicago nonprofit executive Jimmie Alford, who spoke to more than 100 people about nonprofit trends and challenges at a North Park University Breakfast Series event October 30.

Alford is founder and chair of The Alford Group Inc., a well-known national nonprofit consulting firm, and has been named by The Nonprofit Times as an influential nonprofit leader. He is also executive-in-residence of the University's School of Business and Nonprofit Management and an advisor to the University's Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. Through its workshops and conferences, the center teaches leaders about nonprofit trends and how to meet significant challenges, he said. 

Just as in other sectors of the global economy, uncertainty is a key issue for nonprofits, Alford told the breakfast audience. Some factors affecting nonprofits include high unemployment, strains on family finances, and financial turmoil affecting 39 state governments. "Going forward, nonprofits have to look to the future with eyes wide open," he said. "It isn't so much that these and other factors are barriers or challenges. The question is, 'What is your strategic response?'"

For nonprofits to be vibrant, effective, and have high impact, Alford said they must plan for "uncontrollables." Those that can engage key stakeholders and adjust their enterprises for the future "will be the nonprofits that will be highly effective and highly valued," he said. 

Alford also warned of a "huge liquidity crisis" in the next 2 to 3 years because of declines in charitable giving and declines in tax revenue to governments, both of which fund many nonprofit-based social service programs. "I think overall, the amount of money flowing to nonprofits from tax-based entities will dramatically reduce," he said. "There will be an evolution of nonprofits trying to be more self-sustaining."

Enhancing revenue generation for nonprofits has been a focus of recent Axelson Center workshops, said Dr. Wesley E. Lindahl, dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management. "With funding from state governments being delayed and philanthropy suffering a downturn, nonprofits have to be very creative in terms of revenue generation. We've offered several sessions on that," he said. Improving governance by nonprofit boards of directors is another focus, Lindahl said. The Axelson Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers, attended by more than 500 people, offers executives and managers a chance to learn from each other and from more than 30 speakers, Lindahl added. The next Axelson Symposium is June 3-4, 2013, in Chicago.

Alford said he has presented several Axelson Center workshops on self-generated income in recent years. "The whole idea of the Axelson Center workshops is that if you spend a day on the topic, you're going to be opening your mind to some other ways of doing business. These sessions can be provocative and cause you to think about doing things differently. That's the purpose," Alford said.


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