2024 Nonprofit Conference

Information on the 2024 Nonprofit Conference coming soon!

For info on last year’s conference, see below:

How does collaboration happen? What makes working together possible and worthwhile? How can you encourage collaboration between coworkers, across departments, and even between different organizations? How do we build an infrastructure that enables both collaboration within and with other organizations?

Join us for the Axelson Center’s 2023 Nonprofit Conference—Synthesizing Strengths: A Nonprofit Sector That Works Together—for an opportunity to learn more about and explore what the full spectrum of collaboration can involve. Nonprofit leaders, philanthropic funders, and industry experts will unpack the “A to Z” of collaboration, from informal internal partnership all the way to organizational mergers.

Conference speakers are co-executive directors of the Building Movement Project, Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld. Through their research, they will lay out how the challenges and contours of the nonprofit sector can help identify strategies and opportunities for collaboration.

Our afternoon plenary will be a panel discussion amongst Claude Robinson, Brenda Palms, Rodney Brown, and Richard Townsell will talk about the creation and impact of the North Lawndale Coordinating Community Council and reflect on their individual and organizational takeaways on collaboration.

Over the course of the day, conference attendees will choose between breakout sessions that engage the soft and hard skills of collaboration and effective institutional work, and our “Ask a Funder” sessions will return.


Conference Speakers

Rodney Brown, Executive Director and CEO, New Covenant Community Development Corporation

Rodney Brown is the Executive Director and CEO of New Covenant Community Development Corporation. He is also Co-Founder and Executive Committee member of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. Rodney served as Co-Director of Continuing Education and Professional Development at the Joseph Business School for nearly a decade, developing impactful courses for adult learners. With 30+ years of business experience, he chairs Kids Above All and spearheads a college program. A former Director of Global Procurement, he holds a B.B.A. (major in Finance) and an M.B.A.

Nichole Bruce, Resource Coordinator, Youth Guidance 

As the resource coordinator located at Chicago International Charter School (CICS) Loomis-Longwood, Ms. Bruce partners with the school to develop quality afterschool programming for hundreds of middle and high school students each year. By building partnerships and garnering resources from the community, she designs a wide variety of school-based arts, engineering, STEAM, mentoring and other dynamic programs that support young people to succeed in school and in life.  


Ms. Bruce began her work with youth through her role as a professional photographer and artist, facilitating workshops, summer camps and after school programs for inner city youth on the south side of Chicago in 2013. Her grassroots experiences fueled her passion for changing young people’s lives. She would later create workshops to engage youth and parents through “Social Art Experiences” that challenge them to rethink the words they use and acknowledge the impact of negative words on their thoughts, beliefs and destiny.


Ms. Bruce has an MA in Integrated Marketing Communications from Roosevelt University and a BA in Mass Communications from Bradley University. She was a Summer Scholar at Phillips Exeter Academy.      

Judie Caribeaux, M.A., L.C.S.W., Chief Collaborations Officer and Lead Consultant, Mission + Strategy  

With the heart of a social worker and the mind of a business professional, Judie has more than 30 years of experience working with non-profits, universities, and municipalities. Judie has experience developing public-private partnerships between municipalities, Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Judie was awarded the Non-Profit Executive of the Year by her peers through the West Suburban Philanthropic Network. Judie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as an adjunct faculty member for the Social Work Department at Regis College. She earned a Master of Arts in Communication from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Social Work from Aurora University.

Kathy Fiess, Senior Manager of Aterschool Development Initiatives, All Stars Project

Kathy Fiess is currently Senior Manager, Afterschool Development Initiatives at the All Stars Project. In this capacity, she works nationally to build a network of Afterschool School Development Working Groups. The Working Groups bring together practitioners and leaders in afterschool and youth development to learn from each other, and to provide a forum in which they can share challenges, make connections and deepen their understanding of Afterschool Development as an “other than school” strategy for social transformation in America.

Ms. Fiess has been actively involved in building the All Stars Project for more than 30 years, as both a volunteer and staff member in various roles across the country. She helped create the organization’s initial grassroots fundraising efforts, established a unique community outreach model to involve young people in its afterschool programs and served on the Board of Directors. Other professional roles include Director of Individual Giving at Fountain House, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with mental illness rebuild their lives.

Ms. Fiess received her BA in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Montclair State University and MA in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Jamie Klobuchar, Executive Vice President, Evolve Giving Group

Jamie has held leadership roles for several well-known institutions with multi-million dollar budgets, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Rush University Medical Center, Illinois Institute of Technology and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She has first-hand experience securing six and seven-figure gifts and has raised millions of dollars for both capital and medical research campaigns. With nearly 25 years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience, she values projects where she can help clients build major donor programs and strategies and develop systems and processes to support revenue growth.

