University's Axelson Center Accepting 2013 Nonprofit Awards Applications

Modesto Tico Valle accepts the Alford-Axelson Award, which was presented to the Center on Halsted in 2012 at the annual Axelson Symposium in Chicago.
Modesto Tico Valle accepts the Alford-Axelson Award, which was presented to the Center on Halsted in 2012 at the annual Axelson Symposium in Chicago.

Applications due February 1; two awards to be presented at annual symposium

CHICAGO (January 11, 2013) — The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University is accepting nominations and applications through February 1 for its prestigious Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence. The Axelson Center will present two awards of $7,500 each, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank—one to a nonprofit with an annual budget under $3 million, and another to a nonprofit with an annual budget exceeding $3 million.

The award honors and continues the legacies of Nils G. Axelson, a devoted community health care leader and visionary, and Jimmie R. Alford, a leading contemporary thinker and practitioner in the nonprofit arena.

"For more than 10 years, the Axelson Center has awarded the Alford-Axelson Award to two exceptional Chicago-area nonprofit organizations," said Dr. Pier Rogers, the center's director. "But this isn’t about the Axelson Center so much as it is about an elite group of 22 past award winners who represent the 'best of the best' in terms of nonprofit management structure and leadership. Without these organizations, Chicago wouldn’t be the same vital city that it is today."

Previous recipients of the award confirm its value for promoting overall organizational excellence and for improving staff. In 2012, Center on Halsted, Chicago, was the award winner for large nonprofit organizations. Modesto Tico Valle, chief executive officer, said the center's executive team invested several months in the award process by reviewing and improving organizational practices. "Auditing our practices really helped us as an organization," he said. "Whether we won or not, it was good to pause and reflect, and audit our work internally. Organizations should do that on a regular basis."

Center on Halsted has about 70 employees, full- and part-time, and provides social service and public programs. It provides direct services annually to about 35,000 people, Valle said. The organization used its cash award to help senior staff improve a variety of management skills. The recognition has challenged the staff to be innovative and employ best practices regularly. "It was an honor to receive this in our fifth year of service, Valle added. "For me it also means, 'What does the next five years look like?' and 'How do we reflect that behavior and excellence in our work?'"

Lincoln Park Community Shelter, Chicago, was the 2011 award recipient for small nonprofits. Two years earlier, the awards committee had given the shelter's application an honorable mention, a catalyst to continue improving administrative practices, said Erin Ryan, the shelter's director. Among the changes the organization made when it tried for the award again were refocusing its board on strategic planning and hiring a business manager to help realign administrative duties.  

"The application process is rigorous. It made us think hard and examine our processes," Ryan said. "It's easy for a small organization to assume it is 'too small,' but the application process dispels that myth. We can function as a bigger organization, be good stewards of money we raise and good stewards of the services we provide." The shelter serves about 400 people living with homelessness, and provides assistance to relocate people into permanent housing with support services. It has about 12 full- and part-time employees, plus volunteers. The shelter used its cash award to hire a social work intern for a summer, a helpful step for staff and clients, Ryan said. The award has helped donors trust that the organization is efficient administratively, and that its resources are well-managed, she said. This year, the shelter will enter into its first government contract to provide permanent shelter and temporary services to clients.

A selection committee will determine this year's Alford-Axelson Award recipients. "We established a set of seven hallmarks of nonprofit managerial excellence, and organizations that exhibit strength in all seven areas are recognized by their peers as leaders in our sector. The selection committee is made up of Chicago-area nonprofit and civic community leaders. They have the formidable task of selecting each year’s winners," Rogers added.

To be considered, applicant organizations must be defined as 501(c)3 organizations, with their primary mission focus benefiting Chicago and/or its surrounding communities. The Axelson Center will accept nominations for the award by email or by phone, however organizations do not need to be nominated to apply. Recipients will be recognized at the annual Axelson Symposium, June 4, 2013, in Chicago.

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.

Next Steps

Learn more about the Axelson Center's professional development workshops and its professional certificate program in nonprofit management.