University's 14th Axelson Center Symposium Draws More than 500 Nonprofit Leaders

Johnny Imerman at Axelson Center Symposium
Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels, speaks at a symposium plenary session featuring founders of Chicago-area nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit founders, author among keynotes; top organizations recognized

CHICAGO (June 7, 2013) — Nonprofit leaders and volunteers from throughout Chicago and Midwest met here June 4 at the 14th Annual Axelson Center Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers to learn how to engage and motivate key stakeholders in their organizations. Nearly 570 attendees learned from keynote speakers and a variety of workshop leaders who addressed the conference theme, "The Engagement Effect."

The symposium is organized and presented annually by North Park University's Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. The Axelson Center also presented a June 3 Pre-Conference Revenue Institute, at which speakers addressed trends and strategies related to nonprofit revenue streams.

The symposium drew a cross-section of nonprofit leaders from large and small organizations, and people planning nonprofit careers. Attending his fourth Axelson Symposium, José Segarra, manager for government and external relations, American Board of Medical Specialties, Chicago, said he learned about a Web-based database with information to help nonprofit organizations collaborate and expand their reach. "I always come out of these sessions with practical things I can apply in my job or pass on to somebody else. This gives me a chance to use these resources and apply what I'm learning," said Segarra, a 2012 University graduate with a master of nonprofit administration degree.

Also attending was Sandra Davis from blackgivesback, Chicago, an organization that reports African American philanthropy. A workshop on individual and organizational behavior helped her consider her work differently, she said. "Your behavior has to align with your mission. People talk about organizational behavior, but individual behavior has to align with the organization's mission. That is really fundamental," Davis said. The symposium is a place to meet people, and for each attendee "to learn some actionable items to take back to the office, to elevate themselves and to innovate," she added.

Axelson Center presents annual nonprofit awards

Each year, the Axelson Center presents awards recognizing the achievements of Chicago-area nonprofits. A committee of nonprofit and community leaders determine the recipients:

Honors for Jimmie Alford, nonprofit leader and advocate

Symposium attendees honored the late Jimmie Alford of Chicago, for his 45 years of service to nonprofits. An Axelson Center founding advocate, executive-in-residence with the University's School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM), and well-known U.S. nonprofit leader, Alford died unexpectedly at his Chicago home in December 2012.

"Jimmie was instrumental in the early days of the Axelson Center, and worked tirelessly to help lay the foundation for it to become the premier center in the Chicago region for nonprofit professional education," said Dr. Wesley E. Lindahl, SBNM professor and dean. Alford, a North Park alumnus, once served on the board of trustees and founded The Alford Group, a nonprofit consulting firm.

"Jimmie is here with us because each of you represent what he loved and adored about this field," said Alford's widow, Maree Bullock, addressing symposium attendees. "As I look out over your faces, I see good—good work, good deeds, good intentions—and Jimmie would have loved to see the sea of good that I see."

Founders, author address nonprofit engagement in plenaries

Six Chicago-area nonprofit leaders opened the symposium in "Founders Fired Up," discussing how they started their nonprofits, and strategies for keeping their communities engaged. Forming partnerships led to success for Jonny Imerman, a "CNN Hero" and founder of Imerman Angels, a community that provides one-on-one support for cancer survivors and caregivers. "It's all about teams. It's all about finding your niche. If it's already being done, join them. If it's not being done, build it," Imerman said. Also speaking were Jenna Benn of Twist Out Cancer, an online cancer support organization; Malik Gillani, Silk Road Rising, which uses theater and online plays to share stories of Americans from the Middle East and Asia; Lisa Nigro of Inspiration Corporation, which serves restaurant-style meals to people who are homeless; Reveca Torres of Backbones, a support organization for people living with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers; and Jeremy Weisbach of Jimmy Insulin, which supports people living with diabetes.

Shirley Sagawa, co-founder, Sagawa/Jospin Consulting Firm, discussed key points in The Charismatic Organization, a book she co-wrote. She noted some organizations may be led by charismatic leaders, but they're not necessarily growing. She advocated for a different leadership style, in which leaders focus primarily on the mission and the organization before themselves; recruit the "right people in the right jobs," and nurture them; share power and responsibility; and build a strong community, which Sagawa said is critical to success. "What we're trying to do is develop leaders of charismatic organizations," she said.

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