Frances Kunreuther, Co-Executive Director, Building Movement Project

Frances Kunreuther is co-executive director of the Building Movement Project, which conducts research, develops resources, and builds relationships to strengthen U.S. nonprofits as sites of civic engagement and social change. She is co-author of two books, From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership. Kunreuther was a senior fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University for five years after heading the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LBGT youth. She began her career in social services working with homeless youth and families, undocumented immigrants, women experiencing violence, and substance users.

Julie Lenner, Managing Principal, JK Lenner Consulting

Ms. Lenner brings 25 years of senior leadership experience in the nonprofit sector to her consultancy. In 2008, she co-founded the All Stars Project of Chicago, a privately funded inner city youth development organization, built a multimillion dollar philanthropic market, established board leadership, robust corporate partnerships, and a network of Chicago nonprofit organizations for collaboration and field building. Earlier professional roles include senior management and institutional advancement positions at the Illinois CPA Society, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Visiting Nurse Service and Bank Street College of Education.

Ms. Lenner holds a B.A. in American Studies from Wesleyan University and an M.S. in Nonprofit Management from The New School. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University and is Co-Chair of the Membership Committee for Chicago Women in Philanthropy.

Erika Moczulewski, Consultant and Team Leader, Evolve Giving Group

As a consultant with more than 15 years of nonprofit fundraising experience, Erika specializes in fundraising assessments, feasibility studies and capital campaigns, individual and major gift program development, coaching, board and advisory board development, and strategic planning. Prior to consulting, Erika worked as Director of Development and Major Gift Officer at numerous organizations such as Roosevelt University, Feeding America, The Nature Conservancy and Chicago Opera Theater. She is a proud AmeriCorps-VISTA alumna. She served as a longtime board member of the Development Leadership Consortium. She is also a proud alumna of their annual fellows and management fellows programs.

Mary Morten, President, Morten Group

Mary Morten is the president of Morten Group (MG), a national consulting firm established to focus on clients in the nonprofit, for-profit, governmental, and foundation fields.

Previous positions include associate director, interim executive director, and board president of Chicago Foundation for Women, the region’s largest women’s fund, and the past director of the Office of Violence Prevention for the Chicago Department of Public Health. Before this position, Mary was an appointee for Mayor Richard M. Daley as a director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

Many organizations have honored Mary, ranging from Women in Film to Equality Illinois, the YWCA of Evanston/Northshore to About Face Theater. In 2020, the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago established the Mary F. Morten Justice Award to recognize Mary’s long-term work as an activist, advocate, and champion of social justice.

Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with an emphasis in radio and television from Loyola University Chicago.

Brenda M. Palms, President and CEO, North Lawndale Employment Network and CEO, Sweet Beginnings, LLC

Brenda Palms is the CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network, an urban workforce development agency, and founding social entrepreneur and CEO of Sweet Beginnings. She has served as President and CEO of NLEN since its founding in 1999 growing it to an organization of 55 employees with budget in excess of $7.5 million that serves nearly 2,000 people per year. She launched Sweet Beginnings in 2004 to ensure its hardest-to-employ clients could get jobs and gain a history of employment. Brenda is a graduate of Harvard’s Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program and holds a Master of Science in Non-profit Management from the Spertus Institute in Chicago.

Greg Petersen, CEOfor Mission + Strategy and Keystone Alliance 

Since 1995, Greg Petersen has been a devoted member of Illinois’ nonprofit scene, armed with a strong financial education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Greg’s strategic insight grew during his tenure with Keystone Alliance, where he served as Chief Administrative Officer until 2017. He returned to Keystone Alliance in 2020 as CEO and oversaw Keystone Alliance’s acquisition of Mission + Strategy in late 2022, enhancing their track record. Greg holds NOVA facilitation certification, leveraging it in guiding 25+ strategic planning processes. He also educates on strategic planning in nonprofit coalition leadership.

Kate Piatt-Eckert, Director of the Mission Sustainability Initiative, Forefront

Kate Piatt-Eckert has twenty years of experience in theatrical production and administration, most recently serving as Executive Director of Steep Theatre where she served on the boards of the League of Chicago Theatres and the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce. As the fifth generation involved in the operations of an historic house museum in central Ohio, Kate supports her family business as the Director of Communications at Piatt Castle. She is driven by a desire to explore the complex intersections of art, community development, data-driven decision-making, and human-centered non-profit governance. Kate has a B.A. from Reed College and a Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Liz Rice, Manager of Curriculum and Education, 2nd Story

Liz Rice is an arts and education administrator experienced in working with emerging to established theater and non-profit organizations. Over the course of her career, she has worked with Chicago-based arts and community organizations, K-12 teachers, artists and teaching artists, and arts patrons. She has facilitated workshops for Chicago Public School teachers, including presenting at the 2017 CPS Arts Education conference, Illinois State University’s National Center for Urban Education and Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline, 2nd Story, and Goodman Theatre.

Ashley Ritter, Practice Director, Chicago Career Counseling

Ashley has nearly 15 years of experience in career coaching, human resources, nonprofit management, healthcare, and higher education. Her roles have encompassed leadership development, career growth, diversity strategy, change management, conflict resolution, and employee recruitment/retention. She considers racial, economic, and gender justice as core values. She has been a career coach Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business and taught Gender, Race, Class, and the Media at North Park University. Ashley holds an M.A. in Organizational Leadership and a B.A. in International Studies.

Claude A. Robinson Jr., Founder & President, Onyx Strategic Partners

Claude A. Robinson Jr. is the Founder and President of Onyx Strategic Partners, LLC—a consultancy focused on government affairs, DEI, project management, and program design. Formerly EVP at UCAN for 28 years, Claude earned accolades including Mayor Richard M. Daley’s award, Miss Illinois Leadership 2001, and Crain’s Chicago Business “Notable DEI Executive.” He led a U.S. delegation to the UK for youth development insights. Board member for Rush BMO Institute for Health Equity, and Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. Affiliations: Rush BMO Institute, Business Leadership Council, United Church of Christ Council, Latino Policy Forum, Trinity United Church of Christ, and Leadership Greater Chicago.

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Executive Director, Building Movement Project

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld is co-executive director of the Building Movement Project (BMP). Prior to joining BMP, he spent a decade working in various roles at Community Change, where he developed training programs for grassroots leaders, worked in the communications and policy departments, and lobbied on a range of issues, including immigration reform, transportation equity, and anti-poverty programs. Thomas-Breitfeld holds a Master’s in Public Administration from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and a Bachelor’s in Social Work and Multicultural Studies from St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Aimy Tien, Multidisciplinary Artist and Founder, tinheart productions

Aimy Tien (she/they) is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist who fell into storytelling due to a combination of an irrational childhood fear of lions, a Val Kilmer film, and an overactive imagination. As an actor, writer, director, and producer, Aimy, a queer Vietnamese Chinese American, is driven by narrative plenitude, bringing the stories of people of color and marginalized groups to the page, stage, and screen. She is a company member and board member of 2nd Story and the founder of tinheart productions where they are developing multiple narrative projects centered on the intersections of race, healing, and sexuality. Outside of her film and stage work, Aimy facilitates conversations and workshops around the country on storytelling, queer advocacy, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is currently at work on a new multimedia collection, The Queer Joy Project.

Richard Townsell, Executive Director, Lawndale Christian Development Corporation

Over Richard’s 20+ year career in community development, he has developed nearly 500 units of residential and commercial properties and helped to design comprehensive community plans for affordable housing, education and economic development initiatives. Richard has taught community development courses at Northwestern University’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute as well as with the Chicago Rehab Network’s Urban Developer’s Institute. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University in Mathematics Education and a Master of Science from Spertus College in Nonprofit Management. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Roohi Younus, Principal, R&R Strategies

Roohi Younus recently concluded her role as Program Manager and Facilitator for the Community Collaboration Initiative, a three-year, action-based research project with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, focused on researching methods of achieving collaboration.  She is a Co-Founder and Principal at R&R Strategists and has been consulting with nonprofit organizations for over 14 years. She is currently supporting research on what makes some nonprofit collaborations more successful than others, due to release later this year.  Roohi has worked with the leadership at prominent organizations around the country to help envision and execute strategies related to change management, collaboration, project management, development, branding, marketing, volunteer management, compliance, logistics, and more. Roohi also co-founded MUSE Bookings, a speaker and artists bureau serving as a necessary bridge for American Muslims, and served as the inaugural Executive Director of the Mohammed Webb Foundation in 2014.

Conference Details

Are there sponsorship opportunities for the conference?

Yes. If you are interested in the sponsorship opportunities at Synthesizing Strengths, then please be sure to check out our sponsorship information package. If you want to inquire about supporting the Axelson Center through a conference sponsorship, then fill out our form here.

Will meals be provided?

Breakfast and lunch will be provided and are included in the registration price.

What is the refund policy?

Refunds are available until seven days before the conference begins.

Is parking available?

Yes, on-site parking is available and included in your registration for the event.

Will WiFi be available?

WiFi access will be available across North Park’s campus.

What is the dress code?

Business casual is appropriate.

What is the social media hashtag?


What about breakout sessions?

As we get closer to the event date more information about breakout session topics and speakers will be announced.

What is “Ask A Funder”?

“Ask a Funder” is an Axelson Center conference program where attendees have the opportunity to engage philanthropic representatives in one-on-one, 15-minute conversations. Registration for these sessions, as well as which funders will be present, will open closer to the event.

